The story of the seeds
Tea by Post began in spring 2021, with a public call-out for participation through community groups, social media and VAI advertisement; SAEs for seeds and drawings were then posted out to participants, with the offer of a herbal tea at harvest time in return. A multitude of seeds and cuttings began arriving back by post, including calendula, chamomile, lemon balm, mint, rosemary, sage, hyssop fennel, thyme, among others. The packaging of the seeds was often beautiful, thoughtful and creative, including drawings, prints and handwritten notes. The post was a joy to receive! I sowed the seeds in Kildare’s early March sunshine and watched as the first cotyledons appeared, those small embryonic leaves that first appear in germinating seeds. They started to shape into distinct seedlings - long thin fennel, squat velvety borage, and everything in between.
We moved house in late spring, to a 70s bungalow in Leitrim with an overgrown garden. The trays of seedlings were packed onto the backseat of the car, waiting for their new soil. Once the herbs were replanted, summer brought an abundance of growth and colour and insect life. The fennel, in particular, was astonishing - tall and sturdy with buoyant plumes, teaming with bees, wasps, iridescent flies, striped hoverflies. The garden revealed treasures: an old rose bush by the front wall with big pink aromatic flowers, wild spotted orchids standing tall among the grass, a track by the garage filling up with horsetail as big as its prehistoric ancestors.
I began to think more of my collaborators in the garden, and those I had displaced. The ants who scurried about when I lifted plants from old pots, the slugs (so many slugs!) who had multiplied in the dense wet grass and, of course, the fennel inhabitants. I thought too of the soil itself; reading the work of Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, I began to think about the temporality of care, of the timelines of soil, of our impositions of productivity and results, and the creation of artworks.
As the hedgerows of Leitrim grew more abundant throughout summer, I also thought about work in general and the control we exert over processes. Here I was surrounded by wild mint, tiny ditch-sweet strawberries, fragrant meadowsweet, dark green nettles, all growing carefree and easy. And yet, I was still out with a torch at night hunting for slugs among the hyssop leaves. I thought about interventions, how much we do, what is necessary and unnecessary (I have not come to conclusions yet).
In September, at the height of harvest, we unexpectedly had to move house again - our landlord was planning to sell. Every morning that month, I checked the seeds on the fennel plants, willing them to turn green and then brown and to become ready for harvesting. I added those seeds that obliged to the bounty collected over the summer: dried leaves and petals of cultivated and wild plants.
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
(Sumer is icumen in, Medieval English canon)
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined -
(William Carlos Williams' Spring and All)
A month or so later, in our new house, I sat at the table hand-stitching tea bags to send to seed-sharers. There were three blends, you can read more on them here. The blends were informed by the work of Anna Drews, a herbalist who gave one of four workshops on skills related to plants and our natural environment, funded by Creative Ireland funding. More on the workshops can be seen here.The final packaging was designed in open source software Scribus, and riso-printed by Wild and Kind in Glasgow, a zero-waste non-profit studio in Glasgow.
And so, what I thought would be a neat year-long project will instead be the beginning of a new way of working, with slowness, with less evidence, with more reflection. Even this website, which I thought would be ready by spring 2022 will, I imagine, meander along slowly for a long time yet..! Inspired by the pace of soil, and the work of Megumi Tanaka (link in the resources section), who writes on the development of websites as organic gardens, this website will hopefully be a slow-growing garden. I would like to thank my parents for their gardening advice and project support, Deirdre O’Mahony for her expert guidance and mentorship, my partner Fergal for his support, photography and advice, those who gave workshops, the Arts Council and Creative Ireland for financial support, and to the very generous seed-sharers!