Walks + Forage Picnics

Photo by Jenny Hamp

Welcome to my plant-walk page. Spring walks for 2024 are being planned!

In the meantime, to buy a Gift Walk, scroll down.

Follow me on Instagram @marie_viljoen for pop-up announcements. And for private walk enquiries please email me at myviljoen (at) gmail (dot) com. 

My second book, Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine, is a useful and substantial resource, with over 500 recipes intended as a guide for exploring the range of possibilities for delicious and very versatile botanical ingredients growing near you. Please order from your nearest bookshop (or, you know, Amazon).

About my Walks

I lead plant identification and nature walks in wild and tame green spaces. As much as these experiences are about sharing a passion for plants, they are an immersion in the rich natural world that surrounds us, even in the middle of a city.

Every part of every season offers a unique opportunity to learn more about the plants that surround us in plain sight, especially in places where we do not expect to find them. Yes, we even walk in winter.

On urban field trips we identify and talk about so-called weeds, or plants whose habit is invasive; exotic plants (introduced species); and native plants, some of which could - and should, but still don't - define an authentic regional cuisine. Awareness, conservation and stewardship are the cornerstones of these immersions in nature. My own approach evolves, and I welcome the diverse perspective from guests and students bring to our roving discussions.

In terms of edible plants, we talk what parts of plants are safe to eat, and why, as well as culinary ideas and techniques for unfamiliar ingredients. The conversation always touches on the (also-evolving) do's and don't's of foraging; pollution issues; the relationship between invasive plants and natives, and why it does actually matter, if we care about the planet and biodiversity; and the real problems of commercial over-harvest of native wild plants (like ramps), all tying in to my approach of conservation foraging.

My real goal, though, is to help tune your senses to the botanical and natural details at our feet, and above our heads, and to inspire you to notice nature, even if it's on your city block. 

The group-size for walks is small, low-impact, and personal. It's not unusual for new friendships to grow over the course of the walk. Meet plants, make friends!


Forage Picnics

Most walks end with a wild-inspired tasting picnic. It's exactly what it sounds like: Tastes of in-season, wild ingredients, as well as preserved small-batch forages from my feral pantry. Non-foraged ingredients are high-quality, and organic or locally-grown, where possible. I take broad dietary preferences (vegan, vegetarian, omnivore) into account where possible within a group. You can also book a diet-specific, private walk.

Pine pollen pignoli

Ways to Walk and Talk

Scheduled Walks - seasonal walks are booked via this page (scroll down).
Gift Walks - buy an open ticket to any scheduled walk; valid for one year.
Private Walks - for institutions, corporate groups, schools, families, friends.
Plant Identification - I identify plants on your land, public space, or in your garden.
Talks, Classes - for botanic gardens, design firms, conservancies, garden clubs, etc.
Consultation - native and edible garden creation, wild recipes, mixology.

Buy a Gift Walk


A Gift Walk ($85) offers admission to any of my seasonal walks with forage-picnics (classes I teach for outside institutions like the NYBG are not included). Give an experience that includes plant identification, nature immersion, wild-inspired treats, and the company of like-minded humans. Valid for one year, Gift Walks are non-refundable.

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Frequent Walker Miles

For every five walks you attend, the sixth is free. You can also transfer your free walk to a friend or donate it to the Forage Fund, which makes tickets available to anyone who needs one. Please keep track and alert me when you're up for a gratis stroll. 

Cancellation Policy

Tickets are non-refundable. Cancellations up to 72 hours in advance of a walk receive credit for a future walk (this can be transferred to a friend, too). Cancellations within 72 hours of a walk do not receive credit (this includes Gift Walk tickets).

If I cancel for any reason, you receive a full refund. 

Classes and walks for institutions like the New York Botanical Garden have their own cancellation policies. Details will be found through those ticketing links.

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Spring Walks, 2024


Foraging in Winter
NYBG
14 March 2024
11am - 1pm

We are on the cusp of the Vernal Equinox. In these last, exciting weeks of winter  the botanical world is beginning to stir. Sap is rising, buds are breaking. In the native woodland portion of our experiential class we will meet the aromatic twigs of spicebush (Lindera benzoin, above) and learn what parts of the understorey tree can be used in our kitchens. It is the first indigenous Eastern tree to bloom, and is one of the most fragrant, and most unused, spices on this continent. Taste it in the spicebush cookies and in the hot toddy that I'll be bringing along to warm our late winter fingers. Please book directly through the NYBG.

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Tidbit Excursion
Prospect Park
16 March 2024
11am - 1.30pm
$80

Under snow cover, or laid bare by a warm pre-spring, now is the time to find the dainty new things: Tiny ground elder leaves that taste like celery marrying lovage. Maturing field garlic, pungent and reviving. The clear green taste of the smallest lesser celandine leaves, before they darken and turn acrid. Persistent garlic mustard, their second-year leaves appearing above their horse-radish-strong roots, while the earlier generation of newly germinated seeds is like a petite carpet of peppery microgreens. These are the invasives, the delicious tidbits we call weeds, and they will adorn our tasting picnic.

We'll also meet some fungi, and the signs of good things to come, like Asian Japanese knotweed and North American pokeweed, native spicebush, and the first shoots of cosmopolitan elderberry. The park is a marvelous place to see the botanical world, just before spring busts loose.


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Sugar Moon
Inwood Hill Park
23 March 2024
12pm - 3.30pm
$80.00

On March 25th the full, Sugar Moon will rise above Manahatta, and all the wood ears in the island's northernmost forest will turn to listen. To the sounds of migrating songbirds returning, to the power of the Hudson River, filled with snowmelt, to the shiver of sap rising. Maple syrup will be laced through our tasting picnic, but before we taste the flavors of early spring, we will explore. Up, through the valley of spicebush, along the ridge, through the woods. On the still-brown forest floor new spring things are emerging: daylily shoots and garlic mustard, field garlic and nettle tips. And those wood ears will welcome us, if the air moisture is just the way they like it.

Join us by subway (the A to 207th ) or by car - just leave yourself ample time to park in the most competitive parking streets in the city.


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Blossom Burst
Historic Green-Wood
6 April 2024
11am - 1.30pm
$85*

* $5 from each ticket is donated to the Historic Green-Wood Fund

Is there a prettier place to meet spring than among the flowering trees of this peaceful, historic arboretum set among the rare hills and valleys of the most populous borough in New York City? 

As we walk over lawns woven with violets, fragrant ground ivy, tender chickweed, and lemon-sour sheep sorrel, we will meet the buds and blossoms of early April. Magnolia and apple, ginkgo and maple, cherry, elm, and sassafras. Newly arrived songbirds will be flitting high in the branches and we may spot a resident groundhog munching on the best green buffet on Brooklyn.

Come and inhale the season.


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Woods to Water
Pelham Bay
20 April 2024
12pm - 3pm
$80

Little Maine in the Bronx. Trees right to the water's edge, islands in the Sound. Native wildflowers, and invasive edibles. Spicebush in tender, fragrant leaf, and the sudden silence of the springtime woods after the salsa-swinging parking lot at Orchard Beach.


We will meet weird skunk cabbage, ephemeral trout lilies, and cutleaf toothwort. And we will find colonies of edible and very invasive Japanse knotweed encroaching on their habitat. Bonus forages of garlic mustard and field garlic, plus a picnic on an island, with a wide open view of water.


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Into the Green
Prospect Park
27 April 2024
11am - 1.30pm
$80

Real green has arrived. Trees are leafing out high above our heads. Wild herbs are growing in earnest around our feet. Spring mushrooms are thinking fruiting thoughts. Two days ahead of Earth Day, we walk and wonder what that means, for plant-interested humans in a big city. Do invasive plants matter, in a park where anything green feels welcome? Are native plants more important, and why? And to whom? Part of what foraging is about is asking questions. And realizing that the answers  evolve and change. Who are we, and what do we eat?

As we talk and walk we will find bushelsful of ground elder, spring tufts of mugwort, tender prickly ash leaves, and the shoots of pokeweed. Bring your botanical appetites.


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Inwood Immersion
Inwood Hill Park
4 May 2024
12pm - 3pm
$80

There is so much to explore in Inwood Hill Park that no two visits can ever be the same. In early May the canopy has leafed out and the redbuds are in bloom. Serviceberry will be shedding its petals.


The last violets will be flowering at our feet and a knee-high thicket of nettles will reward the gloved forager. Wood ears. Pokeweed. Burdock. Fat field garlic bulbs, and scallion-sh daylily shoots. 

And the full-on glory of spring.

 

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Beeeeeeach!
Fort Tilden
11 May 2024
12pm - 3pm
$80

Join me as we explore the glorious May dunelands and backroads of Fort Tilden. The unkempt, intermixed hedgerows are flooffing out with mugwort and milkweed, multi-generational black pine cones are forming on the introduced trees, collectable pine pollen is sifting down (don't worry, the grains are too fat to cause allergies), and beach plums are in full blossom (or maybe pst-blossom; we'll see). We'll meet young rabbit tobacco and autumn olives in bud. Blueberry blossoms and bayberry leaves. And if the weather is fine we'll picnic on the beach to the sound of crashing waves and squeaking oyster catchers.

If you're driving you need a parking permit. Purchase a fishing permit, here. Otherwise, you can subway (2/5) to Brooklyn College/Flatbush, plus bus (B35) from there to Fort Tilden, and walk 10 minutes to our starting point. Or bike. Or ferry to the Rockaways, plus Q22 bus.


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8 comments:

  1. Thank you for keeping alive the Magical natural world !

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  2. Thought,,, I haven't joined your field guide tour for a while, your note is always breathtaking treat for me. Thank you, Marie-san!

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  3. Can’t wait for the spring walks to be posted!

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  4. I want to sign up for a few walks but when I click to pay the links aren’t working!

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    1. Hello - could you please email me at myviljoen (at) gmail (dot) com ? I have tested the payment links on different devices and browsers and they appear to be working. I see two recent purchases for Rising Earth - is that perhaps you? Please email your response.

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  5. I love such hikes, meals in the bosom of nature are the best that can be.

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  6. I wish you’d bring your expertise into Westchester County, full of wild parks to hike

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