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Camp Frémont

Gardening, Photography, and Homeschool.

- by Sarah Fremont


London in the nineteenth century was plagued with deplorable air conditions. The industrial revolution had led to an influx of city factories that left the air laden with soot, causing unhealthy breathing conditions and difficulty growing plants in city gardens. One particular person, Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, living in London in 1832, had a passion for ferns but was unable to grow them in his garden due to the heavy pollution. One day, he placed a moth pupa in a sealed glass jar to observe its metamorphosis. As he made notes on the daily changes, he noticed that water, from the leaf mold he’d used to cover the pupa, would evaporate during the day and condense on the jar’s sides. Interestingly, when the temperature dropped, the water would run back down to the leaf mold, creating a mini ecosystem. After a few more weeks of observation, he noticed a fern seed from within the jar begin to sprout. He eventually removed the moth and noted how the fern continued to thrive for months within the jar. This led him to thinking about how he could use jars to grow his own ferns, grow food for the pollutant plagued city, and for the commercial use of transporting exotic plants from far away lands for propagation and study in England.

Ward was convinced his sealed cases would allow plants to be stored for several months on a deck in the sunlight, without any attention or watering. To prove his point, in June 1833, he filled two sturdy cases with a mix of ferns and grasses and sent them on the exposed deck of a ship to Sydney where they arrived in perfect condition. The cases were refilled and returned with plants collected in November 1834.

The “Wardian Case,” as they began to be called, opened up the option of bringing varied foods and plants to the shores of England. Tea plants were smuggled out of China in these cases, ending China’s monopoly on this highly desirable export! 

Despite the popularity of the “Wardian Case,” Ward made little money from his invention and continued to practice as a doctor. However, his passion for ferns never left him. When he died in 1868, his backyard greenhouse was found to contain over 25,000 fern specimens! 

  • Writer's pictureSarah Fremont

We headed out to the Mill City Farmers Market in late winter in Minnesota. It’s essential to embrace the cold, snowy, dark season with realistic expectations and a hearty dose of enthusiasm. Trips to the farmers market, bundled-up nature walks, warm drinks, crackling fires, and twinkling lights help make the long season enjoyable. It was still several weeks before any spring blooms would make their appearance, but we noticed a market vendor selling a variety of budding branches offering a way to create your own flowers before spring arrived. We packaged up a few forsythia branches and arranged them in water when we got home. In a couple of weeks, the branches bloomed a cheerful yellow and we savored their hopeful presence as we enjoyed the last bit of winter.

Forcing spring blooms in the winter is super easy and adds a lovely atmosphere to your home. Here’s how you can create your own blooms:

  1.  Find a budding branch of a spring-blooming tree or bush. A few varieties to look for:  Forsythia, pussy willow, witch hazels, eastern redbud, and crabapples.

  2. Using a sharp pruning shear, cut a one to two-foot branch (at an angle) of a non-essential part of the tree or bush. Choose a branch with numerous buds.

  3. Place the branch in a vase with water. Keep the vase in a bright room.

  4. Change the water every few days.

  5. Flowers should appear in a few weeks.

Do some exploring to find a budding branch and enjoy your early spring blooms. Happy winter! xo

  • Writer's pictureSarah Fremont

Our friends had recently bought ten acres of land outside of Nashville and invited us over for a fall hike. As we were meandering along the trails they had cut through their property, my family and I were gathering bits of nature: dried grass, sprigs of native trees, and spent blooms. A visiting friend looked at us with such perplexity, “What will you do with all that stuff?!” We were more surprised that they didn’t collect nature. “Display it on our nature table, of course!”

A lot of the overflow of the beautiful nature we gather also gets stored on a table in our garage and we often use it for crafting in the winter months. As we were considering how we wanted to decorate our home this Christmas season, we decided many of these bits would be perfect for creating a mantlepiece cloud.

How to create a mantelpiece cloud:

  1. Determine where you want to hang the cloud.

  2. Use chicken wire as the base of the cloud. Cut it to size with pliers and mold it into your desired shape. When you add foliage it will double the final size!

  3. Attach suspending wires (how the cloud will hang).

  4. Begin building up the base with the dried materials you collected. We included dried grass, dried asparagus fern, branches with dried leaves, and branches with rose hips. You want to continue adding to the base until the wire is no longer visible.

  5. Once the wire is hidden, hang the cloud, and finish adding the final bits of nature details: dried flowers, berries, and dried seed heads. Step back occasionally to see how it looks from a distance until you have created the perfect piece for your mantel.

Viola! Your mantlepiece cloud is finished and it was the perfect use for some of the lovely bits of nature you collected in the fall. Happy Christmas! xo

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