It’s gardening weekend! Whoop! Whoop! Last year during COVID lockdown the Friends School Plant Sale was cancelled. It was the first Mother’s Day weekend in something like 17 years that we did not have a crazy garden sale weekend. Well they are back this year in a COVID appropriate way that turned out to be such a relaxing contrast the crazy that the sale usually is.
The sale is held in the Grandstand building on the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. In past years we would arrive at 6 a.m. to stand in a long line for an hour to get an entry wristband . Then we would leave and go out to breakfast at our favorite vegan cafe and return around 9:30, about the time that the group our wristbands placed us in would be allowed into the Grandstand to shop for plants. James would push our cart and dodge in and out of other shoppers to grab plants off the trestle tables. I was in charge of the list and wayfinding our route through the sale in the most efficient manner. We had it down to such a science that we could be in and out of the crowd in about 45 minutes.
This year the sale was held outside on the Midway. The trestle tables were very widely spaced and everyone shopping had to have an appointment time. So instead of arriving at 6 a.m., back in March James and I sat at different computers waiting for the clock to tick over to the time the appointment scheduling opened. And then we frantically hit refresh for about 10 minutes until we could both get into the appointment screen. Then we had to find a time that was open. A very different kind of crazy.
Our appointment was at 9:30 a.m. We did not go out to breakfast because our favorite cafe is only serving takeout and hash browns and tofu scramble don’t really make for great takeaway. So James made our own version at home. We arrived no earlier than 15 minutes before our appointed time, masked up, and stood in an appropriately distanced line with about 30 other people. We had QR codes instead of bracelets. They scanned us in, and, there being no huge crowd, had a more leisurely spin through the plants. James still pushed the cart and grabbed the plants, and I kept the list and map. We got through in about 30 minutes without feeling crowded, overwhelmed, or crushed in the crowd. It was pretty amazing.
I did kind of miss the excitement of the crowd though. The sale is all run by volunteers—teachers, faculty, parents, and students of the Friends school, as well as community volunteers. The kids always wear tie-dyed shirts and are so eager to help. This year, there were no kids, just adult volunteers, and we missed seeing them.
Here is what we got.
- Pennsylvania sedge (2)
- Wild Virginia Bluebells
- Wild Silky Rye (2)
- Wild Sand Coreopsis
- Wild Pasque Flower
- Wild Rue Anemone
- Phlox – Flame Coral
- Wild Partridge Pea
- Wild Nodding Onion
- Wild New Jersey Tea
The “wild” means they are not garden cultivars but the original wild native variety.
Perennials, herbs, and veg:
- Somerset Seedless Grape
- Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
- Roman Chamomile
- Sage (standard culinary variety)
- Ground Cherry
We have not passed our average last frost date yet, that’s next weekend. So we have to be careful what we plant out—we had frost warnings Friday and Saturday night. We are working on getting the native perennials out first because they are most hardy. We’ll get the herbs out next weekend, and the weekend after that the only vegetable we got, the ground cherry.
We might be adding some cherry tomatoes to the garden because one of James’s coworkers started too many for her garden space and offered to give him the extras. We get so many tomatoes in our CSA box that having our own will be a lot. So James is setting his mind to canning sauce and salsa, but also to finally getting around to making the solar dehydrator we’ve been talking about building for years. The dehydrator will be really nice to have if we get as many cherries as the blossoms give me hope for.
While we are planting, we are also harvesting: arugula, sorrel, curly dock, nettles, and bunching onions. I also found a couple of morel mushrooms in the garden yesterday! And for the first time since we planted it, we’ve been able to harvest asparagus. The rhubarb is also ready to start harvesting and I will pick some of that tonight or tomorrow, cut it up and freeze it for now. I think I might be able to convince James to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie or crumble this year. Yum!
We have completed our first experiment of the year: dandelion jelly! Friday after lunch we went foraging at the park and picked about 8 cups of dandelion flowers. We picked violet flowers too, but those are so tiny that even though it seemed like we had a lot, when we got home and measured them out we only had a third of what we needed. So we cancelled the violet flower jelly experiment. Our backs did not have crawling around through park grass for another hour in them.
To make dandelion jelly, the flower petals need to be separated from the stem. This turned out to be a great occupation for my hands while watching a movie. The next step is to pour 4 cups of boiling water over 4 cups of dandelion flower petals and let it steep. It was getting later in the evening and we were tired so we left it steep overnight. Then I read the instructions the next morning to finish the process and it says, don’t let your petals steep for longer than 20-30 minutes our your tea will turn green. Guess what color our tea was? It doesn’t affect the flavor, only the color.
Time for the jellying! Strain out the petals and put them in the compost, bring the tea and some lemon juice and calcium to a boil (we made low sugar which requires the addition of calcium to help acidify the jelly for preservation—use Pomona’s Pectin for this, it comes with a calcium packet), and then slowly add the sugar (we used 3/4 cup of date sugar, next time we are going to try 1/2 cup) and pectin. Bring it all back to boil and turn off the pot. Add the jelly to clean jars. This filled 4 jam jars. We decided to freeze three of them instead of hot water bath canning. It took a long time for the jelly to set up and we were really worried about it for awhile, but it all worked out.
Our jelly is more dark golden brown instead of golden yellow, but that’s ok. And the taste? The recipes say it tastes like honey, well not exactly. The flavor is really mild and a little floral with a nod to the flavor of honey, but if I had not read that it tastes like honey I would not use that description. I suppose people say it tastes like honey to give an idea of what to expect, but really, it tastes like dandelion flowers—a sweet, sunny spring day in your mouth.
Since the dandelions are still blooming in abundance, I think tomorrow I might go and pick a pint of flowers and make some dandelion vinegar. Such a versatile plant! There are so many recipes for dandelions if you want to try some experiments of your own.
I think my next flower experiment will happen this summer, I am going to make rose petal jam! I have a wild rose in my garden so I won’t have to go far!
On a more somber note. We had to say goodbye to Waldo yesterday. About a month ago we took him to the vet because he was losing weight. The vet did an x-ray and found multiple masses on his lungs, stomach, and liver. We brought him back home after that and since then every time he begged for a treat he got it. Any time he wanted a lap, he got it. We lavished him with love. Yesterday he was clearly having a hard time breathing and had reached the point where he was starting to struggle. He slipped away gently and quietly in our arms at the vet. We brought him back home and buried him in the garden next to his brother, Dickens, who we had to say goodbye to last year.
We are now without an animal in the house for the first time in 30 years. It is strange. We have no plans to adopt anyone. It feels right to have a quiet house right now. And we still have the Dashwoods. They are five-years-old now and while that means they are no longer “spring chickens,” they are still fat and sassy and keep us on our toes. They managed to get through the fence from their garden into ours yesterday and gave James a merry chase to round them up!