Emily Willis is interviewed on October 4, 2018 by Karen Brewster and Susannah Dowds at Emily's home in Skagway, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Emily talks about her work with herbal and medicinal uses of plants, and environmental changes she has observed while foraging in the woods and working in her backyard garden since moving to Skagway in 2002. She discusses the uses of specific plants, her harvesting and growing techniques, and changes in plants, trees, mushrooms, birds, weather conditions, and the length of the growing season.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Observing Change in Alaska's National Parks
Date of Interview: Oct 4, 2018
Narrator(s): Emily Willis
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Susannah Dowds
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Personal background, coming to Alaska, and developing a love for the outdoors and plants
Developing her business, Maiden Alaska Herbals, and learning about medicinal plant use
Seasonal plant harvesting
Use of tree resin
Educational background, and learning about plants
Observations of environmental change: roses and rosehips
Observations of environmental change: woolly bear caterpillars
Observations of environmental change: highbush cranberry
Observations of environmental change: lichen
Observations of environmental change: weeds
Observations of environmental change: mountain ash
Description of Jewell Gardens in Skagway
Use and harvesting of mushrooms
Observations of environmental change: mushrooms
Observations of environmental change: tree line
Observations of environmental change: birds
Observations of environmental change: winter weather, icy conditions, snowfall, wind
Observations of environmental change: floods, forest fires
Use of spruce tips, and changes in spruce trees
Planting a garden of medicinal plants, and cultivating wild plants
Observations of environmental change: timing of first frost
Planting perennials, annuals, and native plants
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: And say, today is October 4, 2014. This is Karen Brewster. EMILY WILLIS: 2018.
KAREN BREWSTER: 2018. I do that all the time. It’s the four and the four. EMILY WILLIS: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: 2018, thank you. EMILY WILLIS: You’re welcome.
KAREN BREWSTER: And I’m here in -- with Emily Willis at her lovely home in Skagway. And we’re also joined in the background by Susannah Dowds of the National Park Service who may or may not be saying anything, we’ll see.
Um, and this is for the Klondike Gold Rush/Bering Land Bridge Climate Change Project Jukebox project.
So thank you, Emily, for letting us come visit you today. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, thanks, Karen. KAREN BREWSTER: Ah, just to get us started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself. EMILY WILLIS: Sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: And where you’re from and how you ended up in Skagway?
EMILY WILLIS: Sure. Do you want me to look at you or there? Ok. Um -- KAREN BREWSTER: That’s why I’m here. EMILY WILLIS: Ok, just checking.
Um, yes, my name is Emily Willis, and I have been in Skagway for -- let’s see, since 2002. I came up to work seasonally and ended up staying throughout that fall.
I started working for Jewell Gardens, and that was kind of my big foray into plants and -- and working with the seasons here. I came back that sp --
Hi, kitty. KAREN BREWSTER: Miguel, here, is the kitty. EMILY WILLIS: Hi, kitty cat.
And I came back to -- to be Charlotte Jewell’s garden manager in -- in 2003. And I worked there until 2008 when my son was born -- um, and then decided to -- to leave that position as garden manager and raise him.
And then about two years -- when he was about two years old, I started deciding that I was going to do my own business, Maiden Alaska Herbals.
And that business focuses on wild harvested plants as well as plants I grow in my -- in my gardens. And I use organic methods. I’m not certified organic, but I do use organic methods.
And that’s grown quite a bit, to the point where it is now my fulltime business, and I do a lot of my work outside. I spent a lot -- spend a lot of time observing, just from being around the plants in general, my garden, which is surrounded by forest.
And I also am the co-director at the Skagway Community Garden. So I’ve done that since, gosh, probably, oh, about ten years now for that as well.
So that’s time with plants and a lot of dog walks, so I, you know, am not just harvesting, um, outside, I’m also walking my -- my dogs. Well, I had two, now I have one. And so I’ve spent a lot of time in the natural world.
KAREN BREWSTER: And where do you come from originally? EMILY WILLIS: Originally, from Wisconsin. I grew up in a small town, lots of woods and forests.
My mom was a big gardener, and after college, I came up here, just to do some traveling, make some money, and ended up setting pretty quick roots. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: And met my partner a few years later, and, yeah, kind of, there -- there’s the story, the short one.
KAREN BREWSTER: But, so yeah, your background growing up was being out with nature and -- EMILY WILLIS: True. KAREN BREWSTER: -- plants and all that?
EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, my mom -- we -- we spent a lot of time -- we had forty acres that was a few miles away from our home, so we spent a lot of time there in the winters and the fall and the spring, not so much summers. Ticks, yeah, not so fun.
And then my mom was a big gardener, and then we had like, five acres, and then she had about two and a half were either gardens or for our animals. Our goat -- we had goats and chickens and pigs and cows and -- small, not all at the same time. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY WILLIS: But then she always had a big garden, and so I helped her out a lot with that. And then I had a fort in the woods, and a nice little lake, and, yeah, lots of plants to look at and hang around.
So I’m -- I feel pretty, um, blessed to have been brought up that way ‘cause it’s just -- it’s -- I’m really attuned to the plants, um, and it’s -- I think it’s -- I’m really lucky. So, that’s, um, yeah. It’s a good thing.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so tell us a little bit more about your Maiden Alaska Herbal business. EMILY WILLIS: Ok, so Maiden Alaska Herbals, um, primarily -- my bestseller is a devil’s club salve, and so I am harvesting devil’s club salve -- or devil’s club, um, root bark and stem bark for that salve.
And then I organically grow much of the wormwood and much of the yarrow that I use. And then usnea (pale grayish-green lichen often called “old man’s beard”) comes from -- windswept usnea that’s fallen off the trees, so I’m not usually harvesting from that -- the live trees.
And so Maiden Alaska Herbals like really started because of my love of just plants in general. And I wanted to see how I could make that work as part of being a new mom.
And so, how to make my own schedule, how to work from home, um, so I started, you know, kind of experimenting. I had a customer -- or, I had a -- a person come up to me and ask for help. They had this eczema going on and it’s like, "I’ve heard devil’s club is really helpful."
So I decided -- I had harvested it before, for use internally, just as a tea. And it was really nice, and I did a lot of reading. I’ve done a lot of reading over the years.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was going to say, how’d you learn all this? EMILY WILLIS: Self-study, mostly. Um, also I’ve taken several workshops with Beverly Gray in the Yukon. She does usually about three a summer, and I’ve been fortunate to take three workshops with her.
And then she hosted Robert Rogers, who’s a herbalist and medicinal mushroom expert, and he came up two years ago. Gosh, maybe three now. Might’ve been -- might be three years ago. And I was able to take a two-day workshop with him and her for that, and it was wonderful.
So those are my workshops and my, you know, those are teachers that I’ve -- I’ve studied with, but a lot of it is self-study.
Janice Schofield’s work is really important to me, and Beverly Gray, her book is fabulous.
And then, you know, anywhere from like, Michael Moore to, oh gosh, Matthew Wood and Thomas Easley and Rosalee de la Forêt, and so a lot of self-study, a lot of books, a lot of, you know, different --
some different coursework online. I’ve taken a couple online, like um, not college classes, but some different programs that I’ve completed. They’ve changed names, Australasian College of Health Services is one. So, yeah, just a lot of self-study and kind of that that’s --
now Maiden Alaska Herbals -- well, primarily I do wholesale and retail. I have a website, and it’s -- it’s to the point of like, it’s just me pretty much doing it. My partner does help me harvest and/or take care of the kids when I need to work, but I have been, you know -- it’s --
I don’t want to get so big that I can’t have it be a good product, or become so big that I’m taking too much from -- from the wild. So that’s very important to me. I need to be --
I need to keep reminding myself every season and every spring, is this worth it for the plants, you know. I ask permission. I talk to the plants.
I make sure I listen, and so far, they haven’t told me no, but I have to make sure it’s not -- because I -- I’ve gotten really busy lately, and people are really happy with my products, so I need to be careful that it doesn’t explode and -- and become -- become unmanageable. So, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what seasons do you go out and harvest which plants? EMILY WILLIS: Oh, gosh, um -- so generally, in your spring and fall, you’re gonna do more root-based, or -- and um -- but, you know, a lot of times they say more in the fall because the -- the plants like the dandelion or devil’s club, you know, they’ve had all summer to gather energy, and now they’re storing it.
Um, you know, I grow marshmallow root as well and some elecampane I’ve started growing, and those are -- I use the roots for their medicine.
Now, the thing is, sometimes you can’t get to it, so spring is ok, too.
Um, there’ll be different constituents, so it does depend a little, like dandelion will have more inulin in the fall versus the -- the spring. Inulin’s a starch, um, and it’s actually a prebiotic. Helps feed your -- your probiotics in your gut. So, which is really neat. So, harvest in the fall if you want more of that.
And as far as like, flowers, like I grow some roses back here. I’ll do the flowers in the summer. I’ll do the hips ‘bout now. It’s almost -- it’s kind of going so fast.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I -- I walked by a rose bush in town earlier, and the rosehips are huge! EMILY WILLIS: Oh, those Sitka roses, the Rugosa roses. Yeah, they’re beautiful.
Oh my gosh, and they taste so good. KAREN BREWSTER: They do? EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm, yep.
And then, things like yarrow and wormwood, that’s summertime, so you know you think leaves and flowers.
If you want the leaves, you wanna do it before it flowers. For instance, like mint. You know, your mint leaves, you wanna do in the summertime.
And let’s see, as far -- you know, things like resins, like pine resin, I do that in the wintertime because it’s one of the only things I can harvest in the wintertime. And it’s nice and cold, so it just -- you know, flicks off really easily.
KAREN BREWSTER: Not quite so sticky. EMILY WILLIS: Right, not so sticky, and you make sure you don’t get it, you know -- not from the wound, but like, that’s dripped down.
So we want the excess, not the stuff that’s actually protecting the tree.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what do you do with the resin? EMILY WILLIS: Well, a couple of things. Um, one, just kinda learned on accident was to just do a tincture.
And um, so you take just like a little small jar and maybe do about a quarter to a third of your pine resin or spruce resin. And then do a brandy or a vodka on top of that, and then shake daily.
And I’ve let mine go quite -- quite a long time, four to six months actually, and usually, ‘cause I harvest in the spring and then I get so busy. Like, "Oh yeah, I’ve still got you."
And it’s really good for lungs. Like when you -- when you have, just like the croup-y, sticky yellow mucus (making a sound of disgust) and you can’t -- you want to get it out, so that if you take the tincture, you know like about 30 drops, it just -- it heats you up, warms you up, and gets that stuff out.
And it’s great for hands. It really -- I like to add it to a beeswax, olive oil, and cottonwood -- cottonwood bud blend, and it smells good, and it heats up.
I made the mistake of putting it all over me one time after the shower. By the time I got upstairs, I was sweating. It was like, "My gosh." Because it’s just stimulating. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: It brings circulation ongoing. So that’s another aspect.
And, um, splinters, it works great for getting splinters out. KAREN BREWSTER: Because it works them out. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, so, like in the summer time if you get a splinter, you know, you put it on there, and sometimes you can pull it out. It doesn’t work all the time, but, that’s an option.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Cool. So, you’ve been harvesting, what, ten years? EMILY WILLIS: Um, no. ‘Cause I’m -- I mean, I really -- once I got going with Jewell Gardens in 2002 -- and that was midsummer I was hired there, I just started -- I just wanted to know everything.
I ended up reading "The Secret Life of Plants" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird that -- that fall and winter, and it was just -- I just wanted to know more.
And so I started doing -- because I had been studying medicinal plants towards the end of my college career. It was -- I actually studied archaeology as my major in Wisconsin, and I had gone to Belize to do field school several times, and the -- the third time I was down there, I realized that I was more entranced and enchanted by the plants around me, and I wanted to know about the plants and not the settlement patterns of the Maya anymore.
So, I went back and after I graduated, I was like, well, I don’t want to go to graduate school. I’m not ready. I’ve been -- I was -- I did well in school, and I wanted a break.
And so I came up here. A couple of friends that I knew from college had come here, and, yeah, I kind of took that -- you know, for those years, I just did more with like, um, you know, just medicinal plants and going to the food co-op and learning about organic.
My mom wasn’t an organic gardener, but she used a lot of organic methods. I mean she had -- we raked leaves, and she rototilled them in.
We had -- we used the goat poo as fertilizer. You know, she made compost with that. You know, we made maple syrup, like she had a lot. She did a lot, like that, so --
But I didn’t know the term organic. I didn’t --you know, so learning about that and learning about organic agriculture and gardening, that really just --
I just wanted to know more, and I just soaked it up like a sponge.
KAREN BREWSTER: So this is a big, broad, general question -- EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: -- but what have you noticed about changes when you’re out in the woods?
EMILY WILLIS: So, a couple of things that really like, when -- when you called, and, you know, I was like, well, what have I noticed, you know?
Probably the biggest one -- I shouldn’t say the biggest one. Well, maybe it is the biggest one right now.
The rosehips are turning black. And they are, I mean, you -- there’s not like a lot of roses around here, but there’s a few different patches of wild, and there’s quite a lot of Sitka roses in people’s yards and at Jewell Gardens.
And I’ll show you, actually, what I’m talking about after we wrap up the video portion. But they’re -- the flower will be great and beautiful, and the bush is healthy and normal-looking, and then as the hip starts to form, it either doesn’t grow and turns yellow and turns black, or it might actually get kind of reddish and then it will turn black. Or there’s more spots.
And so I’m not sure -- I have -- I haven’t taken the time to really delve in and figure out what’s going on because it’s so -- it’s widespread. It’s not just in my garden, you know.
It’s like it’s not something that I feel like I can take care of with my plants. It’s something I’ve seen.
And I don’t know if it’s the same thing that’s affecting the wild that’s affecting the Sitka roses, 'cause they’re different, you know, different species.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But it is affecting both of them? EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm. And the wild roses get more of the rust. There’s --
I noticed it in Canada. So like, just over the pass, like near Conrad and between, like before Carcross.
I’ve noticed, um, it’s like a bright orange rust, and that can get onto the hips.
So that’s like, kind of like causing it to rot and be discolored and the leaves will get, you know, gnarled.
And um, and it’s just bright orange, it’s like orange like that, like that little -- KAREN BREWSTER: That little tape thing there. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah.
And so I noticed it because that’s when I was getting into plants, and you know, I’m like, oh, what is this, you know? But it didn’t seem too bad. You know, it wasn’t affecting a lot of plants.
But over the years, I have noticed there’s a lot more orange rust throughout the rosehip or wild rose population in Canada, and it’s gotten down here.
I hadn’t noticed it down here, you know, eight-ten years ago, but now I’m seeing it.
KAREN BREWSTER: About how long have you been seeing it, a couple years? EMILY WILLIS: Maybe, like five. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. EMILY BREWSTER: Yeah.
And then the hips, like the more -- or like, I’m even noticing on the Sitka roses, that’s probably about two years, three years.
But it seems -- it’s a bummer because you know, like the hips are one of the funnest parts to harvest. You know, you can do so much, so many things. You can use it for jams or jellies, and I make a really nice lip balm out of them.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you can’t -- the time, there was not enough time to harvest them before they turn -- EMILY WILLIS: No. No. They don’t ripen. They don’t ripen in time, and then they just turn black.
And like, I noticed at Jewell Gardens, their hips are actually -- they do really well, but mine here, I had a great year for flowers, and I let quite a few flowers go to seed. Nothin’.
But then I have a different rose. It’s a dark-leaf red rose. I can’t remember the scientific name, but that one doesn’t seem to be affected so much. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.
EMILY WILLIS: So, you know, it could be two different things. The rust is getting to the wild, and this is something else. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY WILLIS: Maybe it’s related to the -- you know, the -- the moisture levels. It could be that. You know, is it a different -- is it a bug that’s introducing something? It could be that.
I’ve noticed a lot more woolly bears. Never saw woolly bears ten years ago. KAREN BREWSTER: The caterpillars? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. EMILY WILLIS: Lots more of those.
Like, last year, two years ago, maybe -- so maybe like three years ago, I kind of like, "Oh wow! Oh, you're -- you’re cute."
Two years ago, my daughter’s playing with them, gets a rash. "You’re not so cute." KAREN BREWSTER: No.
EMILY WILLIS: This year, "Oh my god! You’re all over my willow! You’re on my raspberries!" Yeah, so they’ve really increased here.
They -- I mean, and there’s some spots on the hill where like, they’re just all in a tree. My friend Dorothy Brady, are you gonna get to chat with her? KAREN BREWSTER: Hopefully, yes. EMILY WILLIS: Oh, good. Good, ‘cause she was telling me they were all over one of her trees out on her property in West Creek, um, and that she’s felt the same way, like, they’re just, all of a sudden, they’re just, woo, here.
So that’s a difference that I’ve noticed over the years.
Another one would be highbush cranberry. There’s a virus that’s affecting the highbush cranberry. Um,
and I did correspond with a woman several years ago, and I haven’t -- I was going to dig it up before we chatted, and I didn’t get a chance to.
But I did -- there was some research being -- or it was being looked at. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: I don’t know if it was Park or if it was maybe -- no, I don’t think it was Fish and Game, but, no it wouldn’t have been Fish and Game. KAREN BREWSTER: University -- EMILY WILLIS: But some -- Maybe, yeah.
But there’s definitely some spotting going on, and that’s another one I could show you. It’s -- it causes curling. I mean, it’s just you know, it’s like a little, just spots and blight and the leaves don’t get as pretty in the -- in the fall if it’s affected. It doesn’t --
KAREN BREWSTER: Does it affect the berries? EMILY WILLIS: You know, I -- it doesn’t affect the berries as far as like them being good enough to eat, but it may affect the amount of berries. It’s hard to tell. I can’t say for sure or not on that, but it’s possible.
Because you know, if the leaves are -- are affected, that’s not allowing photosynthesis to happen. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: Which, you know, would make sense that it would affect. But I can’t say for sure that it has or not.
Sometimes it’s interesting, I’ve actually noticed highbush cranberries flowering again this time of year. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. EMILY WILLIS: Which is really interesting.
And this -- I wouldn’t say that’s a new thing I’ve noticed, it’s something I’ve just noticed. I don’t know if it’s new or not, but it -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY WILLIS: It’s interesting when you have like a longer -- or maybe that’s just what they do.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was going to ask you about the -- you mentioned the moistures over the -- the seasons and how that -- what’s going on with that?
Is there more rain or falls are later or springs are earlier? EMILY WILLIS: You know, it’s so over the board. It’s all over the board. And I have -- I’ve only been here 16 years.
So while I’ve been able to have a general, like, ok, you know, April could go either way. It could be nice and we could start putting, you know, our kales in the ground on April 15, or you know, I’ve started my peas on the fourth of April. That’s the earliest, you know, I’ve got my peas in the ground. Because you need to have about an inch of, um, you know -- KAREN BREWSTER: Thawed soil. EMILY WILLIS: Thawed soil to get them in, and as long as you have that, you can put them in. So April 4 --
I didn’t get my peas in until about the fourth of May this year, ‘cause April was so cold, and just windy, and it --
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you have a lot of snow last year? EMILY WILLIS: We -- I don’t think so. Hm-mm.
No, we didn’t have much snow. It was cold, yeah, and that’s the thing, yeah, sometimes there’s a lot of snow, sometimes it melts and there’s all this ice.
It’s really, I feel like I can’t predict it, and I can’t even feel that I can say that there’s a -- I’ve seen a trend. Maybe a trend of it’s kind of maybe less rain. Is -- I’ve actually --
what’s funny is, the other day I noticed that the wind was coming from this way, which is not something I normally see. Which --
And I don’t know if I was just paying attention to things, but a little -- But it was -- it was different. Because usually we have this way, sometimes it comes this way, but it rarely ever comes from this direction. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. EMILY WILLIS: So that would be like southwest. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
EMILY WILLIS: And I was like, well, that’s interesting. I mean, I know the, you know, we’re shifting seasons and all that, but usually you don’t shift that way. But that was -- it was odd, and it caught my attention.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and I was wondering with the roses, are they blooming longer? EMILY WILLIS: Um, that depends on the season, too. It does.
Um, you know, I try to keep track of, you know, when I see the first morel mushroom, or when the leaves kind of first bloom out, and it’s, you know, it’s within a couple weeks or week or two.
You know, it’s not super -- some -- some years are crazy, like a couple of Januarys ago I was digging in the ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. That was really strange, but I had some dirt to move, so I’m like, well, ok, I guess I’ll do it.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it was thawed enough you could do -- EMILY WILLIS: Right, it was thawed enough I could do it. I mean, I don’t think I was in a t-shirt, but I was in just a long sleeve. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: And, you know, but that was kind of a -- a fluke. That’s not something that’s normal. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: But, you know, I think, yeah, to talk to someone who’s maybe lived here longer to see -- to see that change. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Yeah.
I was just asking you because you're out there a lot. EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: And your business relies upon the natural environment and foraging. EMILY WILLIS: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so, you know, if there’s big changes going on, what that’s going to mean for what you’re doing?
EMILY WILLIS: Right. So far I haven’t seen significant effect on like the general ecosystem. You know, it’s been more of like a few plants here and there that’s going on.
You know, some years it’s just, it’s like you see salmon in a stream, and some years you don’t. So it’s kind of like that. I can’t say --
One of the things that would have been nice to know is maybe a little bit more on like there’s been some lichen studies and the cruise ship pollution, and that would be interesting to know more about. I wish I had access to that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Have you seen -- have you seen any changes in the lichen? EMILY WILLIS: I have not, no.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you collect the lichen? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. The usnea I do, and then I like to take pictures of the reindeer moss a lot. Oh, it’s just really pretty and --
But, yeah, the usnea I do and I can’t -- I haven’t noticed a decline in quality or quantity, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: Or change in timing, like I normally go -- EMILY WILLIS: Well, that -- that is something that when I’m hiking and I see it on the ground if it’s clean and -- and looks pretty fresh, then I’ll harvest it. That’s kind of a year-round item for me.
I don’t know if that’s -- I’m not sure that’s right, but that’s the way I do it. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. EMILY WILLIS: It’s one of the few, I mean, like pine sap you could actually collect that -- or resin -- you could collect that all year round, just sometimes it’s a little easier. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: I like to do it when it’s dry.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And as you say you’re busy with other things. EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now in terms of gardening, you know, at Jewell Gardens or in your own garden, what you’ve been able to grow, the plants you’ve been able to grow, has that changed? EMILY WILLIS: There are some different weeds.
There’s, um, the split-lip hemp nettle. Um, I believe is the -- I can’t remember the Latin, and it might not even be the correct lay name for it, but it’s a -- it’s a hemp nettle of some sort. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. EMILY WILLIS: And it has a square stem, and it’s a mint family.
But I found -- I thought it was stinging nettle at first, when I found it at Jewell Gardens. I found like a lone plant, and it was probably maybe, 2006 or 7.
And then I touched it and it didn’t sting, like, I was like, well, what is that? And so I finally figured it out, you know, some sort of hemp nettle.
And since that time, it has poof! It has spread. I mean, it’s in my garden here. It’s actually more down there. Um, it’s anywhere -- like disturbed areas, you know, places where the plantain and the dandelion grow, this hemp nettle likes to grow. It likes disturbed areas.
So I don’t know if it was brought in, you know, on like a loader truck or something, on the tire. But it’s not something I had seen in the beginning of my time with Jewell Gardens, but definitely has increased its presence.
Another plant like that is the mayweed. It looks like a giant chamomile. It’s really pretty. It’s an annual. But it just shoots right up, and it just -- it can spoof! spread.
And I don’t know if it’s been, um, being pulled. I’ve pulled a little bit here and there.
I have a little bit of trouble with the term invasive weeds, because -- Actually it was interesting, a friend of mine, she clarified this. And I could be speaking a bit out of turn because I haven’t checked -- checked that reference, but back in the Lower 48, invasive is actually due to if it affects your crop.
If it monetarily affects your crop, it can be considered invasive. Not necessarily an invasive to the plants that actually grow in that area, like the wild plants.
I’m not sure if that’s true, but I think the word can be a little harsh, but there are plants that I was like, "Ugh." Butter-and-eggs, that would be one of them. I kind of don’t like that plant because it gets in my garden and I can’t get it out.
And it doesn’t have a medicinal value that I’ve found, so you know, I’m a little bit more prone to be like, "Eh." You know, so a lot more butter-and-eggs. That could just be opportunistic.
And the mayweed, a lot more of that.
A lot more of the European mountain ash. Holy moly! That’s shown up all over the forest.
There’s a -- there is a native mountain ash that looks remarkably similar and has red berries as well. So, but that’s -- I’ve seen that up West Creek, like way up the mountain.
But around town, I mean, even on my property I’ve got a few plants of the European mountain ash 'cause they just -- the birds love it, and then they go and they poo, and you get some more. Seven Pastures area, I mean, there’s -- it’s cropping up all over in there.
KAREN BREWSTER: So was that brought in by somebody? EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm. Yeah, that was introduced probably back in the ‘40’s or 50’s 'cause it’s an ornamental plant. It blooms white. It’s pretty, and it grows well here, um, the berries are bright. The birds like them, so.
May -- what’s that one tree? Mayday tree. Prunus padus. That's -- that’s starting to get a little bit hold more in the -- cropping up in, you know, spots where it wasn’t planted.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was just thinking, those ones like the mountain ash, now that it’s spread, is that a problem if it’s going out into the forest? EMILY WILLIS: Well, you know, wa --
I used to pull it up, but I’ve stopped because it was kind of like a lost cause.
And, you know, I can’t say that it’s really been detrimental at this point. I haven’t seen it be detrimental, but I -- it could be, you know.
'Cause it’s really -- it depends, you know, is it going to knock out the highbush cranberries, you know, because it’s kind of, it grows in a similar environment. It likes little bit open light, moister peat, and that’s where it ends to crop up. And it grows really quick, so it can outgrow the highbush cranberry.
So that could be a problem. Doesn’t seem like it is at the moment, but something to keep an eye out for.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, that’s why I was asking about the quote-unquote “invasives.” EMILY WILLIS: Right, right. KAREN BREWSTER: Those things that have come along, either of their own accord, or somebody planted them, and what that means for the larger plant community?
EMILY WILLIS: Right. Yeah, you know, and there’s some things that could be also considered invasive because they were introduced, you know, like the plantain and the dandelion are, you know, two plants that really come to mind for me.
Fortunately for those, they -- it’s not that they would do poorly in a wild environment. I mean, dandelions, there is an Alaska dandelion. KAREN BREWSTER: There is? EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm. There’s two different types that grow here. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah.
The Alaska dandelion is more sharply serrated and has more of a purple hue. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. EMILY WILLIS: And I don’t know if the flowers -- the flowers might be a touch smaller, but it’s, um -- I’ll see if I can find one because I have both growing. I noticed it years ago and I was like, "Oh, these are different! Oh, they are!"
So, um, you know, but like, we humans have brought those plants with us. You know, and we probably brought the dandelion over for food, you know, for medicine. Um, same with plantain. Plantain’s incredibly useful.
So are we going to find -- you know, I know, actually the European mountain ash, the -- the -- it does have medicinal qualities, you know, so maybe as humans we need to figure that out and then just start harvesting and maybe keeping the population in check a bit more. Might be a good idea.
KAREN BREWSTER: What are the medicinal qualities? EMILY WILLIS: I don’t remember. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. EMILY WILLIS: I’m still working out my feelings with the plant. I mean, "Are you invasive?" I don’t know. And then I was like, "I’m sorry I pulled so many of you up."
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I know up in Fairbanks we have a big problem with vetch. EMILY WILLIS: Oh, ok. Yeah, so -- KAREN BREWSTER: The bird vetch. EMILY WILLIS: -- do you think that came in through, um, cover cropping or through roadside? KAREN BREWSTER: The -- the rumor on the street is it came in from being used as erosion control for road construction.
EMILY WILLIS: Right. Ok. Because I’ve seen it up on -- in Canada where I hadn’t seen it before, and I’ve seen it in Jewell Gardens.
But I’m wondering if it’s part of a -- because they had some management shifts. And actually the owner passed last year, and so her son took it over. But they're -- they let some places go fallow, and some of the areas they let go fallow were places where they’d been cover cropped.
And so I’m not sure if that might be vetch because I’m not -- I’m not -- I know, like, the family, but I couldn’t say exactly if it was in a, you know, one that was kind of invasive. KAREN BREWSTER: There’s good ones and bad ones. EMILY WILLIS: Right, right. Yeah, I know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe we should have you explain what Jewell Gardens is for people who don't know. EMILY WILLIS: Oh, sure. Sure.
So Jewell Gardens is an organic show garden started by Charlotte Jewell in 1996. Her and her husband Jim worked it, you know, for many years.
And they actually had to do a remediation where they dug up all the soil and redid the garden and made a design of a like, giant flower. And it’s like a leaf coming up, so when you view it from the air, you can see two big flowers and a big leaf, and the boardwalk creates the stem.
And she wanted to be the -- an organic show garden. That was kind of her vision. And she had a lot of ornamentals and then some edibles, too, of course. And did some, you know, farm-to-table stuff with that.
As the business grew a little bit larger, they added on a glass-blowing studio, and that actually became a little bit more of the focus, versus the garden.
Um, and at this point, the garden is becoming more, like even more farm-to-table, and it’s certified organic. We had a great garden manager named Amy Erfling who made that happen.
Um, and yeah, it’s, you know, Max is -- that’s the owner -- current owner, Max Jewell, is really trying to make it a space where creativity can happen, and, you know, there’s more food being grown, and there’s more -- we’re actually doing some collaboration where I might be growing some medicinal herbs there, and doing more workshops there.
I did a workshop there this fall that actually had us going out and digging valerian root and dandelion root and harvesting mint and some other plants.
So doing, you know, some more workshops and more -- it’s not information-based, what am I trying to think of. KAREN BREWSTER: Education. EMILY WILLIS: Thank you. Yes, that! That word. Um, and yeah, more education-based work out there, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how is a show garden different from a botanical garden? EMILY WILLIS: Oh, not. It’s the same thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, same idea. EMILY WILLIS: Hm-mm. Yeah, and I mean we --
There's a -- there’s a miniature train that goes through, and, you know, it -- so that’s kind of where the show comes in.
And she’s had a lot of, or she did have a lot of weddings, that’s kind of continuing throughout, so. A little pond and gazebo area. It’s very cute. You should check it out while you’re here. They’re actually working on it, and there’s some beautiful fall colors in there right now. KAREN BREWSTER: For sure.
What about mushrooms? EMILY WILLIS: Ooh, I love mushrooms. KAREN BREWSTER: Let’s talk about mushrooms. EMILY WILLIS: Ok. Oh, you know, I’m glad you mentioned that, ‘cause that’s another thing that I have noticed. A lot more bugs.
So in the -- ‘cause I do, most of what I harvest, the main mushrooms I go for are morels in the spring, king boletes, every once in awhile like an aspen or orange birch bolete.
That’s a real tricky taxonomy there, but they are edible, as long as you don’t intake alcohol.
Well, that’s the aspen bolete. The king boletes are a little different, but --
And then the, um, oh, the white one -- the combs tooth is another really good one. And that’s about what I harvest as far as the edible ones.
The medicinal mushrooms I like to use are birch conk and the um -- oh, it’s been a minute for this one -- the red-belted conk, is another nice one. And so those are good immune stimulants, or not stimulants, but they can actually just help support your immune system. And so I like to use those and do double extraction.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you just go out into the woods and collect these? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, yeah. And not -- you don’t need too many, um, because, like the birch conk, it’s like a, they grow on birch trees, and they have like a kind of a dough, very velvet top, like a deer, like a white-tailed deer color. And it’s really soft, so it just reminds me of a -- they remind me of deers. And the underside is bright white, as far as a new one goes. You want the bright white ones.
And then you can like slice them real thin, and you can dry ‘em, and like, actually use them in, like, soup stocks. Or you know, and then take it out, as you, but it just adds some extra nutrients, and you know, some good things in your body.
Yeah, and then the red belted conk, I haven’t done as much study with this as I have with like more herbaceous plants, but again, it’s nice medicinal mushroom.
And Robert Rogers is a great reference for many of those. I really enjoy his work.
KAREN BREWSTER: And I was thinking, are you noticing changes in the mushroom population out in the woods, or the timing of when they come, or you said bugs? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, the king boletes are getting more bugs, like, faster it seems like. You can’t get --
so I’m harvesting babies. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. EMILY WILLIS: Like little, little, just little babies. You know, maybe a couple of days out of the ground because they probably don’t have bugs. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY WILLIS: As they get, you know, as the cap gets like this, maybe the stem’s like that, it’s invariably going to have bugs.
And so, and the bugs are little maggots. There’s a fly, and then they lay eggs, and the egg hatches, and the maggot eats the inside of the mushroom.
And you can, I mean, you can harvest them up to a certain extent and either soak ‘em and they’ll come out, or cook ‘em.
As far as I know, they’re not damaging to humans. Like, I don’t think they can live in us.
But you don’t really -- once it gets to a certain point, it just becomes mush and you don’t want the mushroom.
That seems -- it feels like the bugs are worse. They just hit harder and faster and earlier. So, that’s the one I’ve noticed with that.
Aside from -- the conks, I have not really noticed a difference in. Same with the combs tooth. They seem pretty standard from what I’ve observed over the last ten or so years.
KAREN BREWSTER: And is there a difference in where things are growing, like, my example is tree line. Has tree line shifted, which would then affect where different related species can or cannot grow? EMILY WILLIS: Not that I’ve noticed. Not that I’ve -- yeah.
I think it’s pretty static over this time period. Yeah. Yeah.
The meadow’s still at the Point. The flats are still about -- I mean maybe the flats. You know, there’s some spruce trees that keep kind of coming closer and closer. KAREN BREWSTER: That's out in Dyea? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. So, but nothing, um, nothing too dramatic.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you go up into the Pass? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, I do, I do. Not, um, it’s funny because I -- I have a ten-year-old and I have a five-year-old, and so basically the last ten years, I’ve been trucking around a kid.
And what I’ve noticed is, it’s harder to get up there. It’s more mountain-y. And we had older dogs, and they couldn’t make it, so I hadn’t been too often in the last, probably, five-six years.
But this summer I’ve gotten up quite a bit, and it’s been really nice, so I’ve been actually able to like, “Oh, grass of Parnassus! Wild valerian!” You know, like all these plants I haven’t seen in awhile and got to hang out with, so. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: So yeah, I have spent some time, but not nearly as much as just kind of directly in the surrounding area.
KAREN BREWSTER: 'Cause that’s where I was wondering whether tree line is shifting more into the tundra? EMILY WILLIS: Oh. Huh, you know, I couldn’t say. No, I was thinking more of like, ocean front. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, both. I mean -- EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: I ask about both. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, yeah. So as far as that goes, I’m not sure. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Um, I’m trying to think what other. Well, the other thing would be, you know, besides plants -- animals, birds, you know, you obviously are outdoors a lot and observing, if it’s like oh man! I haven’t seen that bird in a long time, or -- ? EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, there’s a western tanager I’ve seen. That’s not super common.
Um, there’s some sort of pigeon living in town. KAREN BREWSTER: Are pigeons new? EMILY WILLIS: Well, I don’t think it’s super new. I think it’s like been here a few years.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is it just one pigeon? EMILY WILLIS: It might be a couple pigeons, I don’t know. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. EMILY WILLIS: It’s like a mourning dove or something. Maybe it’s not a, I don’t know, doves, pigeons.
But um, it might be a mourning dove, but it like, I heard this cooing, and I was like, yeah, my friend Reba. I don’t know if you’re going to be doing Reba Radey. She’s another gal who, she has a lawn care business, and she -- she spends a lot of time outdoors, too, so, yeah, Reba Radey. I can give you her phone number in a minute.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Yeah, well, the other thing I was interested in was the timing of things and seasons. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Have there been big storm events that are more than there used to be, or now it’s more icy in the winter than it used to be? EMILY WILLIS: Actually, it seems less icy.
I remember with my son, and I was pregnant, and it was the whole darn winter seemed like it was just a skating rink. And I just had to have those ice cleats on all the time.
I feel like there’s less icy, like the freeze frost that seemed kind of ubiquitous for Skagway doesn’t seem to be happening the last few years. But that could just be, you know, that’s a singular, like, just a fluctuation. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY WILLIS: That’s hard to pinpoint climate change with that. Maybe, gosh, yeah. Yeah, it’s just hard to say. It’s -- there’s --
KAREN BREWSTER: So, if it’s not doing that icing, what is it doing in the winter? Is it still cold? EMILY WILLIS: It may not -- it just may not snow. KAREN BREWSTER: It doesn’t snow?
EMILY WILLIS: Sometimes it doesn’t snow, and sometimes it will snow, and it'll just stay and kind of be a rock-hard crust. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: You know, it’s not a -- winter here is not always like a winter wonderland. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: But, it can be. KAREN BREWSTER: It can be? EMILY WILLIS: You know, for a day. And then it’ll kind of get really cold.
You know, the winds, it’s always been windy here. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY WILLIS: I mean, sometimes in the winter time though, it’s just like, oh god, please, please stay up.
You know, especially when the fire’s raging because it’s just like, very cold, you’re like, ok, stay up!
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and it’s all coming off the glaciers, probably, down through the mountains, is that -- ? EMILY WILLIS: I mean, probably. It’s just, yeah. When we get that north wind, I mean, it can blow for -- it can blow for weeks on end. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: And just be unrelenting, and you’re just like, "Oh my god! Stop!"
But then we get the nice, you know, it can be really beautiful, too, and you can go out to the Point, and there’s seals playing in the harbor.
And, you know, you get the green moss and all the hemlocks and spruces and it’s really beautiful that way. So you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY WILLIS: Comes and goes.
KAREN BREWSTER: And would that be the same there's been a change in flooding, whether it’s the ocean or rivers or -- ? EMILY WILLIS: Hmm. I mean, the river’s definitely moving. That’s hard to say if it’s -- I mean, I’ve noticed it moving, but I don’t know if that’s a new thing. But it’s shifted, for sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there a difference in -- is there a threat of forest fires around here? EMILY WILLIS: I feel like, um, some of the -- there’s been times in the summers, you know, in the past, yeah, definitely like, drier, drier portions of the summer. Where it didn’t seem like it was that dry my first few years here.
But actually, I mean, well. Yeah, it’s so tough to say. It really is. Because there’s such variations with the seasons themselves, just being a coastal area and then El Niño, you know um, but -- but there --
yeah, there’s definitely been dry times where forest fires have been, I mean, they’ve been in my mind where I’m thinking, oh gosh, please, please, those people in the forest who are trying to have a camp fire, like, do it in a burn barrel or -- you know, don’t do it at all because it’s so dry.
I do worry about that, for sure, yeah. Because I mean, it could just like, whoo (noise like a fire) and that would be terrible.
KAREN BREWSTER: But, you haven’t had any recently? EMILY WILLIS: No. No, you can tell that there’s been, there’s been fire.
Um, I don’t know when, because I haven’t inquired all the way yet, but there’s a lot of -- at the Point and like, if you go up AB (AB Mountain), there’s a lot of burned -- which suggests to me that it was a pretty large area that was burned, um, just ‘cause you can tell.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, you would see the effects with your foraging. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. I mean, just like, oh, that’s a really cool burnt stump, you know, tree stump, and um, yeah, they’re all over on this side, so. Seems like it was a fire. It could have been purposely set, I guess.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, are there species around here that need fire to reproduce? EMILY WILLIS: Hmm, probably. Probably, I’m not sure. I mean, yeah, I mean, it’s part of a healthy ecosystem, but you’d hate to see your friends go. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY WILLIS: Um, yeah, and I know there’s -- there’s some tree. Maybe it’s the -- maybe like, the sequoia or the giant -- the giants that need to be -- actually have a fire to pop their seeds open. Is that true? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, ok. But as far as here, I’m not sure. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
EMILY WILLIS: It might be true with the spruces. But no, that -- no, that can’t be because I’ve had spruce trees germinate in my garden, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you use spruce tips? EMILY WILLIS: I do. Yeah. Yeah. They, um, I mostly just do it for myself. You know, I dry them and have them on hand and make a tea. Yeah, they’re nice.
I've tried freezing them to make jelly with later, but I should probably just do that right away.
KAREN BREWSTER: And they’re healthy? The spruce trees seem to be healthy? EMILY WILLIS: They do. There’s a bit more browning. Um, and I don’t know if that’s just me noticing it or if they -- or like they’ve kind of always done that, and I’m just now seeing it versus like that’s something different.
There is some browning. And I don’t know, if you -- I mean, if you look out the window, you can see there’s more orange-ish. And that could be a natural process, where, you know, they’re just doing it.
I mean, this summer there was a lot of needles that fell down more than normal. Again, is it a fluctuation of just the weather pattern? KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: Or is it a climate-induced, or you know, like --
KAREN BREWSTER: Right, and we’re -- we're not trying to answer that. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: We’re just trying to ask what changes that you’ve noticed. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And the reasons for them, we don’t know. EMILY WILLIS: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: But I did notice up north, the spruce trees, some of them had the -- on their fresh tips, they would get this orange kind of thing. EMILY WILLIS: Really.
KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know if it’s a fungus or what it was. EMILY WILLIS: Was it like a powdery looking? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: See, that’s what -- that’s kind of what the rust looks like on the roses. Was it a real bright orange? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY WILLIS: Huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: So I don’t know if that was -- EMILY WILLIS: That -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- part of their cycle and their pollen, I don’t know, but -- EMILY WILLIS: That seems a little odd. I’ve never seen that here. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And I saw it in like one place. EMILY WILLIS: Huh. Trim that off. Put it in the garbage can. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it was out on a trail, so -- But, uh, yeah.
Susannah, did you have any questions?
SUSANNAH DOWDS: Yeah, um. I am interested in, um -- So you have this gardening background from Wisconsin. EMILY WILLIS: Um-hm. SUSANNAH DOWDS: And then you came here, and I, um, you've spent so much time with studying and sort of getting to know the environment in Alaska and learning in Alaska and even running a business in Alaska. It’s very difficult.
So I’m just wondering, um, what considerations do you have when you -- when you’re gardening out in your personal garden, or like, what do you think about? EMILY WILLIS: Um, well. I’ll tell you this. My partner wishes I grew more food.
I like to grow -- I like to grow medicinals. I like to grow medicinal plants. They -- they are what seem to come from my fingers naturally.
You know, the -- but they can have food properties. You know, I eat my dandelion leaves, you know, but I let them grow. I let plantain grow, certain spots.
You know, I like the culinary herbs, like the sages, and the marjoram, oregano, thyme. Some, like oregano, will over-winter in certain spots.
I do -- I like to experiment with different plants. I've started growing mugwort and skullcap. Skullcap’s a really good anti-anxiety. Mugwort's nice for dreaming. You can do smudge ones, and it’s just beautiful. I mean, it’s a real stately plant, you don’t need to stake it.
And I’ve grown straw flowers 'cause they’re beautiful. And, but I love peas, I love carrots. I like -- kale’s really easy to grow.
I think I just get -- I realized this last night. I was um, thinking about gardening, and I was like, "I know why I don’t grow salad mix. It just takes too much time." ‘Cause you know, I like plants that can be a little hardier, and like, you know, I don’t have to weed them all the time.
But salad mix, you gotta get in there when they’re little, and you know, kind of keep going. And then you’ve gotta sucession-sow if you want to actually have lettuce for the entire season. I’m like, "Ah, I can just go to Chris and get it." But she’s not going to have skullcap, and she’s not going to have elecampane.
And I like to -- I’ve actually got some seed from Beverly Gray, doing an arnica that actually grows up there, and I’ve got it to grow down here. And, which is actually, you know it’s really great for muscle aches and that.
And then also rose root, which is more of an alpine plant, and I’m getting it to grow here. So that’s exciting. You know, I like to experiment with that.
I like to move things around from areas, ‘cause I do have a wild kind of hedge, and so I’ve got roses and -- that I like to move around to better spots, and I kind of cultivate them.
So I do a little cultivating of wild plants, and so they end up kind of being cultivated, but they’re still native to the area.
And so the considerations, honestly, you know, it’s just an evolving process. Some of the considerations are beauty and medicinally.
You know, bee balm is gorgeous. It’s the -- so pretty, and anise hyssop, same thing. And they go great together, and they’re both aromatic, and you can use them in teas. They help with colds. And same, you know, yarrow is like --
I also pick plants, you know, that just speak to me, you know, and that’s, you know, once I start paying attention and I start using them, like, which plants are saying, "Hey, I’m over here. You know, read up on me."
You know, ladies’ mantle is a plant that I’ve realized, I’ve gotta learn about you. You know, it’s not one that I know, but it’s one that keeps -- it’s been, you know, like hey, knocking on your door.
So that’s a -- yeah, I just -- a lot of it is intuitive, to be honest with you. It’s just kind of being out there and listening and being mindful and present. I don’t do it enough, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Are there plants that you have felt that way about and you’ve tried them here, and then you couldn’t get them to grow? EMILY WILLIS: Yes, bloodroot. It’s funny you ask that.
Bloodroot is like one of my favorite plants from Wisconsin. It was -- it’s kind of like when I think of my childhood, and I think of the lake, and there’s these beautiful grasses that just flowed, and there’s these little white flowers. And when you picked them, they had, like, a dark red, like, sap. And little yellow middle, and they were really pretty and they were just like perfect for fairy size. And so I just had a really fond memory of that plant. That and trilliums.
And so I’ve tried to grow bloodroot from seed, and it didn’t work. And I've tried trilliums, and it hasn’t worked. So I, yeah.
But, and then you do -- you do have to be careful because you also don’t want to introduce something that could be -- that could take hold of in a manner that you can’t control either so.
And really, that’s any plant, you know. I mean, maybe not kale. You know, not the annuals that aren’t going to go to seed super easily, but, um.
So that’s a consideration. But yeah, I like to, you know, like I think about it, you know, comfrey is something I started growing on a whim because a gal, she’s like, "I have some comfrey root, you know, and it’s great for like, diaper rash."
And I was like, "Ok, sure, I’ll take some." And then it started growing in my refrigerator. So I was like, "Well, it’s almost March," and I put it in a pot, and it started growing.
And now, lo and behold, I have, like, lots of comfrey out. And that’s actually really good for, like um, broken bone healing. It can be like a topical use, um, and not so much internal is recommended. Long story with that one.
But my friend, Brooke, she comes over, and she actually does most of my harvesting ‘cause she -- she needs it for her -- she rock climbs, and is a raft tour, so she’s always, you know, pulling something, and she’ll use that a lot.
Um, but that one, you know, is slowly kind of, come to me.
You know, so I might grow something because it looks pretty one year, and realize it has, you know, I'm like "I really need that, or somebody else really needs that."
So there’s that consideration. And yeah, I do, I try things. Lavender I’ve tried numerous times, and it usually doesn’t over-winter. Every once in awhile it will.
One of these years, I’m going to have a nice little lavender patch. I just gotta find the right spot in this kind of shady --
KAREN BREWSTER: Because you’re right, the environment here is very specific for what will and will not grow. EMILY WILLIS: We do have little microclimates. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah?
EMILY WILLIS: Like here, so the first frost in town was September 16. I had the first frost here October 3. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. EMILY WILLIS: Far different, right? SUSANNAH DOWDS: Interesting. EMILY WILLIS: I mean, I had two extra weeks.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you’re not up that high? EMILY WILLIS: Mm-mm. Nope.
And I didn’t cover anything except for my begonias, the night it frosted because I knew it was going to frost. And I was like, "Darn it, I told myself I was going to get those begonias in, and I didn’t."
And they frosted, but they’ll be ok. They didn’t get hit too hard.
But yeah, it's -- so that’s kind of neat, to notice those differences. And they had like, I mean, it’s probably on frost number six or seven. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really? EMILY WILLIS: Hm-mm.
KAREN BREWSTER: And is that late for a frost? Or is that -- EMILY WILLIS: That was early. KAREN BREWSTER: That was early? EMILY WILLIS: That was early.
Our frost dates are generally like May 25 and for last frost date and September 25. That may have changed. That’s what Charlotte told me years ago, so that’s what stuck in my head, you know. I’m like, ok, we gotta get everything up. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: And you know, cover what we need to get those tulips in.
And so September 16, I don’t think -- that’s probably like one of the earliest that I remember.
Usually it can be -- I mean, I think last year, I had a frost here on the second. KAREN BREWSTER: Of October? EMILY WILLIS: But, mm-hm. The second of October here.
I don’t recall. It might have been the same in town, because I didn’t make a distinction in my notes. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: About that, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: So are most of your plants, then, perennials? EMILY WILLIS: It’s kind of gotten to be that way. The ones that I grow up here.
My community garden beds I do more annuals because, generally, annuals tend to be more sun-loving. Although, I do have like a lot of violas. Calendulas do well up here.
Some of my, you know, the herbs, the thyme -- they thyme doesn’t overwinter very -- I mean, it tries to, but it usually doesn’t.
What else did I grow here that’s an annual? Oh, I like to do petunias and some pansies for color, nasturtiums. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EMILY WILLIS: I did zinnias in my greenhouse. SUSANNAH DOWDS: Oh, you did? EMILY WILLIS: I did! That was fun.
Yeah, they’re like a hot-loving, sun-loving plant. I have, like -- and they last forever. I see why my mother liked them.
KAREN BREWSTER: But most of your medicinal and herbal are perennials? EMILY WILLIS: I’d say the majority, yeah, probably. Maybe like 75%.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, you say they’re not native to this area, but -- EMILY WILLIS: Well, some are. KAREN BREWSTER: Some are.
But yarrow’s not, is it? EMILY WILLIS: Well, maybe not technically, but it’s been here a long time. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, has it? EMILY WILLIS: It’s probably like the dandelion, you know, like, I’m not sure. It’s pretty --
It might be because it’s a boreal plant. I mean it’s -- it’s all over the world. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. EMILY WILLIS: But it might be introduced.
The wormwood is a native. The rose root's native. The arnica is native to the region. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY WILLIS: It probably actually does grow -- actually I know it grows up towards the mountain tops, so I’m just bringing it further down. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. EMILY WILLIS: Same with the rose root.
Um, yeah, things like valerian, that’s non-native, and that can get a little bit -- that can spread if you don’t clip it back in time. But it hasn’t really gone into the --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, but it seems to like the environment? EMILY WILLIS: It does like the environment. Yeah, I mean -- KAREN BREWSTER: Even though it’s non-native, it’s thriving? EMILY WILLIS: Yep. Right. I mean, and then you -- kales and peas do great, carrots do great, lettuces do great.
Let’s see, yeah. I’d love to walk around with you because then I’ll be like, "Oh, and that plant does great, and that one does great."
KAREN BREWSTER: We can do that because we have video. We can walk around outside. EMILY WILLIS: Oh! Okay. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, hopefully my batteries are charged. Um, so yeah, we can do a little garden tour. EMILY WILLIS: Ok. KAREN BREWSTER: If you want. EMILY WILLIS: Yeah, let’s do it.