I’ve been growing a crop of anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) in a planter on my roof garden for several years now. It’s hardy enough to survive the extreme heat, wind, drought, and cold on the roof. Unfortunately, it’s also an aggressive self-seeder, which means its progeny pops up in every nook and cranny in the spring, continuing to produce new seedlings throughout the growing season.
I’ve wasted hours of my life so-far weeding out the babies but I’d grow it again despite the hassles. The flowers attract all manner of pollinators and beneficial insects to the roof, the birds like the seeds, and I like the flowers in tea. Sometimes it’s just nice to run my hands over the leaves and flowers for the smell, which is a mix of licorice or anise and mint with a hint of fruitiness.
This summer I discovered the joy of laying out on the roof and watching the silhouettes of the plants against flaming summer skies. I discovered this new perspective by accident while testing my new sleeping bag for that crazy camping trip to the Massassauga.
The dill is the most architectural and beautiful of them all.
I took this picture on a June 2007 trip to San Francisco. Crissy Field is on the Bay very near to Golden Gate Bridge (seen in the background). Apparently this saltwater wetland had been covered over to make way for an airfield sometime ago but has been recently resurrected and replanted with natives. I have no idea what the plant is in the foreground. There were lots of unknowns planted there. Visiting places like San Francisco is a humbling reminder of how many plants I don’t know and how much more is out there to discover.
That’s what makes these sorts of trips so fun! The first time I went to San Francisco in the mid 90s was the furthest trip I had ever taken from home and my first time in a southern climate. The plants all seemed so exotic and exciting. I teared up hugging palm trees. I ran around the city touching and smelling everything, marveling at the giant jades, monstrous geraniums and citrus trees. Before that trip it had never occurred to me that a common garden geranium could be so gnarly and wonderful unlike the sad little annuals people grow here. I was so excited to see everything and walk everywhere that I screwed up my knee going up and down all those steep hills and had to hobble around with a knee brace for my last few days there.
And it hasn’t changed really. I’ve been to a few southern climates now, San Francisco 4 times, and it never gets boring or repetitious. It’s always a thrill. I still tear up at the sight of a palm tree. And the same monster geraniums and giant jades are just as intoxicating as they were that first time.
A gorgeous plant, but oh so invasive. Once you’ve got it, good luck getting rid. On the plus side, the butterflies love the flowers (you can see one in this shot) and the young shoots that come up in the spring can be dug and used like rhubarb.
I’d like to think I’ve accumulated a lot of plant knowledge over the years, but my tree knowledge is embarrassingly thin. It’s all down to the fact that I don’t have anywhere to plant and grow one. I’ve grown small fruit-producing trees from pits, limes and kumquats, and the odd houseplant tree in pots but what I know about real, outdoor trees could fit in the palm of my hand.
However, if I did have a backyard or a piece of land I would be all over looking for food-producing trees to grow. In my land-owning fantasies I imagine growing my own apples, pears, plumes, peaches, apricots and most especially cherries. And until recently I hadn’t thought too much past these obvious options because I assumed they were pretty much the standard food trees suited to this region. But this year my fantasies have been expanded by the wild foods supplier at my local farmers market. They’ve been selling fruit and nuts from locally grown trees this past autumn and it has been a real shock to discover what will grow here. For example, just this past week alone I bought persimmons, butternuts (Juglans cinerea), sweet chestnuts, and my new favorite, hickory nuts (Carya). They were selling paw paws but I didn’t get to the market in time. I knew paw paws grew in parts of the southern US but had no idea there were trees growing around Toronto! I bought hazelnuts a few weeks back and walnuts at a local corner shop about a month back.
The hazelnuts were amazing — I did not buy enough. I love that I can make tasty, roasted chestnuts that aren’t imported all the way from China. And the hickory nuts have a fresh pecan-like flavor that finally makes me less jealous of southerners who can just pick up and eat pecans straight off the ground. It doesn’t matter that the walnuts were terrible, the persimmons coated my mouth with a strange film, or that the butternuts are delicious but physically impossible to open — I’m just excited to know they will grow here and that when and if my fantasies become reality, I’ll have far more choices then I ever imagined possible.