Rhythm in Nature
In 1935 Dr Rudolf Hauschka, acting on his mentor’s advice to ‘study rhythm’, developed the WALA gardens, a magnificent collection of more than 150 medicinal plant species, in southern Germany.
BY Nicola Harvey | Oct 01, 2010
“Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided,” wrote Renaissance physician, botanist and alchemist Paracelsus, who is regarded by many as the most original medical thinker of the 16th century.
In the 1920s, drawing on this concept, Viennese chemist Dr Rudolf Hauschka consulted his mentor, the renowned Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, to discover how he could better understand life – and thus the concept of healing. “Study rhythm,” was Steiner’s response. “Rhythm carries life.”
After years musing on this advice, Hauschka travelled to the foot of the Swabian Mountains in 1935 with the idea of studying and utilising the ancient rhythms of nature in order to develop innovative medicinal remedies for his customers. A boggy meadow near Eckwälden was purchased and slowly transformed into what is now known as WALA Heilmittel – a 4.5-hectare closed-system biodynamic garden planted, nurtured and cultivated to produce more than 150 medicinal plants.
As winter gives way to spring, the WALA garden blooms extravagantly,
and head gardener Rolf Bucher, along with a small team of full-time employees, embarks on a furious schedule of maintenance and cultivation to ready the garden for the summer harvest. Bucher, a lean gentleman with grey-peppered hair, has been with WALA since 1982. He believes deeply in the biodynamic method Hauschka first introduced to the garden. “We humans need nature, and we believe that nature needs us, too. It is our aim that we – that is WALA and our customers – profit from nature,” he says. Considering the 1000-plus anthroposophical, or homeopathic, medicines and some 130 Dr Hauschka Skin Care products produced from botanicals grown at WALA, one
can appreciate the abundant profits nature has to offer.
While the quantities of crops harvested seem vast (for example, in winter between 400-600 kilograms of bark is peeled from Aesculus, Betula and Quercus trees, and in summer up to 500 kilograms of Borago officinalis is harvested, contributing to an annual haul of around 5500 kilograms of plant material), one can’t help but feel the garden could be mistaken for the grounds of an elegant European country estate. But it is, first and foremost, functional and to keep it looking (and producing) its best requires a full-time commitment. “We work to the rhythms set by the garden,” says Bucher.
“It doesn’t matter to the garden whether it’s the weekend or not.” So, when summer harvest season starts it makes for an early start, and a long day, because machinery is not used. The gardeners, with wicker baskets on their backs, tread rows and fossick in garden beds picking flower heads, herbs, leaves and berries. “Our work is almost exclusively manual, because a machine can’t be made to adapt to the need of the plants,” explains Bucher.
This approach, coupled with WALA’s commitment to using organic techniques including crop rotation, green manure, mulching and promoting organisms to control harmful insects, assists with WALA’s intent to cultivate plant extracts that promote good health and balance.
For those wanting to foster a similar gardening approach, Bucher explains it is essential to understand the garden as a living organism. “The gardener should develop a personal understanding of nature, and fine-tune his or her sense to perceive and shape interactions in nature so that the soil, animals and plant life are sustainable and developed.” For beginners, the easiest way to start a medicinal garden is to choose plants one is familiar with; for instance chamomile, lemon balm and sage can be grown and used in teas, he says.
Bucher’s passion for gardening is contagious. When asked whether, after all these years in the garden, he still finds pleasure in the routine, Bucher replies: “The best thing about working as a gardener is being able to help a garden develop in all its nuances and diversity and to bring these aspects into harmonious accord in much the same way that a symphony conductor guides the instruments of his orchestra into a pinnacle of virtuosity.”
Biodynamic Medicinal Plant Gardens interview with Head Gardener, Rolf Bucher in MiNDFOOD Magazine October 2010.