Bastyr University Botanical Sanctuary Garden

Kenmore, WA
Sanctuary Steward: Jenny Perez

As the long days and short nights of summer approach equidistance, I reflect on another season in the Bastyr Garden. Over the five years that I have been involved with the garden, the focus of Bastyr’s student gardener team has been to harness the potential energy ever-present in our herb garden, shaping it to display the beauty of medicinal plants. These plants are our teachers who quietly share their wisdom to those who take time to enter into relationship with them.

The Bastyr University Herb Garden was started in 1997 when Bastyr University moved to the campus of St. Thomas in Kenmore, Washington; adjacent to St. Edward’s State Park. Dedicated students, supported by the botanical medicine department, built the garden through volunteer hours. Beginning with only 65 key herb species, the garden is now home to over 350 species of medicinal herbs and plant foods.

Over a decade has passed and the Bastyr garden has expanded in design and evolved in utility to become an extension of the classroom – a living, breathing resource engaging students fully in exploring the beauty and importance of plants. The garden is arranged into many sections, which include The Western Herb Section, The Physiological System Guilds, The Pie Beds, The Nutrition Beds, The Traditional Chinese Medicine Section, The Reflexology Foot Path, The Four Elements Garden, and the Shade House Garden. Open to the public year-round, the garden can be explored section by section to gain a deeper understanding of the species planted in their respective groupings.

All gardens are sanctuaries in and of themselves. It is where many come to commune with nature, sowing hope and reaping peace. However, there is a special place in Bastyr’s garden where many find solace – the Shade House. The metamorphosis of this area of the garden began over three years ago and was inspired by United Plant Savers. Believing strongly in education through cultivation, the student gardeners and I channeled our passion and energy into transforming what was once a small shaded area with linear planted pathways into a beautiful woodland garden filled with native and “At-Risk” medicinal plants.

In an effort to educate the public about forest medicinals and their ecological threats, we focused our energy on transforming the shade house into a woodland garden. Over many months and with many hands, the renovated shade house garden took shape – soil was mixed and aerated before gently re-locating the residing native and at-risk medicinal plants. Fallen logs from our surrounding forests were used to raise and support the new rounded beds. Small buckets filled with earth from the forest floor were collected to inoculate our “woodland” soil. Research is ongoing on how to best amend soil based on the plants we are trying to grow. Cultivation challenges present themselves and like the plants, we do our best to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances nature provides.

Within our shade house sanctuary we have created a women’s herb bed containing specimens of black cohosh, blue cohosh, helonias, trillium, wild yam, and partridgeberry. Across from this area is a planting of low dose medicinals like lily-of-the-valley, cascara sagrada, mayapple, and bloodroot. In the northeast corner of the shade house, a statue of the seated Buddha sits surrounded by Aralias – Siberian ginseng, and California spikenard. We are working on cultivating some of the more challenging Aralias like our NW native devil’s club, as well as American ginseng. Additionally we have a planting of other northwest natives including Oregon grape, evergreen huckleberry, salal, red elderberry, bleeding heart, shooting star, Solomon’s seal, and rattlesnake plantain. We have a mixed bed of ferns including maidenhair, interplanted with goldenseal, yellow root, western coltsfoot, stoneroot and wild ginger. The best part of all is that there is still room for more!!!

This fall, the Bastyr Herb Garden has officially become part of the Botanical Sanctuary Network. I believe it is imperative that Bastyr University become involved in this nationwide effort to raise public awareness about the importance of protecting and restoring native stands while promoting preservation through cultivation of “At-Risk” medicinals. It is my hope that Bastyr’s Herb garden will become a repository of medicinal species from around the world. We look forward to seeding new relationships with like-minded communities, sharing resources and ideas. The Bastyr Herb Garden is honored to be part of United Plant Savers’ important network of medicinal botanical sanctuaries where are efforts to promote conservation through cultivation will be amplified!

By Jenny Perez, B.Sc.
Garden Supervisor & Adjunct Faculty
BU Herbal Sciences alumna