Place a sturdy leaf in a jar of water and at the end of several weeks or months, depending on the leaf, you will have the makings of a phantom bouquet. All that remains is to sift out the nets intact, rinse and gently rub away the pulp. The same process occurs every winter on damp and spongy forest floors so that come spring, after the snow has melted, whole acres are covered with the remains of skeletalized leaves. But they do more than attract the eye.
In Phantom Flowers, a treatise on the art of producing skeleton leaves – an unfortunately anonymous how-to booklet published in 1864 – the author explains:
From the large proportion of mineral matter contained in the leaves, it is evident that the same substances existing in the earth must be annually circulating from one to the other. The roots extract them from the soil, they ascend the tree with the sap, and are deposited in the leaves. Having given them coherency and strength, and having probably performed other functions which are yet unknown to either botanist or chemist, the fall and decay of the leaves returns these mineral ingredients to the earth. With the succeeding year the mysterious circuit is repeated, the tree enlarging in bulk, and the forest soil increasing in richness…
Phantom Flowers describes how to preserve plants, including their leaves, buds, and seed-vessels, in an ornate, patient and purist Victorian style. J.E. Tilton & Co. might have published the book primarily to sell their leaf whitening agent, but the author puts such an… ahem… flowery Emersonian spin on the whole affair, it’s worth a re-visit even now:
The science which enables us to understand not only the history, the names, the virtues, and the associations connected with all plants, as well as the wonderful relations, the admirable laws which govern their structure, and the important part they bear in the economy of the universe, is worthy of the careful study of every intelligent person. He will find it worth while to become familiar with a science which, wherever his steps may lead him, from the bleak mountaintop, crusted over with mosses and lichens only, to warm and luxuriant tropical valleys, where the magnificence of vegetable wonders almost bewilders the senses, with still furnish him with new subjects for admiration. It will make his morning walk in the garden or over the meadow a new delight. A tramp along the commonest field path, or a ramble by the wayside, which, to the eye of the dull and unlearned, may be mean and barren, he will find rich in interest and exuberant in beauty…
The fields, the forests, the entire landscape have a positively different and altogether new meaning to one who sees, not only the general beauty of the whole display, but who also studies with delight every detail of fern, or shrub, or forest tree in the foreground.
On a more practical note, the book contains “minute particulars” on over twenty different species. The author specifies when to collect, how long to soak, and what kind of results you can expect from any given leaf. Whether or not you choose to bleach them in the olden style is entirely up to you.
Please welcome Ami Sioux who has kindly agreed to man the Wilder Instagram. Get to know Ami via the wicked and wonderful Wilder Questionnaire.
1. What is your favorite flower?
A white lily.
3. What is your favorite season and why?
5. What do you grow? If you don’t grow anything currently, what would you like to grow?
Edamame and Dinosaur Kale.
7. What is the scariest thing in nature?
8. What is the most impressive thing in nature?
10. If you could change one thing about humanity’s relationship with nature, what would it be?
12. What’s the best and worst part of living where you live?
Best: Our backyard. Worst: Helicopters.
13. If you could be the first to explore a place, where would it have been?
Iceland… I shot my first book there years ago and its an astounding place.
14. When were you the happiest in nature?
When I was a child I grew sugarpeas and would sow the rows the width of my shoulders so I could lie on my back under the sky between the rows and reach up and eat the pods when they were ripe… I would like to have a garden again and grow them again… the rows would have to be wider though… Xx
Ami’s photo was shot by VISVALDAS MORKEVICIUS.
Observations from the East Coast’s Largest Gem and Mineral Show
By Kate Sennert
Photos by Rory Gunderson
Behind booth 201, a woman points to a rock donning a $900 price tag. “This one’s spoken for,” she informers to her co-worker, “The guy gets his tax refund in three weeks.” She is wearing a baseball cap and a snugly fit tank top emblazoned with the logo for Prospectors, a new reality show on the Weather Channel about “upstart” miners in America’s Rocky Mountain region searching for gold and gems. Stars from the show are purportedly on site. A few booths over, a middle-aged woman ogles a milky, blue-green hunk of fluorite mantled in a display case under florescent lights. “We don’t need anymore fluorite,” chides her husband, who then drifts toward a collection of fiery red wulfenite specimens, each with a four-figure asking price. The MC takes then to the loudspeaker, reminding visitors not to bypass the life-size models of dinosaurs used in the film Jurassic Park.
Enter the NY/NJ Gem and Mineral Show—the largest event of its kind outside of Tucson, now boasting its second year. So well attended was the previous year’s event that the show has been moved to a mammoth, 150,000-foot exhibition hall at the end of a sprawling industrial park in Edison, New Jersey. On the surface it’s an unlikely destination for some of the earth’s most rare and alluring treasures. Yet the place is teeming with visitors, an odd mix of natural history buffs, new age healers, cowboys, geophysicists, amateur paleontologists, little boys dressed as Indiana Jones, one guy dressed up sort of like an astronaut, and rock collectors, oodles of them, who have made pilgrimages from all corners of the country.
Minerals, apparently, are the great equalizer. Their mysterious and alluring beauty lies in having come—as one friendly miner from Upstate New York put it—“from the ground.” How is it possible, you ask yourself, that these crystalline structures in colors so mesmerizing and shapes so complex come not from the hands of men, but from the very ground we walk on? Bubbly green smithsonite crystals that resemble a cluster of grapes. Rhodochrosite brighter pink than any neon sign. Juicy watermelon tourmaline with hues so tantalizing you almost want to take a bite.
If that doesn’t blow your mind, there are plenty of other gems on display: dinosaur fossils, trilobites, glow-in-the-dark rocks under UV lights, jars full of shark teeth and furniture constructed of petrified wood. For this reporter, though, it is the dazzling array of gemstones and minerals that truly delights the eye. You are supposed to call them specimens, by the way—not rocks—but there’s not a single snob in the room to correct you.
May 15th is the traditional cut off date for a final frost. Meaning, starting next week, everything goes – in your garden. I will be seeding watermelons and transplanting chile peppers. As you prepare to fill your summer plot, consider not only what you’re planting, but where you’re planting. The logic and tradition of companion planting is based on setting up mutually beneficial relationships between plants. This method of organization can encourage pest control and stimulate vigorous growth. It is even said to produce tastier tomatoes.
Every plant demands and provides differently – absorbing certain soil nutrients, attracting specific pests while repelling others. It makes sense, then, to arrange your garden in a way that takes advantage of these individual properties. Companion Planting originated with the Native American custom of the “Three Sisters” guild. Historically, Native Americans would plant corn, squash and beans side by side on a small plot of land. The tall stalks of corn provided trellis for the beans, while the sprawling squash offered ground cover, stamping out potential weeds. Beans, a legume, are nitrogen fixing, and will not disturb nutrient intake of corn or squash.
Trap crops are another example of companion planting. If you are concerned about squash bugs attacking your cucumber bed, plant zucchini nearby. Summer squash leaves are sweeter and more preferable to the pests, thus deterring them from your main crop cukes.
Overtime, growers have collectively developed a comprehensive guide to companion planting. Inevitably, these guides are part truth, part lore, but in any case, a home garden offers the perfect scale in which to trial some of this knowledge. We can’t tend to our garden at all times, so why not let the plants themselves do some of the work?
Here are a few suggestions:
Basil with tomatoes – repels tomato hornworms
Nasturtiums with squash – deters squash bugs
Radishes and cucumbers – trap crop for cucumber beetles
Lettuce and carrots – for best flavor of both
Bee balm and tomatoes – for enhanced tomato flavor
Tomatoes and lettuce – tall trellis can provide welcome shade for tender greens
So, if you haven’t picked up on it yet let me tell you again: I am lazy. Fortunately the natural world is so beautifully accomodating, I haven’t yet found any incentive to turn over a new leaf and become a new me. Lazy suits me just fine. Which is why I’m partial to growing natives, particularly in the garden setting where they do all the growing work themselves. Below are my top three edible natives- where you can get ‘em and how to treat them right. Sit back, and enjoy.
The Ramp: Yeah, you’ve all heard of it before, but how many of you have actually gotten off your lazy behinds and grown it yourselves? The farmer’s market is a lot easier, right? (I know, I know. Look who’s talking). Rule numero uno when buying native plants for food, particularly in farmers markets is this: ALWAYS ask your vendor where their product comes from. If it’s wild foraged, stay away from it. Ramps are rare in the state of Vermont, and they take a long time to reach maturity in any of the woods that they’re found. A single picker can decimate a population in no time, and then what? There’s no coming back from that. Give ramps moist, rich garden soil and plenty of early springtime light and they will perform like total gems in the garden setting, steadily taking over if given ample space. This website sells both ramp seeds and bulbs.
Stinging Nettle: This beast is tough to wrangle. I love it for its nutritious, succulent spring greens and usefulness in cleansing tonics. It seems to pop up everywhere around my house, thriving in the sandiest of soils and hottest locations. However, give it good garden soil and it will go NUTS. So be careful, because this mother stings (hence the name- we all got that, right?). The cool weather of spring gives nettles an almost buttery texture and they are supremely tender when steamed. Buy the seeds here or venture out into your local park later in the summer with a pair of snips- you’re sure to find a tenancious specimen in seed.
Miner’s Lettuce: This plant is a rare example of an exceptionally yummy garden variety weed that Americans took to Europe- and not the other way around. Dandelions, chickweed, mustard, and lots of other popular edible plants are European in origin- having arrived here in the ballast soil of ships and other supplies the colonist brought over hundreds of years ago. Miner’s lettuce was first discovered, named by botanists, and cultivated as an edible on the west coast. What a joy its been since! Buy the seeds at Territorial. The plants are cold hardy, and can almost tolerate those early unpredictable spring frosts. They like freely draining rich soil, but they’re beautifully weedy and will tolerate just about any circumstances (just the way I like it!).
Fun news! This Spring Wilder is pleased to present our first class series. All classes are held in the lovely loft and garden space above the restaurant Isa. We’ve also gathered some of our favorite experts and farmers to teach you everything from plant propagation to the basics of flowering arrangement. One May 19th, we’ll be focusing on flowers and food. And in June, we’ll be focused on the business of growing and horticultural.
At the end of each class day, we’ll be hosting two special educational dinners. The first will be hosted by famed farmer, Annie Novak of Eagle Street. Annie will be helping you eat your way through some the yummiest plants New York State has to offer at this one-of-a-kind Native Plant dinner. One the second day, June 9th, we take stock of the grooviest of them all, the mushroom. This dinner is hosted by Ian Purkayastha is the owner and founder of Regalis Foods. Ian is the go-to guy for New York based Michelin starred chefs seeking shrooms and truffles.
Classes can be purchased individually or as an entire day long package. If you have any question about the classes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Floral and Food – May 19, 2013
Classes on this day focus on flowers as design element including floral arrangement and dyeing. You’ll also find beginner level food growing classes including a look at the wonderful world of herbs. The day ends with a one-of-a-kind native dinner highlighting some of the best and yummiest plants in New York State.
See all the floral and food classes here.
Horticultural Explorations – June 9, 2013
Classes featured on this Sunday in June are all about the business of growing from turning a brown thumb green to understanding the basics of window farming. The day ends with a special dinner that takes stock of the wild and wonderful mushroom.
See all the horticultural exploration classes here.
According to mythology, soap traces its origins to Mount Sapo – a mountain in ancient Italy where animal sacrifices were supposedly held. The ashes from the sacrificial fires mixed with animal tallow, which found its way to the river below where Roman women would gather to wash their clothes. They found that their linens came out cleaner when the water mixed with the ash and animal grease. Water, ash, fat. The original formula for getting clean. Sapo, meaning “soap” in Latin. This story is perhaps pure fiction, but the science described remains fact for soap makers today.
The chemistry of soap making is simple: a caustic alkali serves as your base and some combination of fats and oils acts as the acid. From there, you can experiment with scent by adding essential oils, spices and herbs. Below is a very basic recipe for a vegetable-based, cold-process soap plus two different fragrance profiles. Once you have a solid understanding of the technique, you can adjust and tinker to your liking. As your summer garden comes into bloom, add fresh herbs and flowers to the mix. In winter, use dried herbs and steeped botanicals. Soap making has become a four seasons project for me. I promise, once you too figure out how easy the process is, and how simply you can perfect your ideal blend, you’ll never dole out cash for drugstore varieties again.
For a more comprehensive guide to soap making, check out this great book
16 oz. each of olive oil, palm oil and refined/high heat coconut oil
7.07 oz. lye
15.84 oz. water
Essential oils (up to 5 oz. total)
Dried matter (lavender, cloves etc. Nothing too abrasive and nothing that will rot)
*Bergamot, Cedarwood, Clove
*Sassafras, Rosemary, Lemon, Lavender
Combine oils in a large mixing bowl.
Using gloves, add lye to water in well ventilated area and stir until dissolved (only use stainless steel or glass bowl. no aluminum! no wood!)
Cool lye solution to 110 – 120 degrees F.
Pour lye water into oil mixture.
Using an immersion blender, combine ingredients until you see a light “trace” in the blend. (Do not over blend or you’ll get chunky soap).
Add essential oils of your choice (note: this can further stiffen the mixture). Blend in to reach “trace” once again. Consistency should be that of a very loose custard.
Stir in dried matter of your choice.
Pour into silicone or lined wooden mold.
Press plastic wrap onto top to avoid ashy crust.
Wrap mold in a couple of thick towels/blankets to cool very slowly for 24 hours.
Unwrap and cut into bars. Arrange on a drying rack to cure for 6 weeks.
Store in an airtight container.
makes about 4.5 pounds of soap
The cherry tree has always had a powerful grasp on the hearts and minds of the Japanese. Come March, an entire nation turns their ears to hear the cherry blossom forecast- whole crowds wait, eager to gather and picnic under pink and white blossom clouds. In Japanese culture, the tree represents lavish beauty, and transience, and the inevitability of death. Kamikaze bombers adopted the flowers as their symbol, painting them on their planes, and some even believed they would be reincarnated as next season’s blossoms.
Some of the USA’s greatest cherry displays come direct from the land of cherry blossom. Washington D.C obtained it’s first donation of more than 3,000 trees as a gift from the City of Tokyo in 1912. The Brooklyn Botanic garden’s 220 Japanese cherries are the centerpiece for the garden’s ‘Hanami’ celebrations, where visitors can revel in the scents and sights of spring.
And what better way to celebrate spring than with a flower whose lifespan is as short as the season itself?