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ABC Collaborates with Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin to Create Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden

Several colleges of acupuncture and Oriental medicine* in the United States have established student garden programs to enhance herbal studies and to provide a contact point for their respective local communities. In 2001, High Falls Garden (HFG), a farm-based, nonprofit educational organization in Philmont, New York (, obtained funding to create or improve these student gardens, and has been offering seeds and botany instruction since then. New funding has allowed HFG to expand these programs from 2006 through 2008.

Dr. Luo Song from the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin (AOMA) sprays an organic herbicide of orange oil and vinegar on the ground for the future Oriental Garden. Photo ©2007 ABC

One of the 15 schools benefiting from this program is the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin (AOMA). When AOMA approached the American Botanical Council (ABC) about working together to create an Oriental Herb Garden at ABC’s headquarters, it did not take long to determine that this was a collaboration that would benefit both organizations. ABC had long wanted an Oriental Herb Garden, as well as to work more closely with AOMA on a project. AOMA had access to some funding, seeds, and plants for a garden, but no place to put it. A few meetings ensued and soon representatives of both organizations were forming plans and working on the design for the new garden.

It was important to both ABC and AOMA to fulfill the specific objectives of HFG’s Botanical Studies for Oriental Medicine program. These objectives are as follows:

  • to provide the means and opportunity for all oriental medicine students and practitioners to have hands-on contact with living medicinal plants;
  • to adapt the study of botany for graduate-level electives and continuing education in oriental medicine;
  • to build the capacity of the profession to assess and monitor medicinal plant quality, including plant identification, cultivation techniques, traditional processing methods, and description analysis;
  • to increase demand for local ecologically-grown farm products; and
  • to continue to develop connections among herbalists, conservators, and farmers on a local and regional basis.

To address these objectives, the students at AOMA are closely involved in researching the specific Chinese medicinal plants that will grow in Central Texas and that will be representative of the major functions of herbs in oriental medicine. AOMA students are part of the garden design process and will be an ongoing part of the implementation and maintenance of the garden. They will keep records of their activities in the garden during each of their visits and this information will be collated and used to report on the project’s progress to HFG, as well as shared with the other designated sites participating in the program. Once the garden is actually growing (spring 2007), AOMA faculty and ABC staff will present classes in the garden for both AOMA students and the general public.

Work began on the garden on July 29, 2006, when a group including ABC staff, AOMA staff, students, and faculty gathered at ABC headquarters to lay black plastic over an area of approximately 360 square feet where the garden will be located. The intense summer sun coupled with the black plastic will work to “solarize” the soil beneath, effectively killing any grass or weeds that are growing there. The plastic has been left in place for two months, and upon its removal, paths will be laid down, beds will be dug, and planting will begin.

The garden will be octagonal, the shape of the ba gua (an energy map based on the concepts of yin-yang, the eight trigrams of the I Ching, and the theory of the Five Elements). The actual garden beds will be located in a 4-foot wide outer octagon containing approximately 200 square feet of planting space. Inside the garden will be a 4-foot wide octagonal decomposed granite path and a central design element that will represent Oriental medicine. Some of the plants for the garden will be started from seedlings grown in ABC’s greenhouse this winter, and some will be started from cuttings of plants already at ABC. Additional plants will be obtained from other sources.

The grant AOMA receives from HFG will cover only part of the costs for implementation of the new Oriental Herb Garden, and it is spread out over a three-year period. To complete the garden and make it a showplace garden and teaching tool, ABC is seeking additional funding to support this project. The creation of an Oriental Herb Garden among ABC’s existing medicinal theme gardens has generated much interest and excitement locally, and ABC hopes it will also generate interest among its supporters.

—Gayle Engels

* Editor’s note: In principle, HerbalGram does not prefer the term oriental as an adjective to describe items from Asia, generally preferring the term Asian as a more precise geographic term. However, insofar as the word oriental has become widely used in the Acupuncture and “Oriental” medicine community, we use this term in the narrow context in this article.

Sarah Bentley, community services coordinator for AOMA, and ABC gardener Nate Sponseller cover the ground with black plastic to solarize the area