Guest Blog: The Horticratic Oath Says First, Do No Harm to the Soil

We thank our friends at Earthcare Natural Lawn and Landscapes and Purple Cow Organics of Wisconsin, one of America’s finest compost companies, for permission to republish this food for thought:

Purple Cow Organics specializes in turning what would otherwise be food waste products into rich soil amendments.

By Darrell Smith and Sandy Syburg (first printed in Natural Awakenings, Milwaukee edition)

The ancient Hippocratic Oath begins, “First, do no harm…” Each year, new doctors promise to uphold this oath in their medical careers. The idea is simple: doctors should improve a patient’s health, or at the very least, not harm it. What would happen if we, as citizens of the earth, were to take a similar oath toward plants? Perhaps a “Horticratic Oath” is an equally important promise, addressing the foundation of life on earth. Such an oath would need to entail the following:

First, improve the soil.

Soil, the living skin of the earth, is an extremely thin zone of fertility that is crucial to the sustainability of human life and especially for the lives of terrestrial creatures. Soil provides an anchoring point for plants, and more importantly, holds minerals essential for plant health. Healthy soil leads to healthier plants and ecosystems.

Second, work with natural systems.

Plants are miraculous. They use water and sunlight to literally turn air into sugar, transforming carbon dioxide into carbohydrates in order to build cell structures that will become food, fuel, shelter and medicine. The miracle of plants is that they are producers, and if given proper conditions, they produce abundantly.

Third, feed soil biology.

Plants need soil minerals and the vital nutrient nitrogen, which they are unable to access on their own. Billions of microscopic organisms are required to unlock the nutrients stored in the soil and to “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere — meaning that bacteria in the soil assimilate atmospheric nitrogen and release it as they die so that plants can use it. The unseen microscopic world fuels the entire growing system.

To abide by the Horticratic Oath, we would protect the health of living systems above and below the ground. Aggressive tilling, over-fertilization and synthetic pesticides all degrade soil biology and destroy its organic matter. Carefully maintained organic soils absorb more water, support greater microbial life and allow plants to take in mineral nutrients that make them more disease and pest resistant. From the human standpoint, the payoff is in healthier plants that improve our bodily health and make for better living and working environments. So, let us take the first step of the Horticratic Oath: first, improve the soil.

Darrell Smith is the owner of Earthcare Natural Lawn and Landscapes in Milwaukee. He co-wrote the original Horticratic Oath™ with Sandy Syburg, president of Purple Cow Organics based in Oconomowoc, Wi. For more information, email Darrell at

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Morning Eye Candy: Down the Aisle

Wasn’t it only a month ago, give or take, that the Seasonal Border was a simple stretch of soil, spotted with tiny sprouts and shy flowers? Looks like that protective mesh did an admirable job of keeping the squirrels away.

Photo by Ivo M. Vermeulen

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on Monday, April 30th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Around the Garden, Photography.
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Morning Eye Candy: Purple and Gold

Finding photographers among the NYBG staff is proving easier than expected! The Herbarium’s Amy Weiss was kind enough to share these crocuses with us, complete with visitors. The flowers seem glad of the mesh we put down to keep hungry interlopers from rooting around in the soil.

Photo by Amy Weiss.

This entry was posted
on Friday, February 24th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Around the Garden, Photography.
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A renegade weed

Author: Kay

Posted: Thu Jun 23, 2011 10:45 pm (GMT 0)

a big weed ( photo / image / picture from Kay’s Garden )

I found this growing in my flower bed earlier this spring. I had amended the soil with some compost from my work. Our shop is on an old dairy farm, and we pulverize the mounds of manure to use in planting etc.

It was a very nice healthy plant, no bugs, nothing wrong at all, with the exception of being illegal…

It was hard for me to destroy such a pretty plant. Oh well, had to be done.

It grows wild all over in Nebraska. We just don’t pick it, or grow it in our gardens, if we are smart that is…

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Signs of Spring Coming

This time of year more than any other when the cold weather is still stuck upon us we look for any signs of spring. We scour the garden for any hints of warmer weather that will hopefully be on its way soon. We have it lucky right now here in Tennessee. While the snows are burying parts of our country we sit with frigid air but no snow. Warmer days are coming, I’m sure of it! The signs of spring are beginning to appear in my garden.

The daffodils are beginning their growth. They have only just begun to emerge from their winter sleep. Soon they will be highlighting the each garden like little pieces if the sun shining from the soil.

But they are not alone. The Tulips are also in on the game. Negrita and Shirley are pushing up from soil of the front sidewalk garden.

The signs of spring coming are beginning to show here, how about where you are?

Originally written by Dave @ The Home Garden
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without permission. No feed scraping is permitted.
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The Circular Raised Bed

As you might know if you followed me on Facebook we had a fantastic weather weekend! Which of course meant what? TIME IN THE GARDEN! 

After being cooped up all winter my daughters and I hightailed it to the backyard and spent the day outdoors digging in the dirt. We accomplished many of the chores I mentioned on Friday (wait they weren’t chores because I enjoyed doing them!). One of those tasks was a rearrangement of the vegetable garden. I wanted to move four small raised beds out of the center and install a retaining wall stone raised bed. The obvious advantage to stone for raised beds is that it won’t rot like my old wooden beds have done. In fact I noticed that the small raised beds I put together last year have some significant rotting along the bottom (see my last picture in this post). They might make it through this year but definitely not another garden season. Because they are wooden they feed the soil as they break down but in the long run they are more expensive to keep replacing than the stone beds.

Here’s a closer shot of the circular stone bed. It’s about four feet across. The ground slopes downward to the left which made leveling the circle a challenge. It’s not set like a retaining wall should be with layers of gravel underneath but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to hold the dirt inside.

Three of the beds that once occupied the area are now in a U shape. Mostly because I thought it looked neat but also because they are easy beds to reach across. These may end up being our greens and beans beds.

The fourth small bed was moved over an existing 4’x6′ bed which turned it into a tiered raised bed system. The left side will get more shade which might be conducive to growing greens a little longer into the summer.

You can see how much those boards that were new last year have rotted in one season. It all depends on the moisture. Dry years will help the boards last longer but it’s been very wet lately. That’s not a bad thing, unless you are an unpressure treated raised bed!

I hope your weekend was as wonderful as ours was!

Originally written by Dave @ The Home Garden
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without permission. No feed scraping is permitted.
All Rights Reserved.

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Hyper Colored Hypericum for Wildflower Wednesday

Cedar Glade St Johnswort is a blaze of multicolored leaves from October  through December in my garden.

 A study in yellows, golds and burgundies  greets me as I walk the garden.

Hypericum frondosum is a fantastic plant that is as happy in a cultivated  garden or woodland  as it is in the forested understory  near a cedar glade.  It’s an easy to grow native of the Southeastern US, including Texas and Louisiana.  It flowers best in full sun with decent moisture, but tolerates dry shade very well.  I mulch it with fallen leaves, but, occasionally it dies back.  Not to worry, it blooms on new growth.  

It came to my garden as the cultivar  ‘Sunburst’; a shorter, more compact looking shrub then  the species.    The mother plant is long gone and all the seedlings have grown to  resemble H frondosum with its  lankier growth habit.

 I love them. I  love their lanky growth; their exfoliating bark; their blue green summer foliage; their hyper colored fall foliage; their golden sunburst flowers; and,  that bees and other pollinators  flock to them when in bloom.  It’s a short lived and free seeding plant and that ain’t bad! I’ve massed them in the garden and still have had enough to share with friends.

Click to enlarge this one!

 I think they are stunning plants in the fall, handsome in the summer and striking in the winter.

At a  friend’s house

Every fall when I see their  brilliant color I wonder why more American gardeners haven’t planted them.  I think they  make a wonderful substitute for the invasive and  ubiquitous  Euonomous alata.   They really are fine looking, four season  semi woodie shrubs that gives you a lot of bang for the gardening buck.

I love the excellent  blue-green foliage and bright sunny yellow flowers.

How could you not consider this beauty for your garden!

The facts about Hypericum frondosum

  • Plant type                 shrub      Native Southeast, Mid-Atlantic states, Louisiana and Texas
  • Light                        full-sun-to-part-shade
  • Height                      2 ft.6 in. to 4 ft.
  • Spread                      about 3 ft.
  • Habit                        upright
  • Soil pH                     slightly-acidic-to-neutral-pH6.5-7
  • Soil moisture            dry, tolerates wet soil in winter
  • Bloom time               early June at Clay and Limestone
  • Flower color             yellow
  • Bloom size                2 in. to 2 in.
  • Foliage color             a luscious blue-green
  • Foliage size               4 in. to 4 in.
  • Faunal Associations  Hairstreak caterpillar and bees  

 Welcome to Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Please add your url to Mr Linky and leave a comment. xxoogail

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