Apologies to my neighbours but I really must inspect my Hypericum perforatum and don’t forget the Silene vulgaris. That’s right – I discovered a botanical paradise! It’s really wild! And it’s on my leaching field … or thereabouts!
It really explains why a quick look into our yard from the street may result in a vision of a woman with book in hand and camera at the ready, mouthing tongue-tied words familiar yet strange and decidedly Latin. A pagan ritual perhaps? No, not an incantation to the powers that be (although not a bad idea all-in-all) but a need, a quest to ignore the news of the day and focus down to the ground.
Today in November, I’m back outside in t-shirt and cut-offs as the strange unseasonly warm weather continues. There are however strong rumours of snow later this week which is at distinct odds with the last tomatoes that I’m roasting this morning. Go figure.
This particular pandemic pleasure stemmed from the mid-year. July was tough on the land and on us. We watched the clouds come and go, performed our rain dances and mourned as grass disappeared and leaves began to fall from our Silver Maples, Acer saccharinum. Barrels emptied and decisions were made to only water veg beds as needed. It was hard to watch and hard on one’s mood…everyday.
And then. I stopped cringing and looked, really looked at what was growing. And growing well in this desiccating landscape. Nature as always, was finding a way to declare itself and it was in the form of wildflowers. And what are these but an invitation to learn? Armed with an Ontario Wildflowers book, and a need to focus on what was popping up everywhere, I went to work. Who knew I would also go back in time?
Arriving in 1832, Catherine Parr-Traill, an early pioneer and writer, found green explorations as a means to hang onto her very being in this new world. As she points out in Studies of Plant Life in Canada, 1885, “…I soon found beauties in my woodland wanderings, in the unknown trees and plants of the forest. These things became a great resource, and every flower and shrub and forest tree awakened an interest in my mind, so that I began to thirst for a more intimate knowledge of them. They became like dear friends, soothing and cheering, by their sweet unconscious influence, hours of loneliness and hours of sorrow and suffering.” She was onto something – a marvelous distraction – and just what I needed.
I knew there would be some wilding happening as on the roadside I could see Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, which easily could provide a shady, lacy umbrella for chipmunk or rabbit or fairy, springing up alongside beautiful blue Chicory, Cichorium intybus, which tempted me to indulge in a coffee – or at least in this coffee substitute.
The garden already had already showcased Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, to entice the Monarchs to land and transform; the long pointers of Great Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus, that when dried and dipped in tallow became a torch in days gone by; and the ever present Orange Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, that shared space with purply Creeping Bellflowers, Campanula rapunculoides. A riot of plants right where we didn’t plant them! Amazing.
Now that I think of it, what a perfect summer moment and one I’ll revisit during upcoming winter days. They are also intimately tied to the memories of childhood and running free to pick bouquets to be jammed into mason jars on a windowsill and admired. Move over African violet – we picked this! I remember the succinct pop of the Bladder Campion, Silene vulgaris, as my brother and I popped their full blooms against the back of our hands. And the Common Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, which meant sitting down in the grass and blowing the seeds that seemed like fairies flying on the breeze. Haven’t done that in ages although I have thought of dandelion summer wine and crisp greens with odd shapes in salad bowls.
All this to say, I have now strategically added a new list of things to explore in this pandemic winter. Green explorations and those women who have taken it to different levels – a penultimate pandemic pastime to link today and yesterday. Among other things. According to the dictates of the day.
Botanic treasures found this year (so far):
- Black-eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta
- Bladder Campion – Silene vulgaris
- Chicory – Cichorium intybus
- Common Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
- Common Milkweed – Asclepias syriaca
- Common St. John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum
- Creeping Bellflowers – Campanula rapunculoides
- Great Mullein – Verbascum Thapsus
- Orange Daylily – Hemerocallis fulva
- Orange Hawkweed – Hieracium aurantiacum
- Oxeye Daisy – Leucanthemum vulgare
- Philadelphia Fleabane – Erigeron philadelphicus
- Pineapple Weed – Matricaria dissoidea
- Scentless Chamomile – Tripleurospermum perforata
- Queen Anne’s Lace – Daucus carota