seed sourcing


Perhaps you've been dreaming of the gardening season ahead, too? In the last week or so, I've been sorting through seeds left over from last year and seeds collected from our native plant collection at 6&B in the autumn. One crucial thing to note about many native plant seeds is that they need a cold dormancy period (called "stratification"), to mimic what they would experience outdoors in the elements, in order to germinate properly. Some native plant seeds can also be sown in the autumn, if there is a safe and protected spot in one of your beds for them. Since I typically start my seeds in late March and early April, and many of my native plant seeds need between 30-60 days of cold treatment (placed in a damp coffee filter in a small bag in the fridge does the trick!), I've been doing a bit of planning about what to plant this year, and where it might go in our tiny 8 by 5 foot community garden plot. Things that won't fit will be sold at our annual Plant & Bake Sale, to raise funds for the bustling season of garden events ahead, and still more seedlings will be given away to fellow garden members, traded for other coveted baby plants, or plunked in at the last moment, in desperation, wherever a little space can be found.

If you're interested in preparing to save your own seeds starting this season and beyond, here is a wonderful guide. And some advice for germinating them.

I'll be planting various milkweeds from seed saved at 6&B this last autumn, including swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), a beautiful white milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) and the brilliant orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), all of which support a variety of pollinators.

I was also thrilled to support the fundraising campaign for Milkweed Medicinal seeds last year, and came away with a truly gorgeous collection of certified organic herb seeds, carefully selected for their potency and vigor, that I will be planting from again this year including Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Tulsi Kapoor (Ocimum sanctum var. Kapoor) and many, many more. It looks like their site may be down for maintenance right now, though, but an update will be coming soon, according to this post. UPDATE: here's their new site!

For an enormous selection of medicinal plant seeds, as well as potted starts, I turn to Strictly Medicinal Seeds, in Williams, OR. I adore receiving their old-school hand-illustrated catalog in the mail, and I appreciate their focus on certified organic, open-pollinated and GMO-free selections. My beloved rose geranium plants at the studio came from Strictly Medicinal as starts, and have given me much scented joy over the years. 

I haven't made a purchase yet, but I've been following Owen's work at True Love Seeds ever since I took a seed-saving workshop with him at the GreenThumb GrowTogether (a local community gardening conference) a few years back. If you garden in NYC be sure to sign up for this year's conference, more info here

"Truelove Seeds is a seed company offering rare, open pollinated, and culturally important vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. Our seeds are grown by more than 20 small-scale urban and rural farmers committed to community food sovereignty, cultural preservation, and sustainable agriculture. This collaboration is an opportunity for growers to share their own seeds and stories and to bring in extra financial support for their food sovereignty and agroecological projects."

I'm really looking forward to placing an order with them for a few treats for our children's vegetable garden, which we source from all season long for the kids cooking workshops that M and I help facilitate.

I also made a small, but indulgent purchase from Floret this winter for a few frilly little things, including a California poppy called "Thai Silk Appleblossom Chiffon". Who could resist a name like that? I've also been experimenting with carnation essences quite a bit in the studio, so I decided to grab a packet of the supposedly very fragrant heirloom "Chabaud La France" carnation, to do a little in-person research with the flower itself.

And to fill in the gaps, I always love placing an order with High Mowing for the basics, including greens to sow in succession (even in the smallest of spaces!), and parsley and cilantro to snip for garnishes throughout the season.

If you're local, you may also want to check out the 13th Annual Seed Celebration & Swap happening at the Old Stone House in Park Slope on February 10th. More info here!

Have you started your garden dreaming yet for the coming season? I'd love to know what you'll be planting!

distilling at Oko Farms


Last week we went to Oko Farms in Brooklyn, where M. is doing an aquaponics apprenticeship, to set up our little copper still for a distillation in the outdoors. Yemi, the lead farmer there, has found that aromatic herbs grow especially well in an aquaponic system, and the farm is lush right now with blue spice basil (a very fragrant, almost tulsi-like variation), lemongrass, mint and more! The basic premise of aquaponics is that fish waste provides nutrients for the plants and plant roots filter the water for the fish, in a contained system which is highly efficient and environmentally friendly. We spent a peaceful morning making a deliriously fragrant blue spice basil hydrosol (using an aquarium pump from the farm to keep cool water cycling through the condenser of the still - something I'll be replicating at home) and I can't wait to go back to do another batch! Eventually, we'd like to try distilling the same plant grown both aquaponically and in soil at the farm to compare the resulting hydrosols.

I've mostly begun learning how to distill as a creative practice, not necessarily to sell hydrosols in the shop, although that may eventually happen. I find it to be an incredibly meditative process and the undivided attention it requires guarantees a nice chunk of time spent firmly in the moment. It's also a way to connect with a truly ancient process and to develop a deeper understanding of the plants I work with day to day. Here are a few resources that I've found helpful while beginning my distilling education:

Ann Harman's book Harvest to Hydrosol is a highly practical guide

Distillation: A How-To Booklet, by Jeanne Rose (she has many other publications about hydrosols, essential oils, perfumery and skincare too!)

Hydrosols by Suzanne Catty (monographs of 67 different hydrosols!)

and another helpful list of resources

I purchased my still here. Mine is the 3 liter, although now I have my eye on the 5 liter, too.

And even larger stills can be purchased here. Watch out, this could become a very expensive habit!

setting up the still

blue spice basil (Ocimum americanum)

our makeshift sauté pan heat diffuser set-up

mugwort, blue spice basil and rice in the drying shed at Oko

Rice grows beautifully in the aquaponic system, we even brainstormed about distilling the rice hulls for hydrosol...

Sending a fragrant mist of plant magic your way,

where summer and autumn meet


This is one of my favorite moments in the year in the world of Northeast native plants, and I never let it pass without a trip to one of the native plant gardens near us, either at NYBG or BBG. It's a ritual to mark the shifting of the seasons, and a way to keep learning about our connection to the ecosystems that surround us, even as we go about our days along crowded sidewalks and tucked into bed in crumbling tenement buildings.

This year, the goldenrod is nearly past its prime just as the asters are getting ready to open. Last year, the two plant families seemed to reach their peak more simultaneously in a pollinator-laden riot of yellow and purple. The goldenrods, with their tuberous and densely matted root colonies are elbowing their way into the territory previously held by milkweeds and eupatoriums. The meadow plantings have grown full and lush, with the knee-high grasses and sedges providing support for the taller, leggier plants. Subtle shifts, for sure, but they feel meaningful. I've been watching each element of the garden come into its own from the beginning, and now we are bound together somehow. Our attention to these small details can be a path toward a deep love for the world and for each other. A love that moves us into action. I'd love to hear what you've been reading and thinking about this week, and how you've been taking loving action in the midst of it all. 

my own list of things read + done:

don't look away


And I'll leave you with a quote that I've been using to keep moving myself into action this week/month/year:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark


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