Tertulias Herb Garden is taking its place in the barrio one day at a time. It is amazing to see the space change every minute. It could be the developing of a new planting area with all the struggles and triumphs that come with it. It could be a new visitor and his or her stories and anecdotes. It could be a new sign, or the growth of the plants. Tertulias is full of change.

Tertulias Herb Garden is a healing oasis in West Kensington dedicated to the practice and preservation of Puerto Rican herbal tradition. POP helped establish Tertulias’ roots in 2007 when it collaborated with Grupo Motivos to plant the orchard on a formerly vacant lot. The fruit trees grew on their own for several years, until the herb garden was developed in 2013. Iris Brown, a world-renowned gardener who has lived and gardened in the neighborhood for over 30 years, founded Tertulias. Along with family members, neighbors and support from the Community Health Collaborative, Iris enhanced the orchard lot with medicinal herbs and ornamental plants.

Medicinal herb workshop at Tertulias in April 2014

Grounded in Latino gardening tradition, Tertulias now provides a space to rest and recover from daily trauma and share life’s ups and downs in a colorful, friendly, family-oriented environment. “Tertulias” is a Spanish word meaning, “a gathering where people share and discuss ideas.” The garden was given this name for its purpose as a  hub of learning and healing in the community. Due to generations of violence and trauma in the neighborhood, people are very “apretada,” or wound up. The plants in Tertulias Herb Garden are able to heal and bring relief. People can connect with plants using all five senses, which can help them recall positive memories and bring them to the present moment to recover from previous traumatic experiences.

Tertulias values and affirms Latino traditions, including cooking and healing with fresh herbs, such as oregano brujo, cilantrillo, limoncillo, recao, and rue. Tertulias keeps culture alive among Latinas who have immigrated to the U.S. and whose traditional foods are not as accessible. Having a place around the corner to pick fresh herbs to cook and cure with is crucial for maintaining culture and healthy lifestyles.

The orchard includes pawpaws, service berries, cherries, apples, pears, and plums. These trees fill the back of the lot, creating a restful, shaded area and a relief from the busyness of 2nd Street. Neighbors poured to the site this Spring for the sweet and sour cherries, and were limited to 20 cherries each to make sure there were enough to go around.

The fruiting paw paw trees at Tertulias are a hit with the neighbors!

Tertulias features POP’s first producing pawpaw trees in the city, a true highlight of the garden.  A native to eastern temperate forests, paw-paws are the most northern-growing plant in the custard apple family (same as cherimoya and guanábana). Its close relation to tropical fruits makes it popular with many in the Tertulias neighborhood.

So many people come to the space and say, “I remember by grandmother using this,” or “I haven’t seen this since I was a child in Puerto Rico.” Tertulias allows people to remember themselves, their histories, and the places they come from. In doing so, the garden keeps alive the wisdom of ancestors who recognized, cultivated, and prepared medicinal plants. Restoring these traditions not only affirms people’s cultural ancestry but also creates a way to be self-sufficient and to rely on their interaction with the natural world for health and healing.

Orchard Report by Marian Dalke, POP Orchard Committee, and Iris Brown, Tertulias founder.

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