Stellaria media

The greenhouse is full of seedlings and pots of plants from our propagation efforts. Rows of sprouted green growth filling the benches and all inching their way upward. Trays of just sown seeds laying slightly beneath the surface of our homemade potting soil. Heat mats and watering systems and seed packets litter the back bench along with a lifetime collection of terra cotta pots and vessels. All of this growth and promise and good intention we’ve sown is accompanied by a little plant that’s trailing along the ground, all by itself, making its way and quenching its thirst from the drippings above. It’s Stellaria media (chickweed)…the wonder plant! I always have to be on the lookout for this little lovely plant. It self sows all along the floor of the greenhouse and if I am not watchful, often Rick will pile pots or row covering on top of it and will hinder it’s delightful and intentional march forward. He is not quite as attentive to the more ‘seedy weedy’ friends that pop up and that I find useful. I’m still training this master horticulturist on the benefits of my weed collection and its encouragement.
I have just harvested a bit of Stellaria and made an infusion to sip throughout the day. Stellaria is an amazing little plant chock full of nutrition. It’s high in chlorophyll and omega 6, as well as calcium, manganese, zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It’s also very high in vitamin C, A (from carotene) and B. It is well known for its ability to cool, draw, and dissolve. It contains a soapy substance called saponins. Saponins are emulsifiers and help to increase the permeability of cellular membranes. Saponins also work at dissolving and breaking down unwanted matter. Because of this, Stellaria has been known to have an ability to combat bacteria, dissolve cysts and benign tumors, and to break down thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive system. An infusion or tea of chickweed when you have a respiratory infection with a lot of congestion can be just the thing.
Chickweed has often been used to treat eye infections due to its antibacterial constituents and is also soothing because of its cooling properties. I have used a poultice on skin irritations like bug bites or itchy rashes (poison ivy) with great results. Remember, Stellaria cools, draws, and dissolves. All properties that can coax out a stinger or draw out an infection while soothing the spot of irritation.
I’ll keep harvesting this little plant, leaving small clumps to flower and reseed. As the greenhouse temperature increases, chickweed will start to wither away. It prefers the coolness of spring. No worries, I’ll find little patches in the gardens as the ground continues to thaw and warm and my second round of harvesting will happen outdoors. I always feed handfuls of chickweed to the laying hens (what a treat!!) and to the Angora rabbit. Everyone deserves the super powerful spring tonic of Stellaria media! Look for it in your own gardens, make a tea or add it to a salve, eat the little petals in your next salad and know that this little plant is full of good and nutritious energy!

In The Woods And In The Nursery

We just began the process of uncovering the nursery. Such a fun job after a long winter. Each time we roll back the landscape cloth we immediately inspect the condition of the plants underneath. One little Hepatica transylvanica that we’ve propagated was already in bloom. A determined little gem! It looks like most everything has come through the long winter splendidly. Always a joy and a relief to know our plants were tucked in well for the winter, undisturbed by voles, and are now ready to have their covers lifted.

Lobaria pulmonaria

While out foraging, I came across one of my favorite lichens, Lobaria pulmonaria. This lichen is an epiphytic lichen, which means it is an organism that uses another plant for structure and derives its moisture and nutrients from the rain and air but does not harm the plant it’s living on. This particular lichen is very susceptible to air pollution and will not often be found in areas where air quality is poor. Fortunately, our air quality is pretty darn good here in the woods of Maine, so I come across it quite regularly. I harvest a small amount of Lobaria for two reasons. First, for its medicinal value. I tincture this lichen for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, lingering coughs, and croup. Lobaria is an expectorant, an astringent, is an antimicrobial and a pulmonary demulcent. Having antibiotic properties it can help with bacterial infections. I tincture Lobaria and also gather a bit for drying to add along with other respiratory herbs and then use it as a tea. The other use I have for Lobaria is as a dye plant. Used fresh or dried, Lobaria gives a dark brown color to the yarn I am dying. I don’t often use a mordant ( a mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye and helps to fix it to the wool), but with the most recent collection, I will see if I can shift the color a bit using some copper or iron. Aren’t these plants just the most amazing things ever? I am very careful about leaving the bulk of a lichen undisturbed. Lichens are very slow growing and such an important part of our ecosystem that I find it best to be very thoughtful when harvesting. Not much is needed for tincture, for tea, or for a dye bath, so a very small amount is actually gathered.
Tomorrow, I may take my Lobaria pulmonaria down to the coast and set up a little fire and a dye pot. Curious as to what the salt water and all its minerals will do to alter the color. We shall see and I’ll keep you all posted on the results!
Hope where ever you are, you are feeling the strength and restorative properties of the approaching spring season. So very lovely, isn’t it?

Brunch And Blooms

Consider visiting Fernwood Nursery this season for our first ‘Brunch and Blooms’ series. When? Sunday, June 23rd from noon to 2:30. Join us for mid-day occasion featuring a farm to table brunch menu using ingredients grown, harvested, and thoughtfully prepared here at Fernwood. Stroll with us through the nursery and gardens as we share with you our own experience as growers, farmers, and stewards. Come see what’s in bloom! The day promises to be a feast for the eyes and the belly. You’ll also leave with a little seasonally crafted gift, an essence of Fernwood for you to take home and enjoy in your own kitchen.
For more info please visit our classes and more page!

Spring, We Can Feel It And We Can See It

It was over eighty in the greenhouse today without the heat turned on. The sun was strong. The dog lounged all day in a pile of leaves on the south side of the house. We uncovered two rows of conifers and they are so green green green and they appear happy to be unveiled. We potted up some Hepaticas and some more Bloodroot and sowed more vegetable seeds. We ate our lunch outdoors and saw our first robin return to the feeder. We didn’t have a fire in the woodstove all day. We thought about going up to John’s Ice Cream for a strawberry milkshake because it felt so deliciously warm that it made us think of spring and summer things…like milkshakes. We didn’t go because as much as we felt like sipping on a milkshake we didn’t feel like driving out through the mud and ruts that are indicative to spring and of course indicative to the other word for spring in the northeast…mud season. The sheep’s water buckets didn’t freeze overnight and the chickens were eager to get out of the henhouse and to cruise the yard for morsels. Tonight there is a possibility of light snow, perhaps a half an inch. That doesn’t mean it’s still winter and it doesn’t mean it’s not spring. This we know. We’ll stay flexible.
But today, we felt spring in our bones and we saw signs of it all around us. Glory be!
For the sake of spring, which may come and go several times before staying put..please read and enjoy this poem by Kate Barnes.

April and then May,
violets up in the field,
the ewes with their twin lambs;

time has decided
to turn into spring again
after all.

The maples are unfolding their leaves,
chives stand green at the kitchen door,
the black flies have decided to come back;
and the work mare has her new foal
capering over bluets in the pasture,
and the hall smells of daffodils;

and everything
is divinely ordinary –
the deep ruts in the field track,

the spring overflowing,
the excited swallows,
the apple trees

budding for perhaps the hundredth time –
and the pruned boughs budding too
that must bloom just where they lie.

By Kate Barnes

A Beautiful Day In March

What a delightful day! Warm and sunny and the ground squishy and oozy with mud. We walk across the strategically placed planks along the ground to duck into the greenhouse as early in the day as possible. Decadent warmth! Our bones are so happy to have heat from the sun! Aah! We so appreciate our dutiful woodstoves and the great heat they provide us throughout the winter, but I must say, our souls are sun seekers now. We are basking in the glory of vitamin D. Of course, because of our work, we are directed outdoors almost every day now. The greenhouse, the nursery, the gardens…And, as Ruth Stout said ( and I agree!) “I LOVE SPRING ANYWHERE, BUT IF I COULD CHOOSE I WOULD ALWAYS GREET IT IN A GARDEN.”

Our curious hens have found bare ground!

Hair cuts are desperately needed!


Today, we have been busy with an array of chores. Flats of seeds started, chicken coop mucked out and all the bedding deliciously tossed into the compost heap and replenished with clean shavings, a few signs were painted for the nursery season, two huge piles of brush were collected and are now ready for burning, emails were written and sent, more class postings have been added to our ‘classes and more’ page, and I was even able to put together some yummy chocolate Irish whiskey brownies. Did I already use the word decadent in this post? Let’s just apply that same word to these brownies, and then, let me share the recipe with you please.

Brownies With Irish Whiskey And Currants

1 cup hazelnuts ( I have also used walnuts)
12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup Irish Whiskey
1 1/2 currants or raisins
2 cups granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 unbleached all-purpose flour
Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat to 325 degrees. Spread hazelnuts (or walnuts) on the baking sheet and toast for 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool and remove skins from hazelnuts. Set aside.
Turn heat up to 350 degrees.
In a stainless steel mixing bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter. Take off heat once melted and allow to cool slightly.
In another small saucepan over low heat, heat the whiskey with the currants or raisins, stirring constantly to keep from sticking or burning. Cook until the liquid is sticky, bubbly, and reduced. About 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a bowl with an electric mixture whisk sugar, salt, and the eggs until they are mousse-like. Add flour in three batches. remove from mixer and stir in the chocolate. Stir in the currant mixture. Last, stir in the nuts. Bake in 11X17 baking dish well buttered. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until firm to the touch. Cool before serving.

Oh boy, you’re going to love, love, love these! Enjoy!

First List Of Classes !

We’re starting to post our class offerings and schedule for the 2019 season here at Fernwood Nursery. Today I’ll share with you what has been slated so far for the month of April, but be sure to visit our classes and more page for additional summer classes and newly posted opportunities ( some are already up!). We are so looking forward to the upcoming season, potting up new plants as well continuing with the old favorites. Lots of great natives for those who are devoted to restoring ecological habitats or for those who simply see the beauty and importance of growing native plants within the landscape. Of course, being ‘plantaholics’ we also carry an extensive collection of unusual plants and rarities from around the globe. Come see! We know spring is coming, the squishy ground beneath our feet and the deep muddy ruts on all of our dirt roads are obvious indicators!
And now, two classes in April that may interest you…

Dull As A Hoe!
Saturday, April 20th, 2019 from 1:00 -3:00
Get those garden tools ready for the season! Join us here at Fernwood Nursery to learn how to sharpen and maintain your garden tools. Whether it’s a trusty hoe, your essential digging spade, or those favorite pruners, come learn how to keep them sharp and at their best. Feel free to bring along your own gardening tools ( limit three, please) to get that hands-on opportunity to sharpen their edges. Sharpening materials will be on-site for your use and instruction will be provided. Complimentary scones and tea will also be available!
Class size is limited to 10, pre-registration and pre-payment required. Visit our classes and more for details.
Please call (207) 589-4726 or email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net to register

Erythronium ‘ Rose Queen’
Trout Lily


‘Ephemerals and Early Risers’
On Saturday, April 27th, 2019 from 10:00a.m. to noon
Rick and Denise Sawyer of Fernwood Nursery will give a presentation on ‘Ephemerals and Early Risers’. The talk will focus on those plants which are first to emerge in spring within the woodland garden. Come join us for a walk and talk as we identify and enjoy the earliest of plants to bloom and learn how to incorporate them into your own landscape. Discover some of the woodland gems we grow and offer here at Fernwood Nursery…bloodroot, Hepatica, Anemones, and Dutchman’s britches, to name a few!
The program will take place in the gardens and studio of Fernwood Nursery from 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon. Space is limited to 10, so pre-registration and pre-payment are required. Also, dress for the weather…it’s spring and it could be showery. Tea and a light lunch will be served. Visit our classes and more page for details. Sign up by phone or email. Happy Spring! (207)589-4726 or email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net

The Shift Is Here

The shift from winter to early spring comes quickly here. Not so much in temperature or the landscape, we still have a hefty blanket of snow cover, the woodstoves are still ablaze, and just this morning we were out, once again, shoveling paths and clearing the driveway. Winter still has a grip. The transition and its intensity come from the tasks that are required to be up and ready for a new nursery season when spring truly arrives. The greenhouse is seeing a flurry of activity; seeds are started, soil is being prepared, heat mats are stretched out and tested, plants lists are being scrutinized and revised (oh, the excitement of all the new goodies for the nursery this season!), we’re addressing any repairs on the infrastructure that may have been altered during the winter months ( must fix that hinge on the hoop house door!), we’re writing up our class descriptions for the spring and summer. Oh, boy, the pace is quickening! How delightful though, to feel well rested after a long and quiet winter and to now welcome and embrace the sudden burst in energy and new life emerging…how long before the winter Aconitum start pushing their bold yellow flowers through the snow, who will spot the first fuzzy catkins to open on the willows, and let us not forget the hardiness of the early Hellebores (Lenten Rose) that will flower well before their new leaves emerge? For so many of us, the transition is not simply the physical changes or demands we may experience shifting from winter to spring, but the mental awakening we feel when the sun is higher in the sky, the days are longer, and the ground though still nestled beneath its blanket of snow is sending its earthy fragrance upward. Ahh. I can feel it, I can. Excitement and anticipation. I want to tip my head toward the sun and shout “Welcome and thank you, Mr. Sun, and aren’t you something you big ol’ ball of fire!”
That’s the atmosphere here at Fernwood Nursery right now, a grateful nod of farewell to winter and with hearts and arms opened welcoming the promise of spring.

December Here At Fernwood

Wouldn’t you think by now, after a long and busy growing season, that we’d simply be sitting fireside whittling wooden spoons and rubbing the dog’s belly? That would be nice, for us and our pups, it surely would. However, though the activity may be different than it is during those time-sensitive days of summer, our days are full. The work here is seasonal, a constant flow from one end of the calendar to the next. A rhythm of life that can be measured and accounted for. Right now, as we slide into the colder days of the year, the days are measured in firewood and hay and jars of canned tomatoes. We are not moving the sheep fence for rotational grazing, but we are making trips out to thaw frozen water buckets and cleaning stalls. We’re not dragging hoses and setting up the commercial sprinklers, but we are (already!) dropping trees for next year’s winter supply. We are not collecting seed and dividing plants, but we are going over our plant lists, scheduling talks for the 2019 season, and making room for new cultivars that we’ll be offering.
Yesterday went like this: Up at 5:00 to make coffee and stoke the fires… we heat the house using only wood and have at least two stoves going at all times ( there are three in the house not including the studio, which we also keep heated). Next, animal chores. Hay and grain and water the sheep, the chickens, and Hunny Bunny( Sally’s angora rabbit who winters here) and clean stalls. Back indoors to bake off eight loaves of sourdough bread, roast a chicken from the freezer, cook off a shepherd’s pie using ground venison, and bake an applesauce cake. Back outdoors to cut and split wood (next years), gather greens for wreath making, and then bring a load of firewood to a neighbor’s house who is already running a bit low. Indoors by mid-afternoon for some lunch and a cup of tea and a few rows of knitting (Noah’s Christmas socks). Late afternoon, back out to haul in firewood, sort through this past springs fleeces to try and send off for washing before the end of the month, then sand all the footpaths and driveways that are becoming quite slippery. Before dark, it’s animal chores again, being sure to tuck everyone in safe and sound and well fed. Dinner (with a glass of wine, yes, please!), some reading ( right now, Farley Mowat’s book, The Siberians), and a few more rows of sock knitting. Bedtime…8:30 ish, not kidding.
There you have it, a sample day during Fernwood’s winter. Oh, there’s also the vacuuming and the odd projects that we have a list for and the dishes and the rubbing of dog’s bellies. All that too, for sure. This is a good life. A busy, day to day, cycle. It often feels like the days are too short, regardless of the season, but I think most everyone would agree to that. We do the best we can with the daylight hours we have, we save the nighttime for activity that can be done without light, we are happy when our heads hit the pillow. I think my point in writing about our days this morning is to acknowledge how surprised I am, year after year, knowing full well the busyness of each and every season, that the winter months are not as sedentary as one would think. No, they are not. Is the pace different? Yes. Life does go round and round here, we visit the same needs and chores and expectations, month after month, year after year, over and over again. We know it and we know it well. Yet still, I ‘summer-dream’ of winter days spent fireside reaching for my brewing cup of tea and casually flipping the pages of a good book…and, of course, reaching out with my foot with a relaxed bit of effort to rub the dog’s belly. There are a few days in the throes of winter that will indeed center on the indulgent gift of warmth and hot tea and the captivating words of a good story. I’ll savor these, be glad for them, and they will help make the firewood slinging days more pleasurable. Of course, once those bitter days of February arrive, thoughts of green grass and swelling buds and tender shoots will creep into my mind. I don’t consider myself fickle, I am not a person who wishes time away or one who struggles with routine. Perhaps my mind is joyfully entangled and intertwined with the flow of this life, I know what’s coming and I know what’s been done. Most days, I try and just be in it. Inserted. A cog in the wheel. Hopefully, an integral part of the pattern. And that makes me happy and helps to bring reason to this life I’ve chosen.
Enough said, happy December to you all, I must go, there are things to do and dog bellies to rub!

Hay (Hey) Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Yes, as I was out throwing hay to our flock of woolies they did seem to be commenting on the briskness of the day! The chore of covering the nursery was completed in just the nick of time. Whew! Today, (Sunday) after our first snow of the season, the sun is out and the temperature hovers around 30 degrees. Not so bad, not so bad. A good day for wood splitting, a little deer tracking ( without the rifle today…Sunday), and some knitting. I am scurrying to finish a pair of wool socks as requested by our son, Noah. His birthday just past and since he’s not here on his home turf at the moment, a box of goodies that remind him of his roots was what he ‘wished’ for… a case of Moxie, some homemade whoopie pies, and a new pair of hand-knit wool socks. As one might say, there’s no taking the country…or the love of home…out of this boy.
So that’s our day here, perhaps I’ll end it with a cup of earl grey tea and some almond biscotti. Fireside, that is!

Cold Enough

Once the nursery season is officially over, we wait for the temperatures to be consistently cold in order to cover plants in the retail and stock area. This is somewhat tricky on account of the fluctuating weather we may experience in the fall here in Maine. Many of the plants we over-winter are lined up and then covered in a specially designed winter ‘blanket’. Our ideal is to have the plants freeze and remain frozen, it’s the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw that we’re most concerned about.

Still Green! Epimedium colchicum and Adiantum venustum

Our mission is to protect the roots of the plants. Because some of the plants will remain in their pots and not in the ground, the roots are vulnerable and susceptible to damage if left without protection. Therefore, more care and consideration is needed. Our annual ‘covering of the pots’ truly marks the end of our growing season, the last big chore in the nursery. Of course, we also have a tremendous amount of plants that are over-wintered in growing beds, these don’t require any extra defense and will rely on the earth (and hopefully good snow cover) to protect them. A patch-work of fall-related chores here at Fernwood as we welcome the winter season…we’ve processed this year’s supply of meat birds, the root vegetables are snug in the root cellar, and the firewood is (almost) all stacked in the woodshed. Hip Hip Hooray!
Oh, and bread making! Regardless of the season, there is breadmaking!