Community Camellia tea and wellness garden to sprout and our first batch of making black Camellia tea.

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Hey everyone, So after speaking to several people and the rather some what frequent request for Camellia tea plants I get from people, I knew I had to come up with a solution or an alternative for people.  For those of you that are not familiar with my background or know about when I give talks about Camellia tea to garden groups or non-profit gardens, a huge part of the talk is “homegrown tea” or “giving access to volunteers to have a tea garden.”  I have in the past given gifts of heirloom American Camellia tea plants to both garden groups and non-profit gardens, examples being the Lowcountry Chapter of the Herb Society of America and to Bok Tower Gardens down in Lake Wales, Florida.  The two cultivars I have shared with them is HSAH #1 and #7.  HSAH #1 was selected as a cultivar potentially to make white tea and #7 to potentially make green tea.  I teach a fusion method of both Chinese and Japanese form for making green tea and both of those cultivars make great green tea for American palates.

While I have no problem sharing those plants or information with those groups, I do not share plants with individuals or businesses because of the potential of commercial enterprise.  It defeats the purpose of promoting,”homegrown tea” and I would only be arming future competition with my ammunition.  Now every so often, I get asked by people who want plants.  I politely explain,”We don’t do that,” for the reasons mentioned.  Then people ask for me to “sell” them the plants, again, I explain,”we are not a certified nursery to sell plants for commercial purposes,” and secondly, “we don’t want to take away from our goals of having our own Camellia tea business.”  I further explain in the future, we do want to set-up a co-op system of a network of farms and to be able to reach back to them in the future with this.  I have had every reaction you can think of from being called,”selfish, greedy, and totally uncool for not sharing,” to “I understand and yes please call me in the future.”

So I wanted to find a balance, of how I could help promote homegrown or community based tea without risking creating competition for my future captialist endeavors. There are several community based gardening and parks programs that already exist in Charleston, yet they have goals that are not necessarily inline with having a community tea garden. Another aspect to consider is that younger generations are “foraging” various plants from the wild not only for food but also for cosmetic and medicinal purposes, yet there is not a community garden in Charleston for such. So it made sense to me, that why don’t we build a community tea and wellness garden.

Since there is a park not too far from my house located in the St Andrews P.S.D. and operated by the St Andrews Parks and Recreation, I wanted to approach them first about it.  At this park, there is a considerable sized area that would make an excellent garden.  So I approached St Andrews Parks and Recreation (StAPR) about the concept, and the initial response was,”Yes.” Yet StAPR does want to see a well developed plan, a core of volunteers, and other supporting documentation which will aid in future potential funding through grants and other donations.

Planning such a garden will take time. We have to get a core of volunteers together, conduct a site analysis, identify potential sources for materials, create documentation about the project, hold public input meetings, open the design process to the public, compile feedback to select a panel of preliminary design selections, and then a decision needs to be made if a singular design is desired or a combination of various designs.  After the final design is chosen, a implementation plan must be approved as it is the road map to construct a garden.  This process can take at least a year before shovel hits the ground.  If it takes longer, this is fine as it is well planned out and meets the desired goals .

So where will this garden be, you might be asking? Well, it is Dogwood Park, located off of Dogwood Road, West Ashley in the Pierpont-Dogwood Gardens neighborhood.  There is a least 4,800 feet square for a dedicated garden of cultivation, but there more area outside of that could be incorporated as well. While it would be nice to develop a beautification plan for the whole site, right now the focus is associated to the garden.

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What also makes this site extremely favorable for building a garden is the soil type. It is primarily a Hockley loamy fine sand, one of the most productive soils in Charleston county for growing things. It drains wells, easy to work, and despite a low organic matter, it’s fertility naturally is moderate. Ideally, you would not have to or really want to build raised bed boxes on this soil, you simply would want to amend and irrigate. You may want to make some smaller raised beds that work with the natural slope topography to channel away runoff. Still, you could not ask really for any better soil, ok maybe a Wando soil, but still great earth to work.

Soil Map Doqwood Park      (Red Dot represents location of Dogwood Park in West Ashley-Charleston, SC)

What also makes this site a great place to have a Camellia tea and wellness garden is that there is several native plants either located on the property or close by in public right a way property that are useful and fit within the wellness portion of the garden.

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Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is one of the most potent and powerful plants that individuals can use due to it’s vitamin content and antiviral properties.  There are several ways to prepare elderberry, it must also be known it can be very toxic and cause severe liver damage if not prepared properly.  Still, the site has the above picture plant located on site and several other areas for it to be cultivated as well.  From my personal experience, Elderberry has stop influenza right in its’ tracks.

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Partridge berry, Mitchella repens, this is an excellent native evergreen ground cover that never became popular in the landscape trade.  Traditionally it is propagated by seed, which may account for the lack of interest or availability.  The fruit mature in June and July and while persist through out the winter.  The pulpy some what bland to a hint of citrus flavored red berries are high in Vitamin C. Again this plant is located on the site of the park currently.  It has also been used in the past as a aid in child birth or with women with irregular cycles.

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Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is another native that is located a short distances away from site in a public right of way area. Two of it uses include the making dye from the berries and also making jelly from the berries. A third use, which has recently been proven to be effective and recently patented, is the use a crushing and rubbing the leaves against the skin to ward off mosquito and ticks. Other uses include making teas and steam baths out of the leaves for fever.

These three plants already exist in a natural capacity to the site. It is only a matter of propagating more of them and incorporating them into the design, as well as other very useful native and non-native plants.  Which leads me to the next part of this blog, where would I get the Camellia tea plants for the garden. Well there is two answers to this question.

Since, I am reluctant to share the Camellia tea plants that I already have.  I had to think about what approaches I could take to get more cutting wood of Camellia tea to make plants for the garden.  One of the answers is to approach Charleston County Parks and Recreation (CCPR) Board of Commissioners with a proposal to allow me to take cuttings from the Caw Caw Interpretative Center, since that is the old site of the American Tea Growers (ATG) operations from 1900-1905.  ATG was suppose to be one of if not the first commercial operation to develop from the Pinehurst Tea Garden Experiment in Summerville since all of the seed used came from Dr Shepard.  Unfortunately, the operation fell apart after one harvest, but the tea plants remained and have been toughing it out ever since.  Now, CCPR may or may not want to take a similar path as StAPR and want to see a well developed plan before allowing access or may want money for exchange of access.  So instead of potentially delaying the production of Camellia tea plants for the garden.  At some point, I will approach CCPR about access to take cuttings to add to the collection at Dogwood Park, since it would promote the use of public land and resource trust for the enhancement of community activities.  So I went for the other option before approaching CCPR.

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You are probably wondering what a sign saying “Tea” and what a hedge row of weeds might have to do with building a tea garden. Well the next picture gives the answer.

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Yes, beneath all those weeds, is a row a of Camellia sinensis. What is more interesting about this row of Camellia tea is that like the plants out at Caw-Caw, this plants came from Pinehurst as well. When Lipton made an agreement with Sebring family to purchase the land that Pinehurst Tea Gardens existed on, they also went into a project agreement with Clemson University. A young student with the last name MacArthur, this project became his P.hD project. He was tasked with not only help move the plants from Summerville to the Wadmalaw Island Research Station, but he also was tasked to propagate those same plants. Before the transfer of plants, Clemson at their what is now called Coastal REC site (former Saint Andrews Truck Farm site) conducted the project. Extra plants were retained as part of the agreement which for awhile constituted a potential for future projects between the Lipton and Clemson, those projects never developed. After three years of planting the initial first three fields at the Wadmalaw Island facility, then Dr MacArthur, the director of the Lipton Research Station, died in a plane crash.

In my time at Charleston Tea Plantation, I spent several occasions trying to decipher the front three fields and the work of Dr MacArthur, there was never any extensive time put into this quest, but I did select one clone out of the front field because of the response it showed.  While I named it something different, it was still too hard to figure out what the original name was. Several of the clones from the front field did make it out for further testing and also was shipped around the world to other Lipton tea plantations.

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So after spending a hour and a half pulling weeds from around one bush. I was able to begin to take cutting wood. I have named the cultivar “Clemson Coastal-Pinehurst Clone A.” I am not too sure how many more cultivars are out there, but I suspect at least two more. I do plan on in the future, returning and trying to get that hedge row into shape.

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I was able to stick 180 cuttings of the cultivar from the amount of wood I collected.  From my experience, when you initially take cuttings from parent plants that are unkept, rooting percentages can vary and only 30% is not unrealistic. It typically takes about 3 generations of asexual cutting propagation to get the wood back to a very healthy and more juvenile state.  I am starting propagation now so that by the time the first plants are to be planted, they will be one to two years old and will have enhanced chance of  survival once field planted. Also those plants should produce some leaf during the year they are planted but they will continue to yield more in a short period of time, because of the upfront investment made during the nursery process.  I was lucky to get these cuttings into production this late into Spring using our propagation method. They will have enough time to root and put out some new growth before winter.

In my last blog I touched on being resourceful with every bit of leaf that is harvested and not to be wasteful. (Every piece of the plant and new growth did consume resources and indirectly reflects a monetary investment).  So all the material that was flowery orange pekoe to pekoe cut was set aside to make handrolled black tea. Later cuts of tea leaf grade was set aside to green tea using our “Chinese-Japanese fusion” process.

Did I mention this was the first time I have attempted to make black tea? Yeah, it was always trying to figure out the oxidation part that held me back, but after reading several very good papers on it from India, the light bulb went off in my head and I had a solution.

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I did let the leaf wither over night, but instead of some special “withering trough,” I simply laid it out on some paper bags on a table over night nothing special. The night before I watched a few videos of people handrolling tea. There was a Japanese video that seem to stick out to me, more so than others. Still, I used three different forms of rolling with my hands for a period of time, then switched, rolled a different way, then switched. It wasn’t too far in the third method of rolling, that I noticed my hands started to get sticky with juices. Little did I know the next day and the day after, my palms would be jet black. *Pro-tip, wear rubber gloves when rolling tea and applying pressure.

Then came the oxidation part. Well, let’s just say I am not going into detail as into what I did, but I did get some excellent oxidation.  I plan on sharing that information in the future, so other people can know how to make their own black camellia tea at home.

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So after my oxidation was complete, I dried it. Again, I followed some guidelines that follow a “Darjeeling” line of thinking in the drying process. What came out of the drying process, was some beautiful fresh black camellia tea (ok it had a red tint to it).

And like a child on Christmas morning, of course, I could not wait to brew a cup of it. It was a strong woody black tea that was firm in flavor and had a nice light pecan aftertaste. (The same pecan aftertaste but lighter than that first flush Avongrove Imperial White from Darjeeling). I knew this flavor, I grew it for two years and drank it on multiple occasions. It was in the last sip of the cup, I closed my eyes, consumed the tea and visualized the field out at Charleston Tea Plantation for which it’s cousin lived in.  It had all the taste markings, that Americans from the deep south enjoy in their sweet ice tea or in their blended teas. You could take this cultivar and plant it any where in the world and you will always have a high quality flavored tea.  What I had achieved in that cup was a “Lowcountry” variant flavor.  While this tea has great flavor it is only a moderate yield. I knew that cultivar when I first saw it in the hedge row and I can say without a doubt now, I know that cultivar.

For a tea that has sat unattended, I can only imagine the taste markings, if the soil p.h. and plant fertility was ideal. The super cool part of all this is that I get to share this thoroughbred elite cultivar in a community garden. It is a stallion that is going to get run free.

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I did make a batch of green tea, I have to admit it was not the best batch, probably my worse to be exact. I dried it a bit too long. It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely was fine by American standards, fresh grassy, not too strong, but in the back was a hint of the fishy flavor. What most American’s don’t know is that high grade Japanese green taste similar to collard juice with a fishy undertone. For those regular green camellia tea drinkers, it would be fine if not good because of the freshness.

So where do we go from here? How do we get the ball rolling to create a beautiful garden that people of all ages can enjoy? I guess the first important part is lay out a vision statement for the garden and go over a few principles.

The vision statements is as follows: (remember this is not concrete, it can be added on or changed in the future, but a consensus of agreement needs to be made and a starting point must be declare, so here is where I am starting from.)

“The Dogwood Park tea and wellness garden is a public space for residents and the general public to utilize for their benefit and the benefit of others in a safe and secure manner, where anyone can be involved and have an equal hand and input in the care of it. It is a tranquil place within our community, that not only aids in building up individual health but building many relationships, memories, and life experiences. Not only will the harvest be shared but so to the knowledge of cultural uses of the harvest for many generations.”

Guiding Principles:

  1. This garden is a volunteer community garden, there is no intend of an individual to use it for commercial gain. There is no intend to develop a compensate staff to maintain the garden. The community’s input of time and energy will dictate the success of the garden. If funding becomes available for a staff to the garden in the future, that matter will be discussed upon funding yet that is not goal of the garden.
  2. This garden will be grown in a sustainable matter with an emphasis of ecosystem based management. The use of organic approved pesticides will be permitted under the federal guidelines outline within the label. The usage of non-organic soft chemicals and biorational pesticides will be permitted, these items typically consist of things you may find in your household and simply do not have an organic labeling, for example, Curex fungicide is potassium bicarbonate, it is found in the grocery store are “No-Salt salt.” Baking soda is another example. Copper Sulfate is another example. Dish detergent is another example. These pesticides are obviously food safe when used properly. A list of banned pesticides will be issued at a later date. As far as fertilizers, the usage of organic approved and some no organic approved fertilizers will be used. The usage of complex urea products will be prohibited, yet the usage of urea will not. Controlled released fertilizers will be able to be used, as they have advantages of keeping environmental damages to a minimum. One of the main reasons the garden will use synthetically produced fertilizers is based on the natural concept plants have the ability to take inorganic salts and to convert them into organic compounds and organic compounds must be broken down by intermediate microorganisms before they become usable inorganic salts again. The other main reason for using synthetically produced fertilizer is because for example Ammonium sulfate is considered a non-organic approved nitrogen source, the majority of the Ammonium sulfate produced in the world comes from a by product of industrial practices, yet a one point in time it was mined, those mine resources no longer exist. The are other fertilizers that are similar to Ammonium sulfate. The usage of synthetic fertilizer does not take away from the usage of compost, compost teas, or from organic approved fertilizers. Fire ants will be combated using honey traps, which consist of a mixture of honey and boric acid smeared on a wooden board laid next to a ant mound.
  3. Water conversation practices will be implemented with the inclusion of the usage of drip and micro irrigation.
  4. The garden will contain various plants with many different potential uses. So parts of the garden may be designated for particular cultural uses, for example, making tea to drink, making baskets from sweetgrass, or making herbal remedies and other sundries. Once a final design is approved and implement, changes can be made to garden after three years if they are warranted.
  5. The usage of plants for the consumption of herbal remedies is not intended to be to a replacement for medical treatment administered by trained and certified medical professionals. Any consumption of herbal remedies is done so at the individual’s own risk as they are not forced to consume any plant or plant material harvested in the garden. Nor is the cultivation of plants for herbal remedies seen as statement to avoid proper medical treatment by train and certified medical professionals. One of the main goals of the garden is to improve the wellness of an individual, while this can be interpreted in many ways, gardening can be a mentally positive therapeutic activity. Conducting work in the garden can also be viewed as positive physical activity. Problem solving or listening to an educational talk can also be mentally stimulating, positive, and enriching as well. These are all parts to achieve the goals of the garden without conflict to proper medical help.
  6. All volunteers and guests must respect all other volunteers and guests. South Carolina state law prohibits registered sex offenders from being in proximity to public playgrounds, hence registered sex offenders are not allowed to participate.
  7. The garden will develop and maintain a budget, which it will also conduct fundraising to generate revenue for the budget. Volunteers will work closely with St Andrews Parks and Recreation to help one another with grant proposals and other potential funding sources. Fundraising events will be held with the approval of the St Andrews Parks and Recreation Department. These events are the sole responsibility of garden volunteers.
  8. The garden will develop and maintain a design, an implementation plan, and cultivation and maintenance plan with approval from the St Andrews Parks and Recreation Department. Each document when finalized and approved will be filed with St Andrews Parks and Recreation Department and will be available in a print for public access (digital for those who request it).
  9. The garden will have a Board of Directors consisting no more than 10 people, with 2 persons representing one of the five divisions of the garden. The five divisions of the garden consist of Liason-Communications, Cultivation, Educational, Organization, and Development and Procurement. Each of these divisions will have up to 4 additional commissioners who serve as part of a team with each of the 2 directors. Commissioners can serve as alternates to directors in their absence. Regardless of the number of volunteers, each individual has an equal weighted voted in all matters, general volunteers votes first, commissioners second, with board of directors voting last, through secret ballot. Any person can serve on the Board of Directors or as a commissioner, yet the Board of Directors should consist in majority of residents from the St Andrews Public Service District, since their property taxes fund St Andrews Parks and Recreation, who owns and maintains the park. The park was purchased with Greenbelt half cent sales tax which is collected across Charleston county, hence any resident of Charleston county can serve on the Board of Directors or as a commissioner. Any person can volunteer except the above mention exclusion. All financial transactions will be reviewed and approved by St Andrews Park and Recreation and published for the public to see, funding of the garden will be sole responsibility of garden volunteers and not dependent on St Andrews Parks and Recreation.
  10. Volunteers will receive an equal share of harvest able goods from the garden upon request, yet volunteers should not waste such goods and at a minimum use their share in a charitable manner if they choose not to consume it. Volunteers will need to work at least once a month in the garden and attend scheduled monthly meetings concerning garden business. The dates and times of these work days, business meetings, and informal meetings will be published in the future. Anyone can attend any or all of these events. Those who seek to attend will be given a chance to give input before the meeting concludes. Volunteers are encouraged to utilize the garden in as many different ways possible. Wellness is again a broad term that may also include other activities, such as painting, yoga, music, or other creative fun activities.

Let me say this again, the vision statement and guiding principles are not set in stone. Formalizing the vision statement and guiding principles will be one of the first orders of business, once we have enough committed volunteers to return to St Andrews Parks and Recreation to begin this process.  Because we have a unique opportunity, where anyone in our community can come forward and share their talents and background and enrich not only themselves but others and also have a deep equitable share in enhancing the wellness of the community.

I have a handful of people interested in it now and in the future I will set some things up to try to recruit more individuals.  And if for some reason no one else comes forward, well, I will take a different approach and Dogwood Park will have a nice tea garden and I will show some people how to make white, green, oolong, and black tea for their consumption.  There is an excellent opportunity in that park and there is no way I am going to let it just float on by.  Like I said, I would like to see what feed back or response this generates and from there, take the next step in organization.  The garden is not going to build it’s self and it will not happen over night, but I have already taken the steps to make it happen.  If you are interested in being a part of the garden or potentially funding it, please don’t hesitate to reach out me.  All that I can say is no matter what something very unique is about to grow out at Dogwood Park and hopeful it will grow into other community gardens across the area, state, and country.

Well that is it for this week’s blog, but until next time don’t forget to “Grow Forward,” and take care and be safe!

Joshua

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    The elderberries are baffling. I have never been able to determine if our native blue elderberry is Sambucus caerula or mexicana. All the others seem to be nigra, whether American or European. No one mentions canadensis. I am happy knowing our by the common name, but now that we are also growing an ornamental variety that might make berries, I would like to know what it is.

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    1. Hortfire says:

      Hey Tony,
      I completely understand where you are coming from as far as the confusion. A lot of pains taking work has been done to sort out a lot the taxonomic nomenclature names for plants. Unfortunately, I only think it has created more confusion and in time, since most if not all plants are getting new names, but let me try to help you the best that I can. Sambucus canadensis, American Elderberry, is a predominately an eastern continental North American native plant. The US government has a taxonomic information system known as ITIS. Within ITIS, there is an attempt to provide information as into what the “accepted” name is, plus any “non accepted” names. You can find Elderberry’s information here, https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt Sambucus nigra as I was taught, that is the European elderberry. Now you mention two other species caerula and mexicana, these are more western US elderberry, which may or may not have overlapping ranges. So let me put this in a boiled down perspective, ITIS has it in the system that all Sambucus native to North America is a variety of S nigra. From one point of view, something must be different for it to be considered a variety at a bare minimum. Dr Asa Gray, well known botantist from Harvard, was firm in the belief, there was nothing below a species in taxonomy, and he also understood natural occurring hybrids between species, for which he would designate as a new species. Now one of his students, Dr Charles Sargent who took over for Dr Gray, firmly believe in variety, subspecies, and forms for species. He also believed firmly that for universal understanding, if we didn’t accept what European scholars declared for plants, then we would lost. To him his argument was based on the fact natural occurring hybrids, would not necessarily carry on the traits it inherited from it parents and that offspring of natural occurring hybrids would show a large diversity. I wish I had a taxonomic key to share for you, because those keys describe the differences between species, varieties, and subspecies. I hope this helps.

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      1. tonytomeo says:

        Unfortunately, this is pretty similar to what I have been finding out. I am not convinced that they are all varieties of Sambucus nigra, especially since some of the specie are not even addressed. For example, we have a native Western red elderberry that there is very little documentation for. There is not much more for the more common red elderberry that lives in the rest of the continent. Both are physiologically very different from both black and blue elderberries. Both of the native blue elderberries are very different from the Eastern black elderberry, although I could believe that they are varieties of it. However, it is a stretch to say that they are all varieties of the European black elderberry. It all gets so confusing. I will accept the species names of Sambucus cerulea and Sambucus mexicana, although I can not tell the difference between the two. I consider ours to be Sambucus cerulea, and I am fine with that. If I ever grow Eastern black elderberries, I will get them from the source, and that is all I need to know. Even if they are Sambucus nigra, they are the ‘correct’ Sambucus nigra. I intend to win a blue ribbon for jelly at the Harvest Festival this year regardless of the name.

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