Sagewood Botanical Sanctuary

West Kingston, RI
Sanctuary Stewards: Kate and Dan Rakosky

We live in a tiny pre-revolution era village called Usquepaug, Rhode Island located in rural South County. Thirteen years ago it was our great blessing to become stewards of this land. The two-acre parcel we affectionately call Sagewood was once part of a nearly 300-year-old farm. The house is still intact, retaining the charm of a simpler time. The old stone barn foundation and surrounding stonewalls have had been enveloped by the returning woodlands and beautiful gardens.

For such a small space it has diverse habitats supporting native wildlife. About half the land is wooded and connected to many acres of contiguous woodlands under the protection of our local land trust. Portions of this parcel and the surrounding land contain wetlands, which has helped protect the area from development pressures. A small stream runs through the middle of the land at the edge of the woods into a pond. We have seen otters using this waterway where skunk cabbage, ferns, winterberry, barberry, multiflora roses and grapevines are growing and around the edges of the pond are turtlehead, goldenrod, lobelias siphilitica and cardinalis (a delicacy to hummingbirds), marsh mallow, tall meadow rue, blue flag, jewelweed, elders, pitcher plants, and pussy willows The pond supports a lot of wildlife including green and blue herons, kingfishers, dragonflies, turtles and frogs and a mating pair of mallard ducks. There is also a sunny bog area where meadow beauty, boneset, Joe Pye weed, northern white violets and many grasses and sedges grow. Last fall, we introduced some blue vervain hoping it will be happy there, too. The woods are home to a very old white oak, maples, hemlocks, white pines, linden, birches, wild cherry, mayapple, wild ginger, Jack-in-the-pulpit and Indian pipe. There are also a couple of old apple trees that provide tasty apples and moist shade for medicinal plants.

When we look at the existing flora and fauna and the remnants of earlier inhabitants, we are always reminded how this land has nurtured many before us. Using only hand tools, we have encouraged the restoration to its earlier abundance, diversity and vitality, giving back copious amounts of compost and other offerings in gratitude for all of the life this land has supported. Over the years we have slowly introduced more wild medicinal plants to appropriate habitats. A few of our favorites are: bloodroot, bergamot, wood betony, black cohosh, blue cohosh, echinacea, American ginseng, goldenseal, butterfly weed, pink root, wild yam, hawthorn, Siberian ginseng, and passionflower. It is through caring for them that we too are nourished and healed.

Several new woodland gardens have emerged over the last few years as our “woodland nursery” plants mature to healthy transplant size or joyfully multiply. We created a path through the woods, retaining all of the plants except a few bull briars and it is a joy to walk. Dan built a couple of bridges (inspired by the walkway in the fen at Sage Mountain) so we can walk through and enjoy the wet part of the woods and cross the stream but not disturb the native habitat. There is a mossy stone bridge that crosses the stream at one entrance to the woods and stone steps that lead out of the hollow at the other end of the woods.

The seasonal rhythms of Sagewood have become as much a part of us as our own heartbeats, but familiarity has not diminished our passion. We are still deeply in love with her and her everyday miracles. In our desire to share this sacred space with others, we will continue to offer tours and have seedlings/divisions of plants available again this year. Visitors are encouraged to meander through the display gardens and native woodland and bog habitats, rest at one of the shaded tables or comfortable chairs nestled among the gardens with a cup of tea and look for evidence of the fairies! We hope people will come with open hearts, breathe, take their shoes off, stand on the Mother, and really drink her in for an hour or two.

Probably the main reason for wanting to be a part of the UpS Botanical Sanctuary Network is gratitude. We have been so fortunate to learn from so many wonderful teachers, not the least of which are this land and these plants. Especially in a tiny state like Rhode Island, where many people need to share a small space, and land is at a premium, we feel that maybe Sagewood could inspire others in our community to nourish and protect the land they are care-taking, no matter the size. Inviting people back to the garden, and reminding them that they can grow their own healing plants and that the best medicine for body, mind and spirit is a deep connection to Mother Earth is our hearts’ desire. We also hope to continue our education by embracing this network of cherished green spaces and amazing plant people.

Thank you for including Sagewood as a member in the UpS Botanical Sanctuary Network.