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A READER'S TREASURYLiving in a Wild Garden
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Roger tells us that living in the Antarctic taught him to "look at each leaf as if on the day of creation." Painting sunlit glaciers also taught him to be a flower painter as the flow of light in a glacier is as evanescent as the play of light on the ever changing petals of a flower. As he puts it, "You must go for the essential line and capture the rhythmic spirit of the thing as best you can."
We are in a time when the nearby wild fields have been plowed under for shopping malls and residences, so that the former order that a gardener sought to bring to one's private estate has been pre-empted by a desire to re-create the formerly ubiquitous wild state of nature, small arks of nature close to one's living quarters. I liked him right away when I read him some fifteen years ago and came upon this short paragraph.
[page 8] I never use weed- or insectkillers and poisonous sprays if I can possibly avoid it because, as a naturalist, I'm only too alive to the damage carried up the food chain. Anyhow, I rather like creepy-crawlies for their own sakes and should be sorry to find no room for them on my ark.
About the same time in my life, the mid-eighties of the 20th Century, I was delighting in the wild flowers that lined the roads I drove to work everyday and the interstates that we drove over on trips elsewhere. Purple sage in Texas, pink buttercups in Louisiana, red clover in Mississippi, etc. I was chagrined to learn that some do-gooders were wanting to plant wild flowers on the highway right-of-ways — didn't they notice that there were already beautiful wildflowers there that didn't need either planting or watering? Besides, isn't planting a wildflower a paradox, an oxymoronic endeavor, and a violation of the Be Spontaneous Paradox? As soon as a wild flower is planted, it is no longer wild!
Even the wonderful color plates are scattered randomly throughout the book without explanation, except for this note:
[page 9] The colour plates are in no particular scientific order because wild life is like that. There are countless excellent books of botanical classification and tidy gardening but the plants themselves don't seem to care for it.
He praises pumpkins and other melons of the marrow family profusely, even giving up a recipe for pumpkin bredy on page 37. He quotes the Thompson and Morgan catalog thus about pumkin seeds:
[page 36] In China the pumpkin is the symbol of fruitfulness and is called the Emperor of the Garden. However, the Anatolian Turk, the Hungarian gypsy and the mountain-dwelling Bulgarians all knew that pumpkin nuts preserved the prostate gland and thus male potency.
Later he gives out his wife's recipe for jelly, which is as simple as one can make it. If you want complexity, go to a cookbook, if you want jelly, try this:
[page 57] My wife makes jelly because it's so much easier. Cover the fruit with water and boil till tender; hang it in a bag to drip through overnight, resisting any temptation to squeeze the bag or your jelly will be cloudy. Next day cook up the liquid, adding a pound of sugar to a pint of juice or pulp and stirring constantly to prevent burning on the bottom. Any difficulty with jam or jelly can be avoided by adding lemon juice and the pips of lemons tied up in a muslin bag to raise the pectin content.
Steiner, our miniature Schnauzer, is an avid collector of the next described wild plant. Every spring his hairy leggings are covered with the stuff, but until this book, I had no idea what to call it. Now I have my choice of three! What a bonanza!
[page 66] Sticky Willy, Goose Grass, or Cleavers Galium aparine L., with tiered leaves and rather weak rambling growth, weak, that is till it's hooked onto your clothing and it clings tenaciously by barbed bristles, might not suggest itself as edible. Wind it around your arm like a hank of wood and coil it down into boiling water like spaghetti and it will be quite docile. You can eat tender shoots entire but if, probably, the bit you've got is too tough to be appetizing, throw it away after a few minutes' boiling like any other tough leaves but make the juice the basis of slimmer's consommé.
Well, this last one really turned my head — imagine that pesty weed is an edible vegetable! On any spring day I could fill up a pot with them in a few minutes time. Plus Steiner will do his share by bringing some in for us. This is a book of treats for the eyes and the palate and the only cost will be that of the book.
Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne
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