Feral Gardening

My garden went feral…and it took me with it.

Last year I planted what might have been a glorious garden, full of delicious potential. But then I wound up heading out on a road trip and being away for 6 whole weeks! I set the garden up to be watered once a day on a timer but wasn’t there to weed and tend to the plants so when I got back it was a crazy jungle of clover and mullein and dill. All the other lovely little food plants got choked out and the clover was THRIVING like a million legged green monster. It was impenetrable.

This year, I thought we were going to move in June so I didn’t even plan a garden. It was the first time in 13 years that I didn’t plant seeds in the spring. It felt weird to let the season go by without getting my hands in the soil and planning out my seasonal crops.

As the spring weeks came and went my perennials started popping up and then the clover returned with a force. Even though I love tending a garden I was kind of grateful to not be battling with the clover this year.

I diverted my local food obsession into learning about wild edibles and surrendered to a season without a garden…no weeding, no watering, no daily tending to the baby plants.  


Wild onions flowering their gorgeous purple on the left. On the right a tall stand of Egyptian crawling onions…some of the hardiest perennials I’ve ever seen…they just flourished in the heat without a drop of water.

When the Summer came on it got fiercely hot and dry. Without daily watering my garden shriveled up and died. Only the strong survived.

I mourned the poppies and the strawberries as they withered away…celebrated the dying off of the clover…and then marveled at the plants that made it…the plants that stood tall and shone a vibrant green under the blazing desert sun with no water at all.

These plants needed no coddling. They were survivors. They were feral.

When the late summer rains started these survivor plants (aka “weeds”) began to flourish. Most of them were the same wild edibles and medicinals I’d been finding in the mountains…right there in my own garden. Lamb’s quarter, wild onions, mullein, motherwort, dandelion, mint, evening primrose and lots of salsify.

We didn’t move this summer and it looks like we’re going to be with piece of land through another turn of the year. So, I’ve been here, watching the garden change and evolve without my intervention.

With the abundant daily rain and the strong late-summer sun it felt like it was time for growth. I could feel the pull of the plants and my hands were longing to get in the soil, so I decided to merge the wild and the domestic…and I became a late-season feral gardener.

Blending my respect for the hardy wildness of these survivor plants and my love for the tenderness and interaction of caring for plants I strategically planted a variety of fall greens in and among the wild plants…kale, bok choy, dill, basil, spinach, orach mustard greens, arugula, romaine, chard and parsley…right there with the wild ones. Yum.


In order to stir the soil selectively between the wild plants that I wanted to save I needed a special digging tool. So I look around the yard to see what there was and I found a deer antler…It was perfect!

Sitting in the moist garden, raking the soil with this antler tool and singing praises to the plants I found a deep bliss. I had never thought of planting after the rains came and the mosquitos went away…after the brutal spring winds had passed and the days were rich and warm. It was so sweet and easy.

I had always followed the calendar before. This year I followed the plants…and they made me a feral gardener.

That evening we had a delicious wild greens and quinoa salad inspired by a recipe that the Wild Food Girl published recently in her Wild Edible Notebook.

We harvested lambs quarters, wild onion, orach, dandelion and mint from the feral garden and mixed it up with cooked quinoa, sumac berries, wild bergamot, avocado, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. So yummy!!!


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