After attending the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Toronto last weekend, a few of us stayed on for a trip to Miriam Goldberger's Wildflower Farm. Miriam and her husband Paul Jenkins produce not only wildflower seeds for gardeners, but also "eco-lawn" seeds and other grasses which can be used for bio-fuel.
They do all this themselves, in a delightfully low-tech way, under the supervision of Penny, their gorgeous dog.
We'd had a lot of rain in Toronto, but our farm visit was blessed with fine weather; so hot, in fact, that a few of us joined Penny in seeking shade under the trees. The wildflower meadows won't peak until August, but there were still enough flowers to keep us happy - mainly false indigo (Baptisia australis), beardtongue, or wild penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus), golden alexander (Zizia aurea) and wild lupin (Lupinus perennis), the Texas bluebonnet's tall cousin.
This is blue false indigo, but Miriam and Paul also have yellow and cream-flowered versions
Bladder campion, or Silene vulgaris. We don't see this as much as we used to in the UK these days, so it was sad to hear that this is considered a weed in North America. It looks so pretty here with the grass - and I can think of lots of weeds I would rather NOT have in my garden!
Beardtongue, or wild penstemon. I love this plant, and although it isn't native to the UK, I'm going to grow it in my meadow patch.
Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), just coming into flower. Now, this is the sort of wild flower I would be a bit dubious about growing, since I have a garden full of thuggish umbellifers, rampant ground elder (goutweed to American readers) and stubborn docks. Wild quinine can reach a metre tall, and it looks like the sort of thing that would take over a whole border if you turned your back for five minutes. However, this is a member of the aster family, it has long been used as a remedy to reduce fever, and it attracts all sorts of pollinators.
Spiderwort, or tradescantia, as we would call it in the UK, where it is only grown as an ornamental garden plant.
Golden alexanders, or Zizia aurea. I love this plant, which looks like yellow cow parsley. I'm going to try this in my meadow as well.
Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), which got its name because its leaves insist on pointing north and south, rather than just growing in a clump. Apparently, the new leaves face any old way, but orient themselves within two or three weeks. And according to Wikipedia, the early settlers on the Great Plains could find their way in the dark by feeling the leaves. (Although if I was an early settler, I wouldn't be out in the dark, thanks very much. Supposing you felt the tail of a mountain lion instead?)
Louise Hartwig enjoying the view and soaking up the idyllic atmosphere.
Miriam showed us how they process the seed. First, it's dried in the old greenhouse, which is baking hot.
Second, the seed is cleaned. Paul found this machine, invented by one Melvin R Dybvig, who unfortunately died after making only 50 of them. Paul bought it on the internet, and the buyer stipulated "collection only". so he had to drive down to Georgia to pick it up. That's right, Georgia USA. And Paul lives in Ontario, Canada.
A variety of sieves are used to clean the seed, all made by Paul. Farmers, like beekeepers, never buy anything if they can make it themselves.
However, this mincer, or meat grinder, was added to the cleaning kit, because it's good for sorting seeds that have very tough husks or shells. Behind it, a small rock with a handle in the top is also used ...
... and even a cement mixer is employed. As Miriam pointed out, if you send out your seeds full of chaff or other debris, you're ripping off the customer.
I love the way Miriam and Paul package their seeds, with really clear, full instructions on how to grow them. None of this "sow direct from March to May" nonsense. I also bought a copy of Miriam's book, Taming Wildflowers, which takes the same approach; it's both practical and passionate.
We rounded off our visit with the most spectacular lunch, cooked by Paul, which included devilled eggs, ham, cheese, two kinds of potato salad, and a wonderful carrot salad with a curry-flavoured dressing. I had so many helpings I lost count. If Paul ever feels like doing a book, I think it should be a cookbook.
However, perhaps the biggest thanks ought to go to Helen Battersby, who not only helped organise the fling, AND an extra day at Niagara, but also drove us all the way from Toronto to the farm and back, a round trip of four hours.