While searching the internet to learn more about alchemical gardens, we stumbled across the Green Artists League (GAL), a collective that creates public art focused on the global environmental. GAL explores art and ethics by engaging the public through interactive art experiences to become stewards of the environment. Their hope is to raise awareness and inspire environmentally healthy behaviors and attitudes. We are fascinated with their Alchemical Garden: An Edible Garden and Art Park at Newburyport’s Rail Trail. This Alchemical Garden is designed to become a model for sustainable, interactive public gardens that use symbiotic, low maintenance plantings and recycled materials.

The ancient practice of alchemy looked to transform base metal into gold. Like Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold, it seems to us that there are many environmentally damaged sites, even superfund sites just waiting for transformation into alchemical gardens. Interactive alchemical gardens help to connect community to nature. They nourish and heal sustainably. As living laboratories, they educate about soil contamination, remediation, ecosystems and innovative green gardening and permaculture. The art park inspires while it engages and “eco-artists raise eco-consciousness,” through their artwork which in turn becomes a piece of advocacy.

Alchemically managed food production is an interactive relationship with growing things. Yes, talking to plants does seem to help them grow better! An alchemical garden combines traditional organic gardening techniques and practice with the natural inclinations of plants. While commercial approach to plant production is first focused on quantity of yield-per-acre, the alchemical gardener will first be concerned with the health of the plants, and then with the quality of their reproduction and perpetuation. Lastly, the focus turns to plants as food or medicine.

A recent book Open Spaces, Sacred Places by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp, tells stories about community engagement to create public green spaces. Dr. Andrew Weil said about the book that “it is a series of inspirational stories told through the voices of ‘firesouls’- passionate and persistent people who have brought communities together to create public areas of respite.”

There are many ways to go about achieving green and wide-open landscapes. We love these innovative visions – ecological, sustainable and holistic. A romanticized view of nature is fine as long as we restore our blighted spaces. Are you a firesoul?