The Wild Foods Garden was a joint project I started with the local Brazos valley chapter of Texas Master Naturalists and the City of Bryan department of Parks and Recreation.
The result of several years’ planning, what I had envisioned was a space where members of the local community could actively harvest foods produced by the wild species planted but also learn more about those species; their uses and nutrition and more importantly how grow them in their own homes.
Classes were held at the Garden once a month and covered what plants were currently in season, how they were beneficial to people and also their role in our environment and their impact on wildlife. These classes were a great opportunity for participants to experience planting new wild and native species firsthand and many used extra seeds or cuttings to start their own gardens at home as well! We also would usually bring samples of original dishes my family had created using these foods to show attendants how they could be normal, healthy additions to their daily lives.
The project lasted for almost a year and was featured widely in the local media, on television, in local papers and frequently on the radio. Since then, it led to the creation of a separate Wild Foods Garden located at the Crestview senior community, down the street from the park where the original garden was located.
The species planted were selected due to their drought tolerance and compatibility with the local environment. All of the specimens collected were transplanted from local sources within Brazos county to ensure they were as well adapted to local conditions as possible.
- American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
- Turk’s Cap Mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)
- Dewberry (Rubus trivialis)
- Wild Onion (Allium spp.)
- Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)
- Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
- Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum)
- Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
- Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
- Lemon Bee-Balm (Monarda citriodora)
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
There was no irrigation implemented, and no fertilizers or pesticides were ever applied on the Garden. These species had evolved and adapted to this landscape over generations and were perfectly suited to survive, and flourish, without assistance or extraneous resources. At the same time, they were also packed with vitamins and minerals and other forms of beneficial nutrition, in many cases much more so than traditional domestic species. Members of the community and class participants were free to harvest from species which were in season, and were shown and encouraged to propagate more of those species, either at home or elsewhere.
Several species of wildlife were frequently observed about the Garden. Most notably, various species of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and others, in both larval and adult forms. Of particular attraction were the wildflower species planted, especially the lemon bee-balm. Toads and tree frogs also sought shelter in the Garden; the abundant foliage helped to trap moisture, making a perfect habitat for amphibians to explore and look for food. Cottontail rabbits and a wide variety of songbirds were also frequent visitors, feeding on the broad leaves and copious amounts of berries which grew there.
This project was a perfect example of the positive relationship humans can have with our environment. By learning to propagate these species, we were able to provide a stable, sustainable source of high quality nutrition, with minimal input and effort for the local community. These same species also enhanced and helped to restore critical habitat for local wildlife and improve the environment at the same time. In essence they are Natural Habitat.
Using this project as a model for future endeavors, in communities across both urban and rural areas, can help to educate people about our environment, and all the benefits it has to offer, while also shaping the future of our relationship with our World towards a more sustainable future.