Stephanie Rose has a deep appreciation for the power of gardening in hard times. In 2006, the author and popular garden blogger became suddenly and severely disabled. The pain started with a headache and morphed into an illness that kept her bedridden for more than a year.
When she was eventually able to walk again, she ventured outside and decided to rebuild her health and her garden at the same time. Taking small steps, she worked to reclaim her garden’s barren earth and experiment with new recipes. “I used gardening to rehabilitate my body and my mind, a process that took many years but changed my life for the better,” she says.
During that time, she also studied permaculture, organic gardening, and herbalism, training as a Master Gardener and sharing her success with people through her blog, Garden Therapy. More than 15 years later, Rose has compiled over 80 recipes and favourite projects into a new book, Garden Alchemy.
Experiment and observe
The book is both inspiring and empowering because it brings together information about soil science and regenerative gardening into easy and accessible DIY projects. From recipes for soil mixes, fertilizers and rooting hormone to instructions for seed bombs, disks, and traps, Garden Alchemy provides the home gardener with a one-stop, DIY resource. “My hope is that readers will realize it takes less work, less effort and less money to work with nature,” she says.
In keeping with the book’s title, Rose sees gardeners having much in common with alchemists, those early scientists attempting to perfect natural elements. While alchemists were famous for trying to turn lesser metals into gold—and failing repeatedly—Rose says their methods were solid.
“They experimented and observed the natural world to learn how it worked. As gardeners it seems we’re doing the same thing: reaching for ever-blooming gardens, incredible harvests, and no pests or diseases in sight.”
These lofty expectations are not only impossible, Rose says, they give us unnecessary stress and headaches. Instead, experimenting and observing your garden will help you learn what works best in your landscape. It will also show you how to “get out of the way and let plants do the job they were meant to do: grow!”
Related: 6 Unexpected Health Benefits of Gardening
A philosopher's stone for gardeners
While alchemists were unable to come up with the ultimate philosopher’s stone, gardeners have something that comes pretty close: compost. Rose points out that most of us spend a lot of time cleaning up our yards and gardens, only to take away the plant matter that would naturally decay and feed the soil. “We have to replace it somehow, so adding compost as a soil amendment or mulch can help bring it back into balance.” So what’s her favourite way to compost?
While alchemists were unable to come up with the ultimate philosopher’s stone, gardeners have something that comes pretty close: compost.
“I use a number of different composting methods in different parts of my garden,” she says. Ease and accessibility are key, and that usually means having multiple systems.
“One indoors for kitchen scraps, one in the vegetable garden, a pile for fall leaves and cut grass, open systems in food forests, and piles in managed woodlands. The type and preference comes down to which one is most useful in your unique garden, so that it always gets used,” says Rose.
Related: The Easiest Way to Start Composting Now
As someone who has studied gardening from many different perspectives, Rose offers little known combinations sure to boost your compost’s health and productivity. Her compost accelerator recipe is built on the premise that certain plants speed decomposition. Knowing what to add gives you the power to work with nature towards a better result.
Inviting nature's helpers
Working with nature extends beyond compost and soil to the creatures living in and around your garden. In Garden Alchemy, Rose includes recipes and projects that will help attract beneficial wildlife.
“Inviting wildlife into your garden is like having a whole bunch of free labour doing garden work for you!” she says. “Birds, reptiles, mammals and predatory insects help to keep pest populations down.”
And while many of us know that we need to support pollinators, Rose says that pests have a role to play too. “Without some pests, what would predators eat? Allowing populations of wildlife in our garden, whether predator, pollinator or pest creates a more balanced ecosystem.”
Related: How to Create a Natural Garden Insectary
Gardening made simpler
Equipped with a copy of Rose’s new book, gardeners will feel confident that they’re ready to tackle any problems that come up. Soil or fertilizer recipes needed? Check. Pest control problem? Double check. Propagation or composting question? She’s got you covered.
Designed like a recipe book, Garden Alchemy doesn’t need to be read cover-to-cover, but sampled throughout as issues and interest arise. But that doesn’t mean you won’t read this indispensable book from beginning to end many times over. The projects are useful and accessible—there’s something for all ages—and so many of gardening’s essential questions are answered all in one place.
Rose’s ultimate goal is to help you create a garden that supports natural growing cycles, so you can spend less effort, money and time. Now that’s something every gardener appreciates.
Home brewed chamomile tea is an excellent antidote to damping off, a fungal disease that often affects seedlings.
Chamomile tea for damping off: recipe
The following recipe is from Garden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and Concoctions for Organic Fertilizers, Plant Elixirs, Potting Mixes, Pest Deterrents, and More, by Stephanie Rose, published by Cool Springs Press. All rights reserved.
Damping off is a fungal disease that appears as a fuzzy, mold like growth on plant stems and seeds, and on soil, usually with seedlings started indoors or in a greenhouse that has high humidity. To prevent fungal growth on seedlings, use German chamomile (Matricariachamomilla) tea.
1 part fresh chamomile or one-fourth part dried
3 parts rainwater or dechlorinated water (see below)
There are two ways to make chamomile tea spray using either the fresh herb or the dried flowers. Only the flowers are used for making a flavored herbal tea for drinking, but you can include the leaves and stems for this recipe.
Harvest fresh chamomile stems with leaves and flowers in the early morning when the flowers are at their peak of perfection. Make sun tea using fresh chamomile leaves and flowers in a Mason jar of water and set in the garden or on a sunny window to infuse for a day.
Brew a tea by pouring hot water over the dried flowers and letting it steep for 24 hours.
Strain the tea, cool, and use the mixture to water seedlings. Or add to a spray bottle to mist plants and the soil daily.
Chamomile tea can also be used as a foliar spray for preventing disease on established plants.
How to dechlorinate water
Tap or garden water that comes from municipal sources is often treated with chlorine to remove and suppress microorganism growth. We want to encourage the growth of beneficial organisms as well as retain a plant’s herbal properties. If you don’t have a large enough supply of available rain water, then allow water to sit in a wide-mouth bucket for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate or use boiled (and cooled) water.