We’re coming off the height of the spring season and the start of summer with the last few markets before our break in July. This spring was an eventful one. The farm at Perlman Place was robbed over and over by an unknown woman who came and took entire plug trays I had planted in the ground, dug up roots, dug up while plants and left them to die in the sun. It was heartbreaking, frustrating, and indescribably disappointing to see all the work of winter be stolen before my eyes without any power to stop it from happening. I shared all of this on Instagram and Facebook. Many folks suggested getting a camera or putting up a fence but for a number of reasons these were not possible for me. A lot of really generous people also asked if they could donate money, tools, or plants. I have not forgotten them. It was just when I felt like giving up that I found myself feeling and behaving like a tree.
When calamity strikes one tree in a forest, the surrounding trees can communicate and send resources to one another. Mother trees sometimes do this with their saplings. Modern science is only just beginning to understand the ways in which the forest speaks, while others have understood this language for much longer. One of my favorite teachers of ecological relationships, Tom Wessels, explains that tree roots often go so far as to graft to one another, and in this way more directly share resources. In some cases, one tree may be grafted to several of their neighbors. While walking though a forest in his home state of New Hampshire, he points to an old, rounded stump and explains that this tree was cut down many years ago, but because this tree’s roots had grafted onto a nearby neighbor before their beheading, the stump had been receiving enough energy from their neighbor to completely heal over with scar tissue. He estimates the stump will continue to grow about an inch every year, despite having no leaves of their own to produce the sugars granted by photosynthesis. The continued existence of this tree is made possible only by the kindness and generosity of another, or more accurately others, since like us, a tree is a biome. Every tree represents a community of fungi, bacteria, insects, birds, and countless other organisms that help to feed and defend it.
So here I was, a tree in a forest, faced with calamity. It felt as though someone was slicing off my branches, but I called out to my forest and friends both human and non human came to my aid. Our friends at Our Community Garden of Sandtown, Hillen Homestead, Strength 2 Love, Farm Alliance of Baltimore, Violet Floral, Steelcut Flowers, and others outside the flower world were continually kind and giving. But the trees too, came right on time. Redbud, Cherry, Horse-chestnut, and Fig gave me their gifts right when I needed them. Every week, I wondered how I would have enough to bring to market and every week plants provided an abundance that could be foraged. Lilac, Hydrangea, Cress, Blackberry, Raspberry, Forsythia, Ninebark, Butterflyweed, and others came to help. When I worried how I would keep the business alive, these plants offered themselves up and in the most literal sense, provided for me. I shed tears of despair, but stronger were the tears of gratitude. My heart was and is full. In a world where we are taught to supply our endless needs with consumption, plants give freely. What does that teach us?
A mature ninebark growing wild, dark red stems like unkempt hair seems to whisper “Take what you need, I have plenty to share,” while Horse-chestnut flowers growing mostly out of reach in a weedy tree well seems to say “Take what you need from me and my sisters, but only what you need.” The shaded Butterflyweed, politely declines, but his brothers on the sunny side of the street offer themselves like old friends. It would be wrong to take that which is not freely given, and I respect their gifts so I do not take more than is needed or offered. Beloved writer and botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes this method of listening to plants as a code of conduct within many indigenous communities called the Honorable Harvest.
With gratefulness and humblness I ask myself, How can I be more like the plants? I find myself asking this question continually. I offer anyone a bouquet who needs one. No one who asks is turned away at my farm. When neighbors walk by as I’m planting dahlias I say hello and talk to them about flowers or soil health for a while. I remember that I am a guest here and offer gifts accordingly. But when I am peeling the strangling vines of bindweed and honeysuckle off the wild wine colored mane of Ninebark in the field, we speak without diffidence, as good friends do.