A Place Apart, by Tom Griffin & Jon Marmor


Medicinal Herb Garden. Click to enlarge.Medicinal Herb Garden. Click to enlarge.Medicinal Herb Garden. Click to enlarge.

Photos © 1994, 1995 Michael Boer. Click photos to enlarge.
The largest medicinal herb garden in the Western Hemisphere sits on three hectares of land south of Bagley Hall and the new Chemistry Building, but some faculty and students don't even know it's there. They hurry between South Campus and Frosh Pond, missing the scents and sights of more than 500 medicinal herbs. The range is astonishing. In addition to the old standards of rosemary, fennel and laurel, you can find prickly pear, wild tobacco and even wormwood. The garden design is minimal—rectangles of raised beds surrounded by gravel pathways—but when I go there on a summer's day, I feel transported to Provence or Padua. That others aren't similarly impressed is no surprise. For many years this campus treasure has suffered from benign neglect. Started by the School of Pharmacy in 1911, in its heyday the garden had 836 species on eight acres. But after World War II synthetic medicine took the place of natural plant extracts. Hit by severe budget cuts, the School of Pharmacy stopped all funding in 1979. The garden might have been lost, but faculty in the Department of Botany saved it. Staffing was limited and the garden suffered until a group of volunteers—Friends of the Medicinal Herb Garden—began to restore the beds in 1984. Another threat came with the construction of the Chemistry Building in 1992 (one UW administrator wanted to turn it into a parking lot). But concerned faculty, staff and volunteers secured some of the construction money to move and renovate some of the beds. About three years ago things started looking up: Keith Possee was hired as its gardener, and he's maintained the plants and added to the collection. The result—the gardens look better today than they have for 20 years.—Tom Griffin

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