Hairy Moss Seeks Shade-loving Evergreen

Tonight’s garden design inspiration is this luscious photo of partridge berries growing in a bed of moss. The contrasting textures here is what I really love — that, and the absurd little snouts on these berries, which keep them just on the sour side of the sweet. Speaking of sour, I read on the Internet (and that carries with it all those old fogey caveats about veracity) that partridge berries are edible, at least to the extent that they are not poisonous, and have been used medicinally*. What’s more, they’re native to New Hampshire (among other New England states) and produce berries into the winter, which means they’re potentially lovely when other plants go dormant, and could be incorporated into festive decor — that is, when combined with, say, sparklers or a potted succulent and large, frosted white LED tree lights. Anything to keep ‘em this side of sweet.

Partridge berry in bed of moss

Mitchella repens (Partridge berry) 0662, The Botanical Photography of Alan S. Heilman, © Alan S. Heilman, © The University of Tennessee Libraries, 2011

These beautiful piglets, Mitchella repens (I write the science that I might also learn it), might work in a small area of the yard by the side door. There’s an unlovely wall there that’s asking for some fresh color and texture. So much the better if it’s easy to come by on a shoestring budget. That remains to be seen. It’s possible that they grow on the land of a friend or relative, but they also seem to be getting scarcer. I’ll come clean: I have dropped money on prettily potted weeds before (such as comfrey, noticed soon afterwards totally freely available one the edge of a community garden), and, although I still have love for the plant, would have rather come by it with good old Yankee mettle. This partridge berry is either going for a premium at a native plants nursery or one that could be — carefully, respectfully, and not at all with just a plastic bag and a hot car, no I wouldn’t — harvested in the nearby woods. Wow, just the kind of ethically dubious, potentially wild goose chase I like. For real.

*Seems like, especially in northern New England, they could be easily confused with what many Canadians call partridgeberry, or Lingonberry –Vaccinium vitis-idaea — which is something completely different, and even more charming on the Internet because they’re on restaurant plates combined with choice baked and/or whipped dairy confections.

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