The wild side by Elizabeth Licata

Buffalo's Delaware park

Buffalo’s Delaware park

At this time of year, I often prefer hiking to gardening.

Late summer is my favorite time for the plants that grow wild in the parks and the preserves of Western New York, and the more common they are, the better I like them.  They don’t even have to be native. I enjoy the fact that they’re just there, ready for me to enjoy. I don’t always know what they all are, which adds to the delight. On recent walks, I’ve enjoyed eutrochium/eupatorium (all types), veronicastrum, bull thistle (cirsium), oenothera, linaria, wild impatiens (jewelweed), every type of wild aster, and much more, including a lot of sea holly in parks that must have been planted by someone at some time. And then there is all the stuff where I have no idea.

Zoar Valley

Zoar Valley

On the other hand, my garden, though it’s still looking fine, has become somewhat more of a chore, mainly because the container plantings are thoroughly rooted-out and require daily attention, as do the annuals I planted in dry shade, to provide some brightness. I need these for all-season interest, but I’m also used to them by this time. There is very little left to surprise me in the home garden—my own eupatorium (the common type that flowers later), some chleome, some roses, and just a couple other things have yet to flower or reflower. And there’s a lot of deadheading at this time. The untended gardens owned by the state of New York or the county of Erie require no such work, and the exercise of walking through them is just as good or better than what I get working at home.

I don’t think I could do what this wildflower afficionada is doing, however. Blogger and nature lover Heather Houskeeper has just hiked all 900 miles of the Finger Lakes trail,  mainly for the purposes of studying herbal medicine and plant taxonomy. This field work is for a book she’s writing on the edible and medicinal plants on the trail. (She’s already written one on North Carolina’s mountain to sea trail, and its plants.) Here’s her blog.

Of course, Houskeeper is doing exactly the opposite of what I’m aiming for. I don’t want to make my hiking work, and I never bring any kind of plant identification books with me. (Once in a while, if I have cell coverage, I might use one of my phone apps, but that’s rare.) I admire her mission, however, and I look forward to seeing her book.

Zoar valley

Zoar valley

We’re lucky in our state parks and preserves here. Zoar Valley, though dangerous, has some of the oldest growth forests in the eastern US. The Niagara Gorge is also unique in that regard. There’s even several nature preserves within Buffalo’s city limits—easy biking or even walking distance. There’s still plenty of time  to take a hike wherever you are—let someone else do the gardening for a day!

The wild side originally appeared on Garden Rant on August 25, 2015.


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