Monday, December 10, 2012
We have an interesting history with wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens. Early exploration of our newly purchased land revealed a large patch of this plant. It was growing on a steep north facing slope. Too steep to plow, the land had been used as pasture for dairy cows many decades ago. Now wild berry briers made the area difficult to access. Trying to do right by this native wildflower, I cleared the briers. That winter hungry deer easily walked my newly cleared wild garden and feasted on the exposed wintergreen. An occasional plant can still be found there but the briers returned with a vengeance.
Purchased plants have refused to grow for us. Cuttings refused to root here. Following our success transplanting arbutus, I have been thinking about giving wintergreen another go. In the wild we have encountered the two plants growing in close proximity.
Taking advantage of our mild December weather, I have been clearing my side of the shared lane. Today I discovered a large patch of wintergreen growing under the protective cover of black birch branches that had been thrown over my fence by a lane user. I usually resent people throwing things over my fence but these branches appear to have provided protective cover for the wintergreen. As I did a proper job of cutting back the brush, additional branches were carefully placed over the wintergreen. Easy to drive to, we will make frequent trips here to see and record the life cycle of these wild plants.
Both Henry W. Art and William Cullina describe wintergreen as a suitable plant to introduce into the garden. Stem and runner cuttings should be taken early in the year while the growth is still soft advises Art. Perhaps my cuttings were taken a bit late. Rather than trying to force these plants into cultivation, maybe I should be content to enjoy them where they are. A native plant deserves a wild home.
In my readings I encountered a tale describing pioneer women as sipping wintergreen wine at quilting bees. Unable to remember the author describing this practice, I cannot get the experience out of my head. Wintergreen wine must be a real taste treat. How could it be anything less? Early in our history wintergreen must have been a common plant. I cannot imagine a stand of this plant so vast that would supply the buckets of leaves necessary to make wine. Perhaps this is what they mean when referring to the good old days.