What had begun as a simple idea, the creation of a campus garden to supply students with fresh, nutritious, and vitalizing herbs, has already successfully unfolded to reveal a more cohesive community and localized food base. The William and Mary Herb Garden was originally designed as a project in sustainability meant to decrease the College's environmental footprint and supplement dining hall meals with a ready supply of fresh, aromatic herbs, but has increasingly become a means of students engaging productively with their food system.
Both the placement and design of the garden were a collaborative effort, each resulting from external consultation and student support. Rather than till a rectangular plot hosting only 2-3 varieties of herbs, a double-digging workshop broke ground on a unique design suited to the location and effectively involves the student body in the garden's installation. Double digging is less invasive to soil processes and aerates the soil to a depth of 2 feet with a mix of organic matter, encouraging expansive root growth and healthy plants. Four plots encircle a central herb spiral, melding colonial style with a modern permaculture twist and putting sustainability in a local context while introducing an innovative, bio-intensive method to traditional gardening. The central spiral structure is comprised mainly of compost, the meter-tall slopes of which create a variety of microclimates perfectly suited to the diverse needs of the herbs we now have growing, including: basil, rosemary, lavender, English and lemon thyme, 3 varieties of sage, tarragon, fennel, and yarrow. Those which require more sunlight are placed on the south slope, as those demanding more water are placed at the base of the spiral, where water is naturally led to drain. This design which utilizes inherent qualities of the conical shape allows more to be grown in a smaller space, increasing output even in confined conditions. The path surrounding this spiral is currently marked with locally gathered mulch, although future plans include a compacted pathway with shells or bricks, true to our coastal and colonial history. Additionally, these plots will be lined with a border which is woven from deconstructed art projects made by students at the College.
The working group which initially spearheaded the project, comprised of student and faculty representatives (Eric Engstrom, Jane Gray Morris, and Emily Anthony) as well as individuals from Dining Services (Larry Smith) and Campus Kitchens (Andy Runyan) has met regularly to develop a plan for the plot's installation, use, and maintenance. Currently, employees of the Commons enjoy taking part in a daily watering routine, and are helped by members of the student Farmers and Gardeners working group which augment the soil with fresh compost at least once per week. A long-term plan is being formed regarding regular maintenance of this project in future years, and no help from Facilities Maintenance should be required for its upkeep. A guide detailing specifics on maximum harvestable yields, as well as plant use and identification, is now being compiled independently for use by chefs and those charged with collecting the herbs. Both Campus Kitchens and Dining Services have expressed an interest in participating in the herb harvest. In the next few weeks, what is gathered will go to support the efforts of each group to respectively extend the benefits of this local bounty to families in need and summer school residents on campus. Furthermore, all harvests will be weighed and catalogued, informing future herb purchases and helping the Committee to gauge the garden's effectiveness in buffering the steep costs of current sourcing methods.
To date, the garden has been a community effort; from double digging to planting, the process has been a fun and educational way of engaging students with the landscape and encouraging continuing involvement. It is this type of integrated approach that lies at the heart of sustainability and will allow initiatives like the garden to become permanent establishments at the College. Continuing with this spirit, there are plans to add an additional interactive, educational structure to complement the garden and display information about the herbs and their connection to sustainability at William and Mary.
Natural building, a method of construction which responds both to a particular physical environment and the culture which creates it, is specific to a time, place, and people. As a result, there are infinite possibilities in its design which can be informed by the landscape as well as representatives from various departments on campus, making the material perfectly suited for use in this educational structure. The design currently includes a bench and kiosk area, and also features a slanted roof which will drain to two donated water barrels, altogether removing the need for and costs of using potable water in the garden. The structure will be made almost completely from recycled, reclaimed, and natural materials which are free from chemical toxins and negative impact on the surrounding environment. Included informational signs will display sponsors (CoS, Dining Services, Campus Kitchens), a permanent copy of the Sustainable Herb Identification and Harvesting Guide, ongoing sustainable activities on campus, and information about how to get involved with all garden initiatives at William and Mary.
The intention with this additional building is to inclusively spread the message of sustainability, foster a strong community ethic, and build respect between individuals and the land. Meetings are currently being held and scheduled with members of the Arts and Sciences department, as well as students and external sources, to get input during this ongoing process and make sure the structure's design ensures it is well-utilized by the William and Mary community for years to come.