In the brown March garden, there are small and exciting signs of wild botanical life. In Harlem last summer I was thrilled to discover a nettle plant growing in a blueberry bush's pot. I don't know how it got there; perhaps the seed was in the soil when the blueberry was field dug by its growers, in New Jersey. Perhaps nettles I collected shed seed, but don't think so. But there it was, and I allowed it to grow fat in the pot.
When we moved to Carroll Gardens I planted it at the back of our new garden, near a stand of existing Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum' - such a mouthful). And now it is up. I used to shun nettles. I think because I killed rather old ones from a farmers market, by over-cooking. But ever since tasting my friend Laura Silverman's* delicious, vividly green soup at other-friend Steve Schwartz's house in the Stockport, Pennsylvania woods two springs ago, I was converted. They are delicious, and full of flavour. Also hard to find, locally. I only know one one nettle patch in Manhattan. Now two.
Ha! Also hard to find (if you are a city forager): indigenous sweet fern, Comptonia peregrina. Not a fern at all. It has a very strong scent which I love, and I cook with it as often as I can. I have two shrubs, now, both developing catkins, having made it through winter as well.
* Laura will soon be opening a new restaurant in Narrowsburg, NY, on the Delaware River: Fish & Bicycle. If her cocktails and cooking are anything to go by, it will be good.