The Traditional Gardens of The Miami Valley Council for Native Americans

at Sunwatch Indian Village

The plows, herbicides and pesticides of "modern" agricultural practices had long abused the ancient and sacred lands of the Sunwatch village. The Council took on the obligation to bring healing to the lands. There was a deep sense more was needed to properly show our respect for the spirit of the land and the peoples of the ancient village, as well as to show Council appreciation for use of the Sunwatch lands. So was born the Sunwatch gardens of the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans.

The Council gardens comprise the land between the Sunwatch Center building and the Pow-Wow arbor. This area had been gardened previously by well-intended but misguided Sunwatch/Five Rivers Metropark staff and volunteers. The earth was very badly damaged by plow and neglect. Initial Council garden efforts therefore focused on restoring and revitalizing the soil with mulch, manure and prayer.

The plow and tractor banned, traditional growing mounds were constructed for the creation of the 3 Sisters Garden. A Council herb garden was established for aesthetic, culinary and healing purposes. Visitors to the Council gardens will additionally find a small half-circle garden with mounds built to symbolize the cycles of the moon and sun, as well as trellises for growing a wide diversity of gourds. Most recently, we have begun a large composting area and have further designs for the development of community growing mounds.

All methods applied in the Council gardens follow traditional/indigenous practices as closely as possible. It is the hope of the Council that our gardens will bring further healing to the lands of the Sunwatch village, as well as for the visitors and stewards of these lands. We also hope our efforts will offer a better understanding of the unparalleled beauty and bounty traditional gardens provide in relation to "modern" agricultural practices. We strongly encourage all to visit the gardens and hope it is found to be a place for peace, for healing, and for the reclamation of the old knowledge of truly till-free and sustainable agricultural practices.

3 Sisterís Garden

The 3 Sisterís Garden, comprised of 136 mounds, is the largest of the Council gardens. Each mound is annually home to 4-7 corn, bean and squash plants (dependent on soil conditions, 12 Ė21 plants per mound). A ring of corn plants stand upon the outside perimeter atop each mound, with climbing beans growing inside this ring and up the cornstalks as the growing season progresses. Squash is also planted at the base of each mound with vines winding throughout the garden so as to provide cooling shade for the soil in the heat of the summer days as well as to deter weed growth. Contrary to misguided beliefs, these mounds are permanent and never need to be rebuilt if properly constructed and so long as proper care is provided them.

Visitors to the Council Gardens may notice the 3 Sister and herb gardens have been designed to represent a Medicine Wheel. This design was chosen so as to give recognition and tribute to the circle of life found within the garden as well as within all life. Each of the four quarters of the 3 Sisterís Medicine Wheel garden are planted with corn colors representing the Four Directions as recognized by the Miami Valley Council: yellow corn occupies the eastern quarter; red corn in the south; black corn in the west; and, white corn in the northern quarter.

The spokes of the Medicine Wheel gardens that act as our walkways run diagonally in relation to the Four Directions-- so as the yellow corn of the eastern quarter truly grows in the east, the red corn in the south. As two-legs, we are but visitors and/or stewards in this and every garden of life, as well as benefactors in terms of bounty and beauty. It is therefore our tribute to not only the life of our gardens, but also the Great Circle of Life, that the Sunwatch Medicine Wheel garden spokes/walkways run in a diagonal fashion.

Herb Garden

Sunwatch visitors will discover many healing plants within the Council herb garden. These include bee balm, calendula, chamomile, echinacea, lovage, peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm and pennyroyal. This Council garden is also home to the four sacred herbs. Our sweet grass grows nearly beyond control despite expert advice from numerous sources warning the sacred herb cannot be grown in this region. Our tobacco is no longer planted but returns each year from natural seeding. The garden is further blessed with golden sage, gray sage and purple sage. And, cedar shavings cover the paths in and around the herb garden.

Garden Hands

Many hands have touched the Council gardens. Credit should be sent out to all individuals both within and outside the Council for their contributions. The Sunwatch community, particularly Andy, Director of Sunwatch, have been tremendously supportive of all Council endeavors, the garden being no exception. You have all helped to bring great beauty to the world. You have all helped to bring healing at a time and a place when and where healing is greatly needed. The earth is at least a little bit better place because of you all.

The Future of the Council Gardens

In 2010 the Council gardens enter yet another new phase of development. Although traditional gardening will always be maintained, the garden area will be expanded to include a large-scale composting section. Six large mounds will also be built for adoption by groups from throughout the Miami Valley community. The construction of two new trellises is planned. And, the relocation of the wildflower exhibits to border the pathway extending from the Sunwatch building center to the Council Pow-Wow arbor has been proposed.

A Last Word

The gardens at the Sunwatch lands can be potentially healing in many different ways. Healing of the earth/soil has begun (but will always require more mulch, manure, and love). Healing of the Earth and the Sky with green space offered by the growing of good traditional, nutritious, and healing plants. Healing of those who work in the garden with not only the exercise inherent to garden endeavors, but also with the gifts provided by the vitamins and minerals our skin absorbs while laboring in the sunshine and soil. Healing of the local community, of those visitors who have had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of traditional gardens and to breath the good air these gardens supply. And, perhaps most importantly, a healing of the extended community via the good works of the Miami Valley Council relief efforts for which sales from garden produce are reserved.

For those interested in the methodology of traditional gardening, a booklet will be released later this year via Sunwatch and the Miami Valley Council, proceeds from which will also be reserved for Council relief work.