These are two of my favorite things to find in the wild. And every so often I find myself in the right place and time and the  plant under the right conditions–mainly a captive root system, whereby I can collect it for further enjoyment in the garden. Huckleberries are something I grew up with in Montana and every summer we would go out in August to harvest them. Anyone who’s ever had a slice of huckleberry pie knows they have to be about the best tasting berries in the world! So, when I returned to the northwest after fifteen years in the desert, I collected a plant using my experience of collecting bonsai. I looked for a nice compact specimen with a lot of fruit–yes, I collected it while it was fruiting. This is usually a bad time unless you can get a nearly intact root system and extract it very carefully, which is just what I did. The trick to getting good roots is to carefully rake away the duff from around the trunk and look to see if there are any surface roots close in to the trunk. If you have to dig down below the soil at all to find roots, chances are the plant you’ve selected is just a shoot off a rhizome and it may not have an established root system. Best to leave that alone and look for another. When I got back home, I planted the new acquisition into a plastic colander, which afforded the plant excellent drainage and lots of air to the root system. I was very careful with the daily care of the plant even though I’d gotten very good roots; I sited it in partial shade and misted the foliage as well as daily watering. It responded well and I’ve got a picture of it in a Mardella Brock pot as proof of that for you. Here is the plant six years from collection–notice it even has a couple of berries on it:

I took these photos the first week of June and that’s about two months early for huckleberries; part of the reason is that they’re in a garden but I suspect the weather has had a role in the early ripening too. This is the first year I’ve had full flavor and sweetness in the fruit. The species I’m featuring here is Vaccinium membranaceum, or black huckleberry. I’ve got another photo to share with you of a collected huckleberry planted in a collander that I’m thinking of of leaving it just as it is:

I like the association of the tree in the collander, as that’s where the fruit ends up for washing after picking anyway 😉 Here is a close-up of the fruit:

And another:

I fertilize these rather heavily with an orgainc pellet fertilizer, with low Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous numbers; 5-4-4. I place it around the trunk when the buds are opening in spring and again late summer. I like the organic pellets as they slowly release a small amount of fertilizer every time you water the plant.

I’ve also got an orchid to show you that just finished flowering for me, Epipactus gigantea or Giant Helleborine, that I found floating bare-root near the shore of a river. I didn’t know what it was when I saw it, but I knew it must be something interesting and would not have survived when the water level of the river dropped later in the season. That was almost three years ago and this plant has really established itself in my garden. It likes a lot of water and has a strange habit of ‘climbing’ out of its pot. The roots grow so aggressively that they literally lift the plant right out of the pot. So, I got the idea of planting some of it in with some grasses to keep it in check–that works. The grass roots  are dense and strong enough so that the orchid stays put. It also makes for a nice planting as the leaves of the orchid resemble grass or bamboo. Here’s a photo of the one with the grasses:

And here is the more established plant this one came from:

And a detail of a single bloom:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this mid-summer interlude as much as I have–a feast for the eyes and the stomach 😉