In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


Buyer Beware

This was supposed to be a victory post, celebrating the final stages in this year’s edible landscaping experiments.

Instead, I am writing a cautionary tale of purchasing plants from online sellers.

Back in early March, I went on a buying spree and purchased edible perennials from a variety of dot-coms based on availability and price.

I was most excited to order Maypops from I had previously tried to buy passionflowers from a better known website, but had to cancel the order when I realized most passionflowers are NOT cold hardy to USDA agricultural zone 7A. (AKA my yard.) Maypops are a special variety of passionflowers that can withstand bitter winters in addition to climbing ugly fences, and producing stunning flowers followed by edible fruits.

FINALLY I received the shipping notice, and the plants FINALLY arrived today.

Except… these weren’t the plants I ordered.


Apparently, Direct Gardening was sold out of Maypops. And rather than putting my order on backorder, or heaven forbid, contacting me about the situation, they sent me a substitution.

Of red vine passionflower.

Don’t get me wrong, these are very beautiful, and apparently also have edible fruit. But they are NOT cold hardy. They will not survive the bitter winter winds and ice and snow. The poor plants might survive in Maryland, on the southernmost parts of the Eastern Shore. But not Central MD. Not the greater Frederick area.

No one notified me that this substitution would be made. I could have saved everyone the trouble by explaining that these poor plants will die in the winter conditions my yard experiences. I am horrified that no one bothered to ask or even check if this was an appropriate substitution.

When I tried calling customer service, I got the run-around and no information at all about why an inappropriate replacement was shipped, or why I wasn’t notified of the change. It was clearly just a call center, and I could not reach anyone at the actual company for an explanation, nor could they return my call. This is a horrible way to run a business.

I finally learned that I can ship the plants back for a full refund, but the return shipping is at my own expense. Since I already paid $10 for shipping to get them, I’m sure it will cost at least that much to return them, meaning I have lost half the value of my purchase. No doubt once they arrived, I would be informed they were in damaged condition and I would have nothing to show for the trouble.

I will NEVER buy from this company again, and I am sharing this information to warn others who may be lured in by their low prices.

So I am going out now to plant these poor three vines in the ground, and enjoy them until their untimely deaths this winter.

(**Yes, I realize I could theoretically keep them in pots and overwinter them inside. But passionflowers can grow up to 20′ in a year, and pruning them enough to bring  them indoors seemed like just a different form of cruelty.)


Foraging Fails, Week Ending 9/2/2018

For this week’s foraging post, I am going to once again focus on plants that I failed find or harvest in the central MD area.

Cattails (Typha spp.)

Cattails are one of the most celebrated wild foods because so many parts of the plant are edible. Both broad-leaved (Typha latifolia) and narrow-leaved (Typha angustifolia) varieties grow in this area. However I have failed to find any in a location where I feel comfortable harvesting any of it. The one population where I could get permission from the land owner is too small just yet. The rest of them either require trespassing (not okay) or dangerous or polluted locations (also not okay).

Cattails too close to train tracks

Diesel-flavored cattails, anyone?

In late spring the shoots can be collected; during the summer, the pollen can be gathered from the flower heads and added to baked goods (like quick breads) for extra protein and a cheerful yellow color. The male flowers at the tips (above the “hot dog” looking part, which is the female flower) can be steamed or boiled either in pieces or whole like a teensy corn on the cob. The rhizomes are edible as well.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) 

My failure to forage elderberry is particularly sad. One of these leafy shrubs used to grow in the wild tangle of weedy plants along the side of my yard. That was several years ago, before I really knew how amazing the berries were. I didn’t think  we cut it down while cleaning up the overgrowth, but this year I was unable to locate the plant. There are two hackberries, one black locust and a mulberry … but no elderberry! I have no idea what happened to the shrub!

The elderberry flowers are showy white against a green canopy. The flowers can be used for liqueurs or battered and fried. But the berries are the real gem. They seem to boost to immune system, possibly even helping fight against the flu.

I have seen several elderberries on my daily commute, but they pose two recurring problems. 1) They are on my commute which means they are roadside plants and thus subjected to the pollution which comes  with um, being alongside the road. And 2), if they are alongside the road, they are on someone else’s property and swooping in to collect either flower or berries is, shall we say, legally problematic?

Maypop / Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Maypop’s ridiculously alien-like flowers are definitely an eye-catcher, and I was sure I would have spotted them at some point during the summer. They tend to grow along fields and fences, which we have plenty of around here. The fruit starts as green egg-shaped orbs, maturing to yellow when ripe. The leaves are practically shaped like a T-Rex footprint, mashed up with a clinging vine and alien flowers. How could I possibly not find one, if there was one to find? There is still opportunity to find the flowers or fruit, based on the dates on the photos on the MD Biodiversity project, but date of first frost is a month and a half away. The days are counting down!

Rather than continue to drive myself crazy trying to find them, next year I plan to just grow them myself! Several online merchants sell either seeds or young plants.