Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Sanctuary Steward: Jen Frey

heart springs sanctuary
Jen Frey walking through the meadow of Heart Springs Sanctuary
eastern tiger swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies on Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

In 2014, heartbroken, I sold my beloved farm. This was the place that helped my life-long affair with Plants bloom into something deeper and pushed me down my Soul’s path. I loved the farm—it was where my babies grew and explored. It was where I discovered many dreams as well as illusions. As I mourned the “loss” of my farm, I kept hearing, “There is a better place.” I didn’t know how this would be possible. Still, I hoped that I would find a place where I could work with the Nature Beings to create a Sanctuary.

Almost three years and many dreams and prayers later, I first stepped foot on the Land which I call Heart Springs Sanctuary. As soon as I did, I knew this was the place where I could co-create a Sanctuary to help humans connect more deeply with Nature. I quickly realized that the message I received was right—there was a better place for me. The Land was calling my youngest son and me Home.

clearing field japanese hops
Clearing the Japanese Hops from future rain garden

Heart Springs Sanctuary is 4.5 acres located in a tiny town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There are three ponds and a small creek. Even though this is a much smaller property than our farm, the biodiversity here is amazing due to the variety of ecosystems, including full sun, part shade, full shade/wooded, wetland, and aquatic.

From the beginning, I viewed this place as a Sanctuary, a place where all Beings have a right to thrive and live together, a place that demonstrates how to work co-creatively with Nature Spirits. When I heard Kathleen Maier talk about the importance of living Seed repositories during a Teleseminar about the United Plant Savers’ Goldenseal Sanctuary, I applied to join the Botanical Sanctuary Network. In my application, I stated that I wanted to be part of this network “to give more awareness to UpS and the need to be in good relationship with the Plants.” I was hoping that the signs “would cause some people to pause and wonder about a botanical sanctuary and maybe even research UpS.”

Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) field near the ponds
Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) field near the ponds

While there are more organic farms in Lancaster County than the rest of Pennsylvania combined, they are not my neighbors. I am surrounded by large farms, which mostly raise GMO corn. They are heavily sprayed and receive extensive amounts of fertilizer (mostly manure) because the soils are hard-packed and depleted. One of the issues we face at Heart Springs Sanctuary is that the water runs off of the fields as if they are parking lots and is directed towards the Sanctuary; along with the water comes the chemicals and fertilizers, which quickly go into the stream and eventually, flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

My neighbors are good people whose families have been working these farms for generations. They are suspicious of foreigners (which I am, even though I have lived my life in Lancaster County) and environmentalists, having been told that we want to destroy their livelihoods. However, they would be the first to help if I ever needed it. The first time I met my neighbors, who own the farm across the street, I told them that I work with Plants for healing. The wife was surprised to hear that the weeds she was fighting were edible. I wanted the signs for the Sanctuary to be a gentle reminder that there is a different way as well as to catch the attention of those driving by.

The Labyrinth at Heart Springs Sanctuary

Sure enough, the first day I posted the signs, a neighbor I had not met before came over to introduce himself and to talk to me about them. We happened to be creating the Labyrinth that day, so on top of learning about the Sanctuary, he was introduced to Labyrinths. One of our signs was stolen, probably by a teenager, which also means that they were noticed. (Honestly, I’m surprised that only one was stolen.) Sometimes I chuckle to myself when I imagine a teenager with a sign in their room that states, “This land is being managed for wildlife and medicinal herbs. No hunting, gathering, or trespassing.”

As a Botanical Sanctuary, we of course grow and plant at-risk and native Plants, as well as those Plants which and honor the Beings of the Sanctuary, though I have found in the long run this is a much more efficient and effective way, working with Nature rather than against.

I have the same philosophy towards so called invasive Plants. I figure that they are here for a reason. I had this belief greatly tested this year by Japanese Hops (Humulus japonicus). Japanese Hops first appeared last year. However, this year, they were taking over large areas of the Sanctuary, completely covering Bushes and Trees. When I finally was able to spend time with Japanese Hops, I discovered that they were trying to get my attention, which they did quite well, because I was avoiding working on a project which the Nature Spirits had requested. This project was to create a sort of rain garden where the water fl owing in from the farm collects. This area was also the dump for the previous owners. Besides helping to slow down the water and capture the run-off , this garden is meant to shift the vibration of the water before fl owing into the creek. It seemed like too big of a project, and I kept delaying. Thanks to Japanese Hops, I was encouraged to start. We started by clearing the Japanese Hops from this area, creating gigantic mountains. What I discovered was that the Hops were helping us because they smothered all of the other Plants that were growing there except for the Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida). This made the project easier and more manageable. Plus I had lots of fun with Japanese Hops. We did complete the fi rst stage of the project in the area where the Deer started rubbing. We will expand the planting area in the spring and will probably add Mushrooms to the “rain garden”. Then there are other steps to do to help slow the run-off .

One of the messages that I received this year is that I’m really great at creating for other Beings: Plants, Animals, Insects, and Faeries; but I’m not so great at creating for humans. Since the classes I teach here are for humans, to help them connect more deeply with Nature and to learn how to work with the Plant and Nature Spirits for healing, it seems important that I create spaces for humans as well. This is another area where we will be focusing next year and beyond. My plan is to create some whimsical areas to make it easy to interact with Nature. So that those who are visiting the Sanctuary but not studying with me can still have their Soul stirred by Nature and hopefully remember how important this Sacred relationship is.

When I applied to be part of the Botanical Sanctuary Network, I expected to be working with the Land in this manner, and I expected to catch the attention of my neighbors; however, I was surprised by the conversations that this prompted with my son and his friends. My sons grew up close to Nature and were always taught to respect and revere Nature. However, my youngest is now a teenager. He wants to do things that I do not like, and he (of course) thinks that I’m restrictive and ridiculous. He and his friends want to drive their trucks around the Land, shoot targets, and set off fireworks. So we have discussions about this and how it is not in alignment with being a Sanctuary and how these actions affect the other Beings who live here. They can understand that a Sanctuary is a special place where the Land and Beings are respected and honored. Even if they laugh and complain about it when I am not around, they are learning a very different way of living with Nature, and they are honoring this (mostly).

These are all small efforts; however, we never know how far their effects will ripple out. I am grateful to live in a place of Beauty where I continuously learn what it means to be in co-creative partnership with Nature. I am grateful to United Plant Savers, their Botanical Sanctuary Network, and to all of you who are making small and large efforts to create healing and change for the Plants and other Beings with whom we share this wondrous Planet. May our efforts ripple out far and wide as we create the world of our dreams.