Thursday, March 31, 2011

Prairie Fires and Watercress at the Spring

Starting the fires

Lines of fire moving to the center

Further downhill, Cold Spring
A Stream-full of Watercress
My family has a beautiful acreage called Cold Spring Pond two miles from Wapsinonoc Gardens. Once every year or two, we burn the prairie grass on selected stretches of the hillside, and yesterday was the day. It was perfect weather, dry, sunny and only a slight breeze. The preparation takes more time than the actual burning. Three of us dragged hundreds of feet of hoses around the perimeter of the burning space, wetting the mowed grass (and some evergreen trees) in a four-foot wide strip to keep the fire contained. And then Kent began setting fire to the edges, moving slowly around the circumference, with the other two of us standing watch with hoses to squelch any wayward flames. Watching this much fire is an awesome sight. It stirs one at some deep level, one of the primary elements that we don't see often enough. Once the lines of fire are burning toward each other, moving toward the center, the flames and smoke get bigger and bigger. By the time the separate lines of fire are almost to the center, this roaring inferno is scary with its power and ferocity. You can't help but think of the early settlers on the prairie, with an out-of-control prairie fire moving toward their log homes, using every tool at their disposal to fend off disaster. The whole burn yesterday took less than an hour, leaving a blackened hillside. But in a few days this same hillside will begin to turn a bright green, and prairie flowers will again raise their leafy heads to the sun.

Just downhill from our prairie burn is Cold Spring. It provides the water for the cabin above as well as the pond, with plenty to spare. The water tastes wonderful, and my cousin Ken has also used the water to cool the cabin with a home-made air conditioner that is inspiring to watch in action. Seventy five years ago, my father was given a sprig of watercress that had been brought from the east coast by visiting friends, and planted this sprig at the spring. The rest is history! As you can see from the bottom photo, the cress loved this spot and has flourished beyond anyone's expectation. Not only does it surround the spring head, but it has taken over a good quarter of a mile of the stream below the spring. All winter long the watercress thrives, a green spot amid the snow and ice. Soon it will begin to flower, so now is a great time to harvest, before the flowering. I will have watercress for lunch today, and for dinner, and for lunch tomorrow. There is nothing like it. I am grateful....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

new rosemary cuttings

From medieval monastic gardens to modern doorstep herb pots, rosemary has held an almost revered place in the hierarchy of herbs. Why is that, I wonder? I'd be glad to hear stories about the importance of this plant. In ancient times, it was thought to heighten memory, to strengthen bonds of love, and as a symbol of fidelity. Wearing rosemary leaves in a bag around your neck was believed to protect you from fevers.

In our more scientific era, it has been shown to relieve headaches, improve memory, strengthen the heart and circulatory system, regulate blood pressure, and improve digestion. Wow!

Rosemary originally came to us from the Mediterranean region, where it is still used liberally to flavor meats, breads, vegetables and wine. Someone said, "It comforts the heart and quickens the spirit." I live that. Whatever the magic of this aromatic herb, it certainly seems to have found a place in our hearts today.

If you have a rosemary plant that you would like to use to start some new plants, you can take cuttings of 1-2 year-old branches, at least 3 inches in length. Cut off the top of each cutting, remove the lower leaves and leave just one whorl of leaves high on the stem. Stick the lower part of the cutting in a tray of wet sand, make a tent of plastic over the tray to keep in moisture, and put in a warm and light place until a good root system develops. Here's a photo of some of my little rosemary cuttings, working at putting out new roots. Aren't they beautiful?