Saturday, 11 June 2016

Go ahead, get a little wild

The mass of green on the left there
is red clover, just about to come into bloom.
 Mow around it!

It's mostly because we're just too tender-hearted. We've just never been able to mow down something we know to be medicinal, or edible, or will feed the wild bees or the humming birds. It just seems bad form to reject what nature offers up so generously.

So for the first few years we lived here, we'd notice some particularly weedy patch in the lawn, and go around it with the mower. Islands formed, miniature eco-systems. I got the chance to learn about plant succession, about "guilds", and about all the ways these new friends of mine could balance my hormones, relieve my fibro-like pain and how some of them were just downright fun - popping the seed capsules of what is locally known as 'himalayan honeysuckle' is irresistible.
Lambsquarters aka wild spinach. Reliable,
delicious, and carefree. 

Almost a decade has rolled by and in that time the garden has looked different every year. We've added fruit trees, we dabble in vegetables .. okay, to be honest, Paul grows vegetables, mostly I pretend to grow them. I till soil mostly for the great weeds it encourages. I've yet to see bugs eat lambsquarters, but they regularly wipe out the spinach. Fine with me.

Once nettles began to volunteer here - funny thing about that, I had tried unsuccessfully to introduce them in several spots, but no, they had their own agenda - I surrendered the bed they chose over to them (and whoever wanted to grow with them) entirely. Smart move. Along with the nettles I now have the most kick ass yarrow I've had the pleasure to work with, more red clover, wonderfully deep rooted dandelions, elegant vetches, plantain the size of cabbages, tall elegant grasses and more surprises every year. It's a miniature meadow eco-system. Sometimes it's just lovely, other times it looks like an abandoned unkempt mess, even to me. I've planted some flowers along one edge of it (medicinal/edible of course, calendula and mallows) to pretty it up later in the season when the nettles get ratty.

See? Context.

Have you ever noticed that when you look at most wild plant sites or books they show you clear pictures of each plant individually (which is obviously helpful) but only rarely do they show them in context? I'm starting to think it's also helpful to let people know that some plants, especially nettles, like to hide amongst their companions. So if you're looking for nettles, look for long grasses and red clovers, they might be hiding there. And if you're looking for red clover, watch out, there might be nettles lurking!

Did you know that earthworms can kill trees? They tilt the balance over to bacteria-rich soil, and trees need a fungi rich soil. So because we have fruit trees, we encourage fungi. Rotting wood is our friend in this. We heat with wood, so every once in a while we get a log that just won't split. I use those to edge beds, and as they break down, they encourage fungal growth. So does the straw I use for mulch. We had to take down a tree that was leaning dangerously towards the house when we first moved here, and we left the stump, as it breaks down it's enhancing the growth of the fruit trees. We even hauled in chunks of a neighbour's gorgeously rotted down stump (yes, he does think we're crazy, thanks for asking). We put some of that in the compost zone and another piece, a rather beautiful bit, was laid down in the grass at the foot of one of the apple trees. Creeping charlie grows over and through it, it's lovely.
I don't actually use creeping charlie
but I would if I had tinnitus. It's an
important source of nectar for the bees, too.

That big hunk o' rotted wood is also great habitat for our snakes, of which we have several, I'm happy to say. Haven't had nearly as much trouble with chipmunks eating our strawberries since they showed up. We have lots of rocks here too, also important if you want snakes. Chipmunks are cute, but it gets tiresome finding little bite marks in otherwise perfect strawberries.

Now that's a mullein!

Spunky little yarrow.
Some of the best medicinal plants come up in the oddest places. It's important to know that something like mullein, for instance, doesn't require anything like decent soil, in fact the best mullein we have this year is coming up between a brick path, the shed steps and a rock wall. It's got two flower stalks and looks like it's going to be a monster. But it is not only mullein, yarrow will tell you it doesn't need coddling with soil, either.

You know I could keep writing for hours and still barely scratch the surface of what's going on in the garden, don't you?

Just coming into bloom ..
Now that our fruit trees have grown to a highly respectable size, what was once a vast expanse of open lawn is now a series of "rooms". At the very back of the yard is the best one of all, currently known as the rose room. The fragrance there is out of this world, those old briar-type roses put all the rest to shame, don't they? Let's linger here a while ..

Gather the rosebuds while ye may ..

Believe it or not, that's
Look closer, can you see the blossoms?

Ah, but this place of dappled light holds a secret. At first you smell rose, but then something else .. sweeter, even, a little heady, even. It makes you smile, draws you in, what is it? Oh! It's the wild grapes!

Go back and look at the picture of the rose room. All that greenery above and behind, all through the trees - grape vines. No we didn't plant them. If anything, I hack them back every spring, but of course grapes like to be hacked back. Every spring I untangle the vines from among the roses and toss them onto the fence. Every year they scramble along the fence (I think they're all that's holding that poor old fence up, actually) and climb the trees.

But this year, they've outdone themselves. Let's give them a round of applause please, because this year, it's not the rose room any more, it's the wild grape room.

See those trees? They are COVERED  in grape vines.

I've got a passion for wild grapes. Not just for the jelly but also for the leaves, you can do a lot more with them than just make dolmades, you know.

And of course, gardens that are allowed to run a little wild hold far more than I've been able to show you here. Just in the rose room grape room above there lurk violets and horsetail and golden rod and asters and self-heal (and probably blackberries), not to mention that the rose blossoms, leaves, hips and even roots are highly valuable ..

What's coming up in your yard? You just never know. Why not let it get a little wild, and find out?


  1. On Cape Cod,the dunes were covered by the same roses in your picture. The dunes have eroded plenty by storms and so have the roses. Every year I hope that they would make a comeback but not so. We shall see in another week. Mullein grows wild in the sandy soil. How do you use your roses medicinally?

    1. Oh seaside roses are the best! There's something about salt air that enhances the fragrance. Shame to lose them.

      The roses we have here are just a little different than any I've seen elsewhere. Roses adjust to their surroundings, I think, so over the 150+ years since they were brought here by the pioneers, these are "Campbell's Bay" roses by now.

      I use roses in countless ways. If you really want to know about roses, go to Kiva's site, she has several articles. for one.

      Explore her site, its amazing.

      Some day I'll do an all-rose post.

    2. "Some day I'll do an all-rose post."

      Please do! I am in a sea of wild roses here. The bloom for such a brief time, from appearance of rosebuds to the falling of the last petal is maybe 3 weeks. Last week, I was surrounded by roses, it rained hard today, and now not a sign of a rose anywhere.

      I made a bunch of rose hip "fruit leather" you'll recall, last fall. It was great! I need to learn to take advantage of more than hips.

    3. I need to learn to take advantage of more than the blooms, I haven't worked with the leaves yet, and as I've told you before, the hips are usually too buggy to use.

      Okay, I'll work on it, but check out what Kiva has to say in the link I left for Nav. when you have some spare time.

      One of my readers just made rose water, I should see if she wants to do a guest post ..

  2. Some amazing posts! I am in awe, but I know little. I just want to let you know that I'm enjoying them!

    1. Wilbur, my man! Nice of you to drop by! Welcome to my wild & weedy (and grapey) world!