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?

Early Risers

Hepatica transylvanica

Hepatica transylvanica

The last couple of days have felt very much like spring is just around the corner. Warmer, longer days with stronger sunlight, and even a little mud are reminders of what is to come. Maybe I’m just daydreaming too much. The reality is that we could be thrown into some very cold weather at any time. This weather does get my gardening blood going, though, with visions of those plants that will be the earliest to show, emerging from the previously frozen ground. Soon we’ll be checking daily to see which one it will be. Depending on the location in the gardens and the amount of snow cover, we have had springs/winters where the first plants are up the beginning of March. Though welcome, it is not always a good situation for the plants if a real cold snap follows and hopefully, that won’t happen this year. Unfortunately, many of our customers do not come to the nursery early enough to see the real early risers and spring ephemerals.
In developing a list of talks and presentations in our new studio, we thought it would be informative and fun to have one on the earliest of plants that grow and bloom in our gardens. It is a great time of the year for plants other than the traditional spring bulbs. So watch for this and other talks we are planning to have this year. The winter will eventually end and another gardening season begins.
Helleborus thibetanus

Helleborus thibetanus