The Time For Seeds

Picture 109Picture 104In the spring we enjoy the wonderful blooms of the woodland peonies. In the fall, we are amazed by the brilliance of their seeds and seed pods. As we collect seed from the many woodland plants we grow here at Fernwood, we find the diversity of color and texture of the seeds to be quite remarkable, each plant having its own design. Nature……truly amazing and always full of wonder.Picture 137Picture 147Picture 151

The Time For Seeds

Picture 109Picture 104In the spring we enjoy the wonderful blooms of the woodland peonies. In the fall, we are amazed by the brilliance of their seeds and seed pods. As we collect seed from the many woodland plants we grow here at Fernwood, we find the diversity of color and texture of the seeds to be quite remarkable, each plant having its own design. Nature……truly amazing and always full of wonder.Picture 137Picture 147Picture 151

Some Poop On Soil

Picture 1062Throughout the summer we are asked about the soil here at the nursery. People look into the display beds or the vegetable gardens and will often have many questions about what we do to improve or condition the soil. First, we don’t really consider what we add to the soil as improving it ( yes, it actually is), but instead we like to think of it as ‘feeding the soil’. It’s a living thing……it needs feeding. We grow soil like we grow plants. We nurture it. We study it. We think about what it needs, and then we give it what it wants……poop, compost, rotted leaves, grass clippings, some seaweed, and any other helpful organic matter we can get our hands on. Because we have sheep, chickens, pigs, and once a diary cow, we have access to a lot of manure. This is helpful but not completely neccessary for soil enrichment. Since we raise the critters that we do, we are happy to have the benefit of animal manure. In addition, we also generate and use other forms of soil amendments, such as kitchen compost, grass, and leaves. We never really test the soil, and when people ask about this, we tell them about our approach to the soils needs and fertility. We pay attention to the weeds that are popping up. This can often be an indicator of the soil chemistry. For example, sorrel can often mean that your soil may be somewhat waterlogged or poorly drained, and acidic or low in lime. We do a bit of leaf analysis. Leaf color and overall vitality of the plant helps us to consider the soils fertility and what it may need to support the green growth above it. We smell the soil, we feel the soil…….and after years of being rather intimate with these things, you begin to understand and interpret the soil and its needs quite successfully, without ever having to do a soil test. Our very best advice is, if you want to grow good plants, start by growing good soil. Here at the nursery, we have stock piles of soil ‘food’ ( I consider these piles gold mines). We make great effort to utilize all the animal manures and vegetative material that is generated here at the farm. This has made a terrific difference in the health and fertility of our soil. I must admit, that I can get just as excited about sifting my fingers through the soil of a freshly turned bed in the spring, as I do picking that first sun ripened, fat and juicy tomato later in the season. We welcome the questions people have about soil and soil conditions. We do not claim to be experts in the field of soil, but we do feel that our gardens are an example of some things we may be doing right. Rick loves to talk about the native plants we grow and sell, and he has a firm handle on the soil conditions each plant prefers. I just love talking about soil, and I am glutton for any organic material that we can accumulate to feed the soil with. A pile of rotted leaves or a truck load of seaweed can be a very nice birthday gift. So, get to know your soil. Pay attention to the weeds and existing vegetation. Check out the soil color and its texture. Consider the soil fauna…..how many different bugs and worms do you find? Dig up a plant and examine its roots health and structure. Become your gardens own soil steward.
And feed your soil the things it needs to support the plants you grow. It will make all the difference!

Hello Friends

Epimedium

It feels like this blog continues to be put on the back burner. Not finding the time to sit and craft a post and catch up with readers gnaws at me while I scurry around outside potting plants, weeding the display beds, and planting the vegetable gardens. The rain, which is always welcome in our world, has put some time constraints on our activity. We are hearing from customers that their own gardens are late in emerging, some beds too soggy to plant or work in, the cold temps and rain slowing the process. Regardless of the coolness or damp conditions, the nursery is full, customers are rolling in to purchase plants, and we are busy, busy. In the early evening when we finally roll indoors, I am very ready for a quick meal (and a glass of wine, yes, perhaps this too!) and then off to bed we go without ever even considering that I could muster the energy to write something worth reading. So, please forgive me while I step aside to toil in the gardens, I’ll be here and post when I can actually sit and share more than a quick ‘hello’. I’m not disappearing, just preoccupied with the ‘doing’ of other activities at the moment. I hope you are doing well and that your gardens are flourishing. Whew! Time…that elusive reality!
I recently read and liked this poem from Mary Oliver’s collection. Worrying is a skill I’ve seemed to have mastered rather well. So, I’ll share it with you, here it goes, enjoy!

“I Worried”

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.”

― Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

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!

Chilly And Drizzly

Erythronium sibiricum

It has continued to be rather chilly and drizzly here in the northeast. Customers are coming to the nursery and commenting on how squishy their gardens are and for some this means a slight halt to any spring planting. There is certainly some wet areas in our own gardens, but we are still enjoying the blooms of early varieties. The coolness is helping to preserve their blooms and we are delighted by the extended show they are offering.
I’ll post some photos and move along to the outdoor activities that are calling, it’s 5:30 a.m and there’s a full day ahead, best get started! We are still potting up plants for the sales area, continuing to label any new varieties of plants (some real beauties!), sowing seeds in the garden and tending the seedlings in the greenhouse.

Trillium cuneatum

Peony ‘Little Red Gem’


What’s happening in your garden at the moment? Do you feel stalled by the weather? Is it squishy underfoot? What’s blooming?
In a strange way, I actually appreciate that the weather and conditions are present to ‘rein’ me in. I am reminded to work along and beside the natural world I am so privileged to bear witness to. I can engage with it but on her terms and at her pace. When I am impatient, the earth gently waggles her finger at me and says ” I’ll get there when I get there, stop hurrying me”. Thank you dear buds and blooms and shoots and seeds, thank you for reminding me to be still, to wait, to work with and not against. A good blessing for the day!

Allium tricoccum

Sanguinaria canadensis

Primula

Wednesday, May 8th! Opening Day!

The nursery is stocked and the display beds are peppered with spring ephemerals. We are busy, busy and looking forward to the new season! Looking for some Maine natives or an unusual rarity? Come visit, the shingle is out welcoming you this Wednesday!
Our hours for the season are Wednesday through Sunday, 9 to 5. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Jeffersonia dubia

Hepatica triloba


Due to feeling a little like Piglet in the episode of Winnie The Pooh where his house floats away because of the continuous rain, we will be opening for the season on Wednesday, May 8th. Our hours will still be Wednesday through Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays. We are seeing lots of green shoots and swelling buds and even blooms from the ephemerals, but the ground is so squishy, saturated from the rain! I dare not complain, however, who knows what the upcoming season may bring in the way of drought. Here in the northeast, as many of you know, July and August have been terribly dry over the last three years. I am thankful that the groundwater is being amply replenished at the moment!
So, outdoors I go to fill the sales area with horticultural goodies and to continue potting up plants from the stock area. Even though our wardrobe staple consists of rain pants and rubber boots, we are so excited for the new growing season! Spring! We’ll welcome her every way we can!
Here are a few plants waiting for their spot in the nursery and a few that are already blooming in the gardens…

Trillium grandiflorum flora plena

Salix boydii

Saxifraga cotyledon

Cardamine glandulosa

Eranthis hyemalis

Helleborous thibetanus

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?