Ponderosa Pines are easy trees to love. They smell like vanilla cupcakes, maple syrup and sausages, or pineapple to some lucky noses, and when the sun strikes them in the right way, they light up like pillars of pink salt. 40 to 150 foot tall pillars that can reach up to 8 feet wide and 600 years old under the best conditions. And they are everywhere, pouring over the Rocky Mountains, covering the southwest, and standing off against the prairies to the east.
The Scottish botanist David Douglas named them for their “ponderous” size (he hadn’t seen the Redwoods yet) but Ponderosas have a particular aspect and mood that goes beyond bigness, approaching the sublime. Qualities that have everything to do with two factors: drought and fire.
Drought forces their roots deeper and wider than most conifers, spacing them well apart and making Ponderosa forests feel airy, peaceful and light. Dry seasons inevitably lead to combustion, whether by lightning strike or, now, by people who grasp how deeply fire is woven into the character of Western woods.
In fact, Ponderosas are quite literally fire bugs. They need it so bad, they provide their own kindling by continually shedding bark and limbs en mass every year. Bare trunks keep flames from reaching vital crowns and lanky, draping needles shield their cones from heat. Brush fires clear out shade-bearing competitors like White Pine or Incense Cedar without seriously injuring older trees. At the same time fire coaxes sap into the lowest, deepest parts of Ponderosa trunks, bracing the heartwood so it can stand under its own weight for hundreds of years.
Fire is tough, necessary love. It’s the natural history lesson of a century and a funny thing to learn from any tree.
Purple Orach from Wild Garden Seeds
If you are growing food and flowers, take a moment to consider your seeds- how were they developed? where do they come from? Are they treated, untreated? What is the different between OP, F1 and GMO, really? All plants go from seed, well- to seed. The selecting, saving, sharing and sowing of them is highly valuable work.
In the world of seeds, Frank Morton, and his Wild Garden project is nothing short of heroic. As their statement reads: All of our seed is Organically Grown at Gathering Together Farm along the winding Marys River on the edge of Philomath, Oregon. All of this seed is open pollinated, untreated, germ and vigor tested in living soil mix, and well cleaned. Most stock seed for our crop production have been reselected under stress and disease pressure in our breeding nurseries at GTF and Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, five miles upriver in the colder dry foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. Many of the of these varieties originated in our on farm breeding program for organic conditions and improved fresh market quality. These are denoted by our farm-original mark . Other varieties have come to us over twenty years as heirlooms or reliable commercial standards, now with generations of selection on the farm. Our ecological approach to plant breeding and crop protection generates superior strains and varieties for farmers who don’t use chemical crop protectants and fertilizers. The small-scale care and authentic fertility of our production fields yield fat seed with exceptional seedling vigor, a key trait for organic crop success.
When I first learned about Wild Garden, I was immediately turned on by their philosophy and approach.Perhaps more importantly, however, I quickly discovered that the seeds speak for themselves. Morton’s basic arugula is my gold standard. His Purple Osaka grows with muscular strength and the taste of wasabi. Wild Garden’s lettuce mix – the company’s original offering – stays speckled, vibrant and tender even in desert heat. And I suppose that is the point. The success I have experienced with their varieties, does indeed, inspire me to save the seed from that sweetest head of lettuce and the deepest hued Osaka leaf. Regardless, though, of whether or not you’re interested in saving seed, Wild Garden is a superior source for growing inspiration and high quality varietals.
To learn more – and purchase seed – visit Wild Garden Seed
Listen to Frank Morton describe the relationship between humanity, agriculture and seeds here
When it comes to understanding container gardening, my old boss came up with a saying I like to use: ‘first you thrill, then you spill.‘ I think it gets at two of the most crucial elements to crafting a real whizzbanger of a pot quite nicely. Here’s three great tips for making a great garden container:
1. Height: Height is part of the ‘thrill’ element of a pot. You need something eye catching. A colorful, vivid, imposing ‘je ne sais quoi’ to firmly establish the pot’s presence in the world. Choose foliage over flowers for this part of the display- something that will give you volume and bulk. A great summer choice are canna lilies, as is woodland tobacco, or a big plume of elephant ears.
2. Stuffing: This is what goes along the edges of the pot and gets crammed in in every available blank space. No bare patches allowed. Feel free to choose 1-3 different annuals to make it interesting, but don’t select anything that will compete with the size of your background anchor plant. Something with lacy, differently colored foliage that stands out, like any of the wormwoods, is a good choice here. You can’t go wrong with coleus, either. Even something like coral bells is great for stuffing- the airy flowers it produces midsummer add another element to the mix, too. I like to use some of the salvias here. Don’t be afraid to step it up a notch on the color and texture. This is the layer to do it with.
3. Spill: My favorite part, this is where you can get buck-wild messy. Lantana is a failsafe for full sun and it comes in a myriad of tropical popsicle colors. Million bells is good in the same way. For shade, sweet potato vine is tenacious and brilliantly lime-green or purple, however you want it. And if you’re looking for an upward climber, try moonflower- it blooms at night!
While you’re at it, don’t forget the golden rule of container gardening: water, water, water.
Image by Helen O’Donnell
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 email@example.com.
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.
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?
We hear so much about what love feels like.
Right now, today, with the rain outside,
And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
In May, in seasons that come when called,
It’s impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you
Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know.
From the poem “I Don’t Miss It” by Tracy K. Smith
Carrion flower does it. Corpse flower does it too. So guess which of our USA natives is gifted with the talent for thermogenesis (producing it’s own heat)?
Are we noticing a theme yet? First of all, it bears mentioning that these three plants are all in the same family: the Araceae. Second of all, these plants all use strong scents to attract pollinating flies to their flowers- why? Because heat aids in dispersing these scents to further flung locales, and getting more pollinators in to do their duty, more quickly.
Skunk cabbage’s heat-producing capabilities serve a second purpose, too. Ever notice it is always the first plant up, come spring? Forget daffodils or snowdrops. Increasing air temperatures directly around the plant by as much as 50 degrees F, skunk cabbage is able to melt snow, and get a serious jump on the season. Thermogenesis is such a production, it requires the plant to use a whole different kind of metabolism than it usually does. In terms of energy use, the plant kinda starts acting like a hummingbird, or fleet-footed rodent. It’s weird.
So next time you’re out enjoying that first sliver of springtime green thanks to skunk cabbage (or maybe cursing it because it smells so nasty), stick your finger inside it’s flowers- feel the difference!
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