(Editor’s Note: The Sitka Local Foods Network’s Bulldog on Baranof intern this summer, Claire Chang, is writing the Building a Local Food System series of articles about Sitkans working to improve food security. This is the second article of the series.)
Going on a tour of Florence Welsh’s Welsh Family Forget Me Not Garden is a magical experience. Raspberry bushes teem with succulent, red berries. Flowers of many shapes, sizes, and colors draw the eye in all directions. Sea kale yields abundant, hearty leaves, and the squash plants have begun to fruit. A cascade of pink roses hangs over the fence that surrounds fennel and artichoke beds. Rubbing one’s hand through the copious lemon balm or mint is a wonderful, sensory experience. The branches of elegant trees near the border of the garden abound with small, round apples. With a dehydrator, pressure cooker stand, and freezers literally overflowing with frozen berries, her garage indicates that her household makes use of the growing season’s bounty throughout the year
Raised in Weymouth, Mass., Welsh grew up exploring the seashore, swamp, and woods with her large family. She came to Sitka in 1965 and immediately fell in love with the unspoiled nature that she could experience here. For many years, she worked for the Sitka School District as a guidance counselor and as an administrator. During her summers off, she and her family hunted, fished, foraged, and spent lots of time in the garden. Welsh explained that though her family did not have a garden when she was growing up, she has “felt compelled to have at least a little bit of a vegetable garden” wherever she has lived since college.
The prolific space that is now Florence Welsh’s garden did not emerge overnight. Her success as a gardener required years of trial and error. Gardening, Welsh explained, “is always place-specific, and the maritime Northwest is rainier and cooler than elsewhere.” Even compared to conditions in Seattle, gardeners in Sitka must adapt to a cooler, wetter climate. As she honed her gardening skills over the years, Welsh developed her place-specific gardening knowledge. For example, she came to understand how to improve soil fertility with seaweed and herring eggs and when to start and transplant various plants.
Welsh’s desire to share her gardening knowledge inspired her to try to write a book for children and others in the Sitka community. She quickly realized, however, that the highly visual nature of gardening made it difficult for her to share her knowledge in a book. About a year and a half ago, Welsh decided to start a blog, SitkaVores, which allows her to incorporate photographs and format the gardening and foraging information. At sitkavores.blogspot.com, one can read about growing a wide variety of vegetables and flowers here in Sitka, as well as about foraged items like beach asparagus and berries. The blog also includes photos at various stages of the gardening process and recipe ideas. Welsh hopes to continue to add to the blog so she can share as much of her knowledge as she can. “I don’t want people to have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to gardening here,” she says.
As much as she enjoys working in the garden, what Welsh really loves is “getting out there” and experiencing the surroundings. She fondly remembers her and her family’s many hunting, scuba diving, fishing, and snorkeling adventures. The weather in Sitka, especially in fall and winter, can make it difficult to “get out there”, but Welsh explained that creativity helps people get through the periods spent indoors. In addition to working on her blog, Welsh personally enjoys reading and making artwork, such as drawings on bracket fungus, also called bear bread.
Now that she is getting older, Welsh explained that she is in the process of downsizing her garden. She will grow more perennial plants and cultivate fewer beds of vegetables. When her kids lived at home, they both helped out in the garden and ate a lot of the produce. Now, they are all grown, and Welsh “does not have the energy or endurance that she once had.” Still, her years of hard work have most certainly paid off. Not only does Florence Welsh have a beautiful, productive garden, but she has also helped many other gardeners get started her in Sitka. Without her commitment to sharing her hard-earned knowledge, many local gardeners would not have achieved the success that they have.
To learn more about Florence Welsh and the Welsh Family Forget Me Not Gardens, go to http://sitkavores.blogspot.com/.