Herbaria Project

Herbaria Project: A Year (+) in the Life of an Urban Garden

herbaria by Gayla Trail

What is this? An herbarium is a collection of plant specimens. Herbaria is the plural form. A collection of collections.

Every week, until I can no longer find anything living to fill up the boxes, I am photographing and posting a collection of flowers, leaves, stems, and other plant parts that represent what is going on in my garden at the time. This is an experiment in celebrating diversity and I hope it will allow me to focus more closely on the beauty that is inherent in the different parts of each plant. It also serves as a visual file of the seasons and a record of my garden, my gardening practice, and the plants that I choose to grow.

And since I am an urban gardener growing in a small space, I hope it serves as an example of just how big a little garden can be. There is always room for one more plant!

You can see all of the weeks that I have posted to the site so far over here.

Herbaria Project F.A.Q

Why doesn’t this start at the beginning of the calendar year or garden season?

I would have preferred starting this project at either of those times, but alas, that is now how things worked out. The idea for this project came to me rather spontaneously one May morning as I sat pondering how I could best use a stack of nine wooden, pint-sized fruit boxes that I had recently purchased at the flea market. I have a thing for wooden boxes and I love to display little collections of cherished items within them. These nine little boxes begged to be kept together as a display — it didn’t take long before the idea came to mind: little boxes within a box, framed within weeks and months of boxes. Within the hour I had worked out the logistics of the project and was photographing my first box. That was May 16, 2012.

Since then I have continued photographing an herbarium per week for an entire year. Now that a year is done I intend to continue on. I’ve made new additions to the garden, but more interesting are the yearly differences that I am noting (and documenting) more carefully because of the project. I like the way the project allows me to see my garden in another way and it will be exciting to see what comes next.

Why aren’t all of the weeks available online? It turns out that organizing each box, setting up the shots, formatting the images, accurately identifying each plant, and writing a short story to accompany them is a lot of work. Preparing each week takes several hours from start to finish. It also requires a lot of dedication, especially in the middle of winter! At this time I am not receiving any financial support for this project and am unable to commit that kind of time without it. As a result, I decided some months ago to continue taking the photos weekly, but posting to this website only occasionally.

Do you have plans for this project beyond the photos? Eventually I would like to assemble the photos into a book. I want it to be more than a vanity project and am currently brainstorming ways to take it beyond mere documentation. Whether or not this is a viable idea remains to be seen, but I am continuing on regardless.