Amazing Spaces that Inspire and Delight
Erraid an island at the end of the world
Page VI of my latest adventures: The Findhorn Community on the Isle of Erraid.
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Landscape Design and Landscape Development
The ground outside in rich, dark heaps, the sky letting loose
The main campus of the Findhorn Community in Morayshire is an experiment in conscious living, an education center
and an eco-village. The many educational workshops there offer a journey toward a unique blend of practical spirituality and
conscious, sustainable living. Here on the Isle of Erraid, the day-to-day living presents a quiet interlude, or retreat, as well as the
challenge of working with the natural forces of nature in a meaningful manner.Â Itâ€˜s marvelous to experience the prevalence
and influence of nature on the daily life in Erraid, the sudden changes of wind and weather, the rhythms of sea and moon, light
and darkness. The constant transitions of weather and the beauty of the land, sea and sky are simply stunning. It remains a
humbling reminder of what a tiny part of creation we human beings actually are.
Mornings begin at six with the clanging of the Isle bell. Then itâ€™s off to a meeting in the central hall to discuss chores
for the day and on to the mediation chapel if youâ€™re so inclined. The chapel is set high on the island with a wall of glass
overlooking the ocean. The views are always glorious, and a soft whispering of the wind whistling among the eaves tends to lull a
personâ€™s thoughts. When the bell rings again, itâ€™s down the hill I go with Goosy following in hot pursuit. Breakfasts are
incredibly warming to the body and the soul with the large ceramic and chrome wood stove in the kitchen doing its best to keep
visitors tempted with freshly baked breads and oatmeal pies on a daily basis. Â
At eight oâ€™clock, everyone whoâ€™s working sets out with raincoat in hand.Â The weather is predictably
unpredictable. Many days the wind is soft and the sun is shining brightly, and then ten minutes later youâ€™re in the center of a
northeastern with horizontal raindrops that feel like hail. I grew so accustomed to the capricious weather that I just kept on
working unless the rain was so fierce that my visibility was severely impaired. Because Erraid is a working farm, the chores are
numerous. The animals and theÂ vegetable garden, both of which feed this small community, are top priorities. The herb and
flower gardens were in a state of decline when I arrived and the tool shed in dire need of organizing. It was my job to organize it
all and ready the gardens for spring planting. Order was needed so I started the volunteers on cleaning up the tool shed. We
took an inventory and cleaned, oiled and sharpened the tools, setting aside the ones that needed to be repaired. Now we were
ready to tackle the herb garden.
Restoring the Celtic Herb Garden
From the very first days twenty-five years ago, the soil on Erraid has had the benefit of good wholesome compost made
from organic waste, organic straw and, of course, steaming heaps of dung from the organically reared cows and hens. All this
richness, along with copious amounts of fresh rainwater, keeps the crops growing better every year and the vegetables
abounding in life-giving energy. It wasn't always this way however. The soil in the front gardens was not original to the island. In
the time of lighthouse building, a dark, light loam was imported from Ireland, reputedly as ballast in ships sending stone out from
the quarry. This may have contributed to the gardens' productivity. The main 'magic' ingredients for the gardens are, however,
cow dung from the animals, and, even more importantly, seaweed, which washes up in great quantities down near the croft after
storms. Seaweed contains all the micro nutrients that plants need and a major annual task is loading the tractor and trailer with
seaweed and bringing them up the rough track to the gardens. Sometimes 50 or more loads cover the soil. It is backbreaking,
though if the front loader on the tractor is in commission, the work goes much quicker. Collecting seaweed is neglected at the
communities' peril, as the gardens overlay a raised stone beach and the high rainfall constantly leaches nutrients down through
the topsoil to dissipate among the stones below. But I digress, so let us get back to our chore, which is organizing, cleaning out
and re-installing the Celtic Herb Garden.
I quickly deducted that a mission statement was needed for strength of purpose in cleaning out, redefining and
replanting the herb garden. Reflection and discussion on the definition of a Celtic herb garden ensued during the initial clean up
and preparation stage of the project.Â We needed to have groupings of herbs since an herb garden is, after all, a garden
dedicated to the cultivation of cooking, medicinal, aromatic, and/or magical herbs, and these specimens should have their own
areas. Are you aware that during the medieval period, monks and nuns developed advanced medical knowledge and grew the
necessary herbs in specialized gardens?Â Typical plants were Rosemary, Parsley, Sage, Marjoram, Thyme, Mint, Rue, Angelica,
Bay, Oregano, Dill and Basil. With the advance of medical and botanical sciences in Renaissance Europe, monastic herb
gardens developed into botanical gardens. The section in which herbs were grown became known as a Garden of Simples. Herb
gardens experienced a revival with the work of the British garden historian and horticultural writer, Eleanour Sinclair Rohde
On Erraid the herb garden was purely functional, but we all decided that it could be interesting as well. The next
priority was to identify what had already been planted and what we still needed to plant, especially so since the garden was quite
overgrown and had last been tended to the summer before. Here, tender seed heads and clumps of seeding wormwood, as well
as the still fragrant oreganos with brown blossoms, are left as winter food for the birds and small wild animals. We pulled on our
boots, took out our spades and pruners, and embarked upon our mission. When youâ€™re faced with a mess, the best course of
action is to take a small section and start to clear it off. Proceeding one section at a time gives you the satisfaction of seeing
some actual progress and generates enthusiasm in the process.
Each section of the Findhorn Celtic Herb Garden was outlined in rocks, some of which had lost their moorings and
needed to be reset. Once the plants were tidied up and the stones reset, our next chore was to divide some of the larger plants.Â
Waste not, want not is my standard bearer, so we potted up the divisions that we didnâ€™t need in the herb gardens and put
them aside to be used in the window boxes or elsewhere on the island.Â The final chore in tidying up was to haul the heavy
compost across the windy plot and gently lay down two inches in all the beds. Â
Sweet Alyssum foaming in fragrant waves and armies of Johnny Jump-ups
We separated the unruly Wormwood and cut and planted it around the circular center of the herb garden to form a circular
hedgerow containing bright red Bee Balm.Â Thyme was encouraged to trail over the edging rocks in front of the hedgerow. Can
you picture the lush green Thyme matching the green of the Bee Balm foliage with an embrace of silvery Wormwood (Artemisia)
and sweet Alyssum? In full growth it will appear to be a giant wreath.
One tiangle was planted with culinary herbs, such as Winter Savory, Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Salad Burnet and Bay.Â
Others will be planted with herbs for the bees, including more Monarda (Bee Balm, but in pink), Hyssop, Agastache, purple Sage,
and Rue with golden Thyme tumbling out of the front of the hedgerow. What could not be planted during this time was seeded and
put in the greenhouse to prosper for planting out in the spring. Two sections will be outlined in the bee-loving silvery gray foliage
of Nepata with its pretty blue flowers that will need to be clipped in a perfunctory manner to keep its hedgerow shape. Armies of
Johnny Jump-ups were regulated into swaths of colorful abundance.
Another section was devoted to fragrant herbs, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Mignonette, Lavender, and
Orange Mint. I would want to edge this section in Tarragon and center it with the startling white daisy flowers of Chrysanthemum
parthenium Feverfew, also known as Brideâ€™s Button. Across from this section the medicinal section was planted with Rue,
Frigida,Â Sage, Silver Mound and Silver King. More Feverfew will need to be planted to counterbalance the other fragrant sections
and also as an outline for the beds in the sumptuous green of Tarragon interplanted with Lavender.
Across the rear of the garden is a long border of ancient Climbing Roses. These furnish the hips for the Rose Hip tea thatâ€™s
brewed during the winter months.Â The indestructible Teasels, Yarrow, Tansy, Hyssop, the dye plant Isatis tinctoria, also known as
Woad, Fennel and Wild Primroses were planted in front of the Climbers years ago. Fennel Foeniculum vulgare has a pleasing
anise-like flavor, and the flowers are similar to Queen Anneâ€™s Lace, only yellow. In ancient times Fennel was esteemed for its
ability to strengthen sight.Â This entire section will be bordered by the silver velvety leaves of Stachys.
On the next page, are more photographs of this special spot and a Celtic Garden Design which you may copy.
In closing, I must tell you that the quiet aloneness of Erraid holds a special charm for me. Through the restless, rushing
hours of spring here in New England and the long days of summer that begin for me at dawn and end with weeding in the twilight, I
find myself looking back at the peace of that past early spring and forward to my next visit to Erraid. Always, the early spring
landscape, bare and stringent, such as I experienced at Findhorn, reveals a beauty of form and line thatâ€™s not visible in later
spring and summer.Â It was fun picturing how the colors of the blooms and the shapes of the leaves would define the herb garden
during that spring and summer after I visited. I recall wanting to go back in September, not only to take pictures so that I could
further amend the gardens the following year, but also to see the new friends and pen pals I had made, and most of all, to
experience one more time, the invigorating lifestyle that is Findhorn.Â Â
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Cleaned up and the stones reset, but not planted..
On the next page, are more photographs of this special Isle and an original Celtic
Garden Design which you may download.....
On a clear Day you can see forever.........
Observatory: A major project undertaken by theDutch owners was the rebuilding of the old observatory for the lighthouses. They
felt that the small, white-painted, cylindrical metal building perched on the hill was part of the place's charm and heritage.
"It's a piece of history that belongs to the island. We felt it was part of Erraid, an essential part to the Lighthouse communityâ€¦ It's
a mark for ships as well. It's on many maps because it has â€¦ been there (so long)." (Hanke Van der Sluis)
The metal structure had not aged as well as the granite houses. "It was rusting, about to be blown away. We looked into restoring
it, and then decided to replace it."
In 1996, an accurate replica of the original lookout, built in a Dutch workshop at considerable expense, was reassembled on the
Erraid pier from numbered pieces. It was lifted into place by a helicopter, and aligned exactly as the original had been, with the
observatory windows facing Dubh Artach and Skerryvore. Community members supervised the installation.