Introduction For our Campus Day (Sept. 20, 2011) community service project, the three of us worked in Bonney Castle's Knot Garden, first weeding the actual knot itself and then the areas surrounding it in order to facilitate later planting of herbs and other, more beneficial plants. This project and the work done by the rest of the class were partially funded by the GLISTEN (Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship Through Education Network) Project. We worked under the guidance of Lucy Chamberlain, a Hiram alumna who was was involved with the initial creation of the Bonney Castle gardens. Her design credits include the Shakespeare Garden at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York. We planted two kinds of thyme within the knot in order to keep with the tradition of English Knot Gardens. We also participated in clearing out invasive species from the area near the knot garden in order to keep them from running rampant through the garden. We were up with the sun – or, in the case of Cara and Rachel, before it – in order to make sure our project was a success.
What is a Knot Garden?
Put simply, a knot garden is a garden created by interweaving patterns of different herbs in order to create a pleasing and often colorful design. Often, herbs that help each other grow (or ones that keep away insects or other harmful creatures) are planted together. The idea originated in medieval England.
Knot Gardens were adopted by the English to follow the style of the former Roman conquerers who followed a style of symmetry and being formal. The symmetrical gardens that started with the Romans grew to include herbs for both food and medicine. The beauty and function of this style of gardening fits in with modern soceity. The history of English gardens can be explored at this site below.
Weeding unwanted and invasive plants from the Knot Garden and the areas surrounding it, as well as planting thyme in the Knot Garden itself. The invasive plants that we removed were mostly non-native trumpet vine and multiflora rose which can be found on this site set up by the USDA to list noxious plants that have invaded both ohio and the whole U.S.
Getting an early start was greatly beneficial to the process, as was choosing the day we worked. The earth was still damp from a rain that had happened previously and very aerated, allowing us to easily remove the invasive plants, root to stem, without leaving behind many roots that might allow them to grow back.
When Cara and Rachel began working during the morning, they chose opposite sides of the knot garden and moved in a clockwise direction so as not to obstruct each others’ workspace and to make sure that each could double check the other’s work as they got to it. Once Ben joined at 8:00am and the three of them began working in the area next to the garden, they also chose three specific areas so as to get the work done as efficiently as possible.
What could have been done differently?
We did not have prior information about the knot garden or what an ordinary knot garden usually entails. This would have been a more difficult problem if we were given a more integral task than just simply weeding. As it was, we learned about knot gardens as we went.
At one point new people showed up to help, and we allowed them to work on a particular part of the garden that we had not yet gotten to. Unfortunately, they were not as thorough as we were about pulling out weeds, and we eventually had to waste valuable time going back and finishing the task that they started and then left. We should have kept our claim on the garden as a whole and finished at our own pace.
Seeing “the Big Picture” in terms of Watersheds
A watershed is the area of land (usually between two hills) in which all of the rain and other runoff drains into one particular body of water. They cover the Earth; there is no area outside of a watershed. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to tell that one is in a watershed, and thus the implications of that statement are lost. People do not realize that all of the water that they use, be it in gardening, showering, or even cooking, drains into the same place and will often come back to them. Learning to grow with one's own watershed instead of polluting it is one goal that must be met if we are going to rehabilitate the Earth. Hiram itself is, of course, in a watershed, which has formed the bulk of our studies for our course. Because of that, we wanted to do an activity on Campus Day that would specifically tie in to our particular watershed, hopefully for the better.
Though it may not appear to be, the idea of a knot garden is intimately connected to watershed conservation: namely, because a knot garden is sustainable in and of itself. While we worked on it to make it clean and tidy, the idea of a watershed is that its interlocking herbs grow together and help each other, rather than competing as normal gardens do. The stones shaping the outside garden area allow water to pass through freely, letting it enter the soil and enrich the plants instead of helping it wash awaay uselessly, as a cement border would. Our work in removing plants also helped aerate the soil for easier nutrient consumption and release. Even the walls around the outer flower beds are formed from sandstone blocks, which are a permeable material.
Knot gardens are areas that are not only visually pleasing, but very effective. They grow herbs essential for human use in food and medicine. If everyone gardened this way, using their sense of aesthetic to help their gardens grow instead of immediately using pesticides and herbicides, the world would see a vast drop in herbicide/pesticide use, which could result in the world becoming much healthier. A lot of the chemicals that are used on gardens just wash off and end up in the soil and water supply, causing problems. Knot gardens show how integrally the world works together and teaches us that we are not outside it, as so many people think, but truly within it, just as much as the interwoven herbs.
Working in the Knot Garden helped us develop several key skills. The ability to work well as a group was first and foremost; we were able to divvy up the work quickly, easily and equally so that everyone could work at their own pace and still reach the common goal without overloading another group member. We also learned how to interact with the others working in the same area and with the people who came to teach us about the work we were doing. Our work ethic was tested as well; Cara and Rachel awoke at 6:20 in order to get to the garden and begin working at 7 o’clock.
While it may not be a skill, our appreciation of the natural world also grew. Being able to see and understand how the herbs worked together to create a beautiful garden allowed us to infer greater ideas about the beautiful composition of the Earth itself, and how valuable and wonderful it is.
During the morning, we came across some wildlife! Grubs and caterpillars were found in the soil while we were pulling up weeds, a spider perched on lamb's ears, and Rachel found a tiny salamander in the pebbles of the knot garden itself! Two more salamanders were discovered later in the day.
Why is this Important?
Here are some personal reflections on the importance of the project.
From Rachel Searle-White:
Why is this important in general?
Knowledge gain and dispersal is one of the biggest reasons that this is important. The completion of the knot garden and all it represents will be an example to future classes at Hiram College of both history and what the earth needs to keep healthy. People need to be informed about ecological issues of wetlands and the Earth in general, and something beautiful and eye-catching may be all they need to look closer and possibly find out more.
Community action is another reason. It is important for everyone to learn to work with varieties of people; too often we are stuck in thinking we are alone, when in fact we are most powerful when one idea animates a large group of people.
Why is this important to me?
From my perspective as a theatre major, I think about this work in terms of human interaction for global gain. Perhaps if I make my work interactive enough and am able to show and tell others about it, people will become more knowledgeable about wetlands and the need to preserve and protect them. I could use this opportunity to create a skit about what I did and why, and perhaps perform it for people who did not have the opportunity to help out/perhaps do not understand why this is important. I want to change peoples’ lives, even if it’s just slightly; I want to make a difference, both to people and the environment.
Environmental and human impacts are also crucial. Through this project I can work with many groups of people, all of whom have at least some sort of interest in helping the Earth; together, we can create an example for generations later. If the knot garden is kept up, it will be a link to history from our past (where the gardens initially originated) far into the future, and that will show new generations what they can do to help the environment.
From Cara Battaglia:
I suppose I'm a bit of a "tree-hugger" in that I love the environment, especially in our area, where I have grown up. I love the outdoors, and I would like our earth to continue as long as possible. It is important to me that we all do our part in conserving energy, being sustainable, and using our resources wisely. As a Theatre Arts major, I'm always getting the question "What are you going to do with that?" I think that it's important to know that it's not just the scientists who should be doing science, not just the environmentalists who should care about the environment, and so on. Theatre is about relating to our world and other people, and that certainly can't happen if there isn't a world to relate to.
Humans and our need to change things in our environment are a big hazard to the world continuing sustainably. However, it is possible for us to coexist with the environment, rather than making it worse at every turn. It takes a little bit of research and finding out what we can do, and then it might take getting used to a new routine, but it's nothing too difficult to accomplish. If we don't do something, no one will.
In keeping with my love of theatre, I put together a video blog of our work on Campus Day, which you will find at the bottom of this webpage. Enjoy.
From Ben Flowers:
From my background as a History Major maintaining a knot garden represents susustainable processes that have lasted through time. Knot gardens have been in use since the medieval times in Europe. Maintaining customs that can be passed down from generation to generation is extremely interesting. Utilizing old techniques within a modern society can blend old and new and teach a younger generation the history of the world which they can touch and interact with. The garden is a good step for this college and community to educating the public about our past.