wildflowers, medicinal flowers, medicinal plants, herbalism, herbal medicine, poppy, poppies

Change is Good.

By Catherine Winter

I love to grow vegetables. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I pore through seed catalogues every winter, getting all giddy about the different varieties I’ll be able to plant once spring rolls around. Eventually. The snow doesn’t melt completely here until the end of April/early May, so by the time the last frost passes, I’m more than champing at the bit to get my seeds into the ground: I’m pretty much frothing.

The thing is, growing veg on my land is really, really difficult to do.

My home is perched on the side of a mountain, and the only flat, sunny spots on it are the septic field (upon which I can’t grow any food), and the paved driveway. There are a few flat-ish bits here and there which I have taken advantage of, but they have their challenges as well. The 40-foot trees all around my land cast a lot of shade around, the soil is clay and sand atop solid Canadian shield rock, and the unevenness of the ground itself means that raised beds are pretty much out of the question.

Then there’s the weather to contend with. A freak heat wave last May caused all my brassicas to bolt, and a hailstorm in July killed my tender greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Literally all that survived last year were potatoes, sorrel, and the peas I had climbing up the shaded north wall.
This will be my sixth summer living on this property, and I can honestly say that the yields I’ve had from my vegetable-growing efforts have been paltry at best.

echinacea, wildflowers, native wildflowers, butterflies, bees, pollinators

Changing Direction

Since I’ve had so little luck growing vegetables, I’m moving in another direction this season. Remember that article we posted last year about working with your land, rather than against it? Well, it may have taken me this long to really learn that lesson myself, but yes. Yes, I’ve finally learned what I needed to and will be taking advantage of what I do have available to me, instead of trying to force plants on an area they’re ill suited to.

Related: Work With Your Land, Not Against It

This is kind of huge for me, since I’m just a raging perfectionist and am normally the type to keep fighting onwards solely for the sake of not giving up. Maybe I’m mellowing in my middling years or something, but I’m recognising that there are many different ways to approach an issue, and compromise is a gentler and sweet technique that my younger self would have benefitted from immensely.

Two summers ago, I let most of my land go fallow just to see what would grow there. I put the mower and snappywhippy thing away, and just let everything go wild.
You know what happened?
Amazing things.

I discovered that several dozen medicinal herb and flower species grow wild on my property. St. John’s wort, heal-all, mullein, coltsfoot, evening primrose, jewelweed, yarrow, shepherd’s purse, comfrey, echinacea, wintergreen, bee balm… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Having dreamt of studying herbal medicine for years, I saw this bounty as a sign that it was officially time to pursue that interest, which I have been doing so (with the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine) whenever I have a spare moment. It also made me realise that I could add to this treasure trove instead of fighting to grow things that didn’t want to be there, much like forcing an artistically gifted child to pursue a career in accounting.
Bad fit, no-one’s happy.

lavender, herbs, flowers, wildflowers, medicinal herbs, herbal medicine, flowers

Herbs and Flowers

As such, nearly all of my attentions will be put towards growing medicinal herbs, and native pollinator flowers rather than veg. I still have my little culinary herb garden just outside the kitchen door, and I’ll still grow climbing peas up the side of the house because they grow so very well there, but that’s pretty much it.

Since so many medicinal plants already grow here, the ones I’ll be planting and tending are:

  • Black Cohosh
  • Chamomile
  • Marshmallow
  • Horehound
  • Elecampane
  • Calendula
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cleavers
  • Motherwort
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Cayenne
  • Mint (in a pot, else it takes over everywhere)

Related: 7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

As for flowers, some of the native species I’ve scattered have medicinal properties as well, whilst others are just great for attracting beneficial pollinators. I have asters and lupines growing pretty much everywhere, but this year I’ll be scattering the following:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Coreopsis
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Cosmos
  • Scarlet Flax
  • Field Poppies
  • Milkweed
  • Columbines

I’ll be tossing around a few non-native species as well, just because I love them so. Hollyhocks and foxgloves will look gorgeous around the perimeter, and I rather like nasturtiums and pansies in window boxes and planters.

Herbal-Medicine

The Bottom Line:

Why am I blathering about all of this?

Quite frankly, to reassure those of you who are struggling with your growing endeavours that even seasoned gardening veterans get frustrated and need to shift direction now and then.
I’ve been growing vegetables and herbs in my own garden spaces for 30 years now, with varying degrees of success. I’ve had yields so bountiful that I foisted massive baskets of produce on friends, neighbours, even the postal workers, because I had more than I knew what to do with… and I have had epic failures that would have left me starving to death if there weren’t a grocery store nearby.

The point is, we work with what we have, and flow with the current as best we can.
We do what we’re capable of, especially when those capabilities shift over time. I mean, we’re all in a constant state of growth and flux, and our priorities can change from one day to the next. Family responsibilities may cut down on gardening time, health challenges can limit mobility, and hell: we just might change our minds about what’s important to us over the next few months while we reevaluate what we want to do with our lives.
And that’s absolutely okay. All of it.
You’re good.

Considering how much I love flowers, I have a sneaking suspicion that this year’s garden may be the most smile-inspiring I’ve had yet.
I won’t be growing many vegetables, but I can support local farmers by buying their produce, and be far less stressed out about my own efforts.

Instead, I can focus all my attention on growing plants I adore: those I can transform into healing salves, teas, and tinctures, and that will make me very happy indeed.

Flower.png

There’s No Such Thing as a Black Thumb

By Angelina Williamson

There’s no such thing as a black or green thumb. I’ve never met a gardener who said “I have a green thumb”, because they know that success in gardening isn’t some magical ability one is either born with or not. It’s something you learn as you go along, and never stop learning. People who claim to have a “black thumb” are people who gave up too fast to experience the success they were hoping for or they really never cared that much about growing plants to begin with. They think that because they killed a few plants they lack the talent for growing things.

I have killed off thousands of plants in the eighteen years I’ve been a serious gardener. Certainly I killed more plants as a beginner than I do now, and yet at this very moment my garden is host to: a half dead mimulus, the blackened skeleton of a tulsi plant, a crispy brown hollyhock, a sickly Abraham Darby rose, and the ghosts of fifty other plants that didn’t make it through the wet spring. Losing plants is a normal part of gardening, it’s not evidence of a black thumb.

Angelinas-Garden

Have you tried growing plants but concluded that you just can’t do it? If you got discouraged but still really want to garden, I promise that you can succeed at gardening. You may need to shift how you think about it and approach it, but anyone who truly wants to garden can do it. I want to tell you the truth about gardening. I want to tell you what I’ve learned about growing that may encourage you not to give up yet.

Plants Are Living Beings

To succeed at gardening the most important thing to understand is that plants are living beings. They aren’t inanimate objects. Whether you believe they’re sentient or not isn’t important but you need to know that they have vascular systems, they breathe, they drink, and they eat much like you do. They respond to care similarly too. The more you pay attention to your plants’ needs, the more they’ll thrive. Plants need to become part of your regular routine. You’ve got to notice them in order to keep them alive.

Forget-me-nots

All Gardeners Kill Plants

No matter how experienced you are at gardening there’s a part of you that will always be a novice because everything you learn opens the door to new things to learn. Every garden you work in has different conditions, from broad obvious conditions like light levels to all the things you can’t see like microbes specific to that patch of earth. This means that an experienced gardener can move to a new garden and find that things they used to grow with ease now give them exquisite trouble. This is normal. Learn your garden. Understand that every plant you lose can teach you more about what works and doesn’t work in your peculiar spot of soil. It’s not a pass/fail test. It’s about having the tenacity to keep trying, keep experimenting, and discover what plants thrive where you are, and which ones you have an affinity for. Just remember that you’re going to lose a hell of a lot of plants on your gardening journey.

Plant-Based Bête Noires

For every gardener I’ve ever met there are plants that simply won’t do well for them, regardless of how much special care they give them or how many different gardens they’ve tried to grow them in. Sometimes these are plants that are considered universally easy to grow. So don’t get hung up on what people say “everyone” can grow. You may meet your plant-based bête noire early on in your efforts or after you become very experienced, but at some point you’ll meet a plant you can’t grow that the books tell you is easy. This is normal and I’m not even envious of the very rare gardener this has never happened to.

My plant-based bête noires are basil and asparagus. Note that basil is considered one of the easiest unfussy herbs for beginners to grow. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally. I suspect there’s some understanding I’ve failed to reach with them.

Tomato

Sometimes There’s Nothing You Could Have Done

Sometimes plants you buy were destined to die young long before you brought them home. This is a true story. You need to know this because sometimes a plant’s failure to thrive is already written in its cells. Plants get diseases and fungal infections just like people do. For a beginner it feels like personal failure. No matter how much you care for a plant it suddenly blackens, wilts, and dies and there was nothing you could have done about it. Some ways you can reduce the risk of this is to only buy plants, seeds, and bulbs from companies that are scrupulous about keeping their plant stock virus-free.

Sometimes it isn’t about viruses but about individual unexpected plant traits. Plants, like people, even when grown in the best and most even growing conditions, are all individuals and can respond out of character to the rest of its family. You can grow one hundred of the same cultivar of tomato that’s known to be vigorous, bushy, prolific, and delicious and some of those plants are going to grow up a little straggly and pale, or perhaps have more bitter tasting fruit, or die of bacterial wilt. Sometimes a plant’s individual wild traits will turn out to be a happy discovery like an uncharacteristically vigorous and delicious tomato. This is all just part of the adventure.

Growing a garden is about developing a relationship with an environment and all the life living in it. The better you communicate with it, and the more you listen to it, the better your results will be.

spring, spring flowers, spring flower, spring gardening, zone 5a, Ontario gardening, spring garden canada, bee, pollinators

Spring.

By MK Martin

I have yet to perfect Hygge. For those of you who didn’t see the ubiquitous feed post concerning this ‘art’, it is all about enjoying winter. Enjoying the books by cozy fires, the spiced drinks, the rich food, the cheer and the togetherness. I love books, but reading by the fire makes me overheat. Hot drinks for me are coffee or Earl Grey. Do not offer me other things, I am not interested in a spice cabinet-filled wine cup. Rich food is lovely, for the feast days, the days after the harvest and in the middle of lining up food for winter. Cheer is something that wanes after a day or so, and togetherness becomes cloying once all the baubles of holiday have been packed away. I will take some turns tromping through the deepening snow, to capture rare moments of crystalline rainbow refraction through the ice, to feel the far away sun on my face and to clean my lungs with deep, hidden breaths.

Pink-flower

After a few turns, though, give me spring. Give me melting snow and ephemeral ice on the trails, turning into puddly poo ponds: the stuff that will give us trout lily, ramps, and morels in what seems like the blink of an eye. Give me blustery, moorish mornings with ruffled robin feathers and lost umbrellas. Give me birdsong. The cacophonous cackle of the grackle, the invisible staccato of the chickadee, the crooning cry or startled whinny of the mourning dove all blending together into beauty, even though the songs themselves are territorial. Give me rain. Fat bullet drops hurtling toward the earth and spitting in my eye, or fine, hazy mist, covering the awakening green with eye catching droplets, curling my hair and surrounding my skin with negative ions. Paint me in dirt and line my pockets with seeds.

Ants

For me, getting through winter isn’t about enjoying it for what it is. It’s all about The Dream. Every year at Imbolc (St. Brigid’s, February 1st), for the past 8 years, I begin The Dream for the gardening season. This year’s dream is the most photogenic yet, with lovingly put together brown paper Jardiniere journals (no lines!) and handmade ceramic receptacles filled with pens, pre-season clay pot sales and piles of heirloom seed catalogues.

Planting-seeds

Arranged, just so, I feel that Martha glow. If you didn’t know, Martha has her garden planning calendar available for all to see, where we can discover there is no time off when it comes to gardening. As soon as your dirt is frozen and slumbering, you should be scouring your resources, planning your rotation, and penciling in your sow by dates.

Lily-of-the-valley

We began in zone 4b eight years ago and had three, charmed, food-filled years, free of pesticides and glorious weather. And then, things began to change. We are now considered zone 5a, and the weather has been confused for awhile. We are still trying to clean our groundwater from the two years neighbours poured roundup onto their ancient chestnut tree, so, this year will see pots of salad and steaming greens, herbs and carrots, while I work toward making our main beds home to flowers. The initial journey was about food security, but over the years, one’s eye begins to focus closer upon the intricacies and smallness of garden workings.

Hummingbird

As the collective mind shifts, and access to quality CSA produce increases, the food security that becomes most important right now is that of the bee, the bird, the bat, insects of all kinds and the worm. We’ve even attracted a fox this far up, to set after the bunchy bunnies that have moved in. Our ‘sleepy’ town has begun to burst at the seams in the name of progress, destroying long standing habitats, flushing creatures out. The community complains a fox can be see in plain sight during the day, rather than all stopping together, to admire it and send it on its way. These are creatures for whom time has no
meaning, as life is the clearest meaning of all, and they never question their purpose. Freedom is in their function.

Frog

My hope is to create a symbiotic space, more than just feeding out of hand. To be a haven for plants long slandered as weeds, brush the native seeds of wildflower-lined trails from my clothes into the grass, and see what else we can invite.

Green-plant