A Wilder Life

A Season-by-Season Guide to Getting in Touch with Nature


By Celestine Maddy

By Abbye Churchill

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 26, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

In our technology-driven, workaday world, connecting with nature has never before been more essential. A Wilder Life, a beautiful oversized lifestyle book by the team behind the popular Wilder Quarterly, gives readers indispensable ideas for interacting with the great outdoors. Learn to plant a night-blooming garden, navigate by reading the stars, build an outdoor shelter, make dry shampoo, identify insects, cultivate butterflies in a backyard, or tint your clothes with natural dyes. Like a modern-day Whole Earth CatalogA Wilder Life gives us DIY projects and old-world skills that are being reclaimed by a new generation. Divided into sections pertaining to each season and covering self-reliance, growing and gardening, cooking, health and beauty, and wilderness, and with photos and illustrations evocative of the great outdoors, A Wilder Life shows that getting in touch with nature is possible no matter who you are and—more important—where you are.



The first hint of spring makes you rejoice.

The snow begins to melt away. The sun becomes less of a savior from bitter winds and freezing fingers and more of a cheerful companion ushering us into a bountiful season. The spring equinox brings with it the early blooming flowers, such as the iris and the hyacinth. The warmth of those first days also brings worms, bugs, and bees to life.

They stir just beneath the warming soil. And just like with nature, spring breathes new life into each of us. Stretch out your arms and take in a deep breath. Uncurl your limbs and shake off the quiet, pleasant numbness of winter. It’s time to be of the natural world once again. As Tolstoy said, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.”

No matter if you’re in living in a buzzing city center or in peaceful rural seclusion, spring is a time to build a foundation for the seasons to come. Start seeds indoors to ensure that you have strong seedlings ready to be planted by the end of spring (see How to Grow from Seeds for step-by-step instructions). Honey lovers can get busy with beekeeping, and on spring days that are still cold, try your hand at working with natural dyes.

Springtime is a season of discovery. Spend your mornings wild crafting in a local public park or a nearby forest to seek out the edible and medicinal plants as they push forth into the light. Dandelion and beach rose are our favorite finds. The former makes an excellent tincture for liver health, and the latter, with its pungent, rich aroma, can be made into a perfume. If you happen to be anywhere near the Netherlands, now is the time to take a jaw-dropping twenty-five-mile drive past fields of flowers: tulips, dahlias, lilies—all of the classic Dutch bulbs on display. Those on North America’s Pacific coastline can marvel at the sight of whales pushing through the open sea as they head to warmer waters. All around the world, nature offers up spectacular viewing in springtime.



A Seasonal Growing Checklist

Plant Profile: Liverleaf

Plant Profile: Wild Hyacinth

How Plants Work

How to Grow from Seeds

Plant a Native Garden


A Seasonal Growing Checklist

Spring can arrive at a moment’s notice or seem to hold off forever. In most locations, it’s an ephemeral season. In the blink of an eye, winter’s cold has come and gone, and the earliest spring weeds are already setting seed. Pay attention to the subtler signs of spring and stay alert to the season’s progress. In some regions, migrating birds or mating amphibians lead the way toward warmer weather. In other parts, the early, rampant blossoming of wildflowers is the call to gardening arms. The more work that can be completed early during this whirlwind season, the better your summer garden will be.

☐  Start annual seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date.

☐  Protect fruit blossoms from late frosts.

☐  Fertilize indoor plants.

☐  Rake old leaves from garden beds.

☐  Divide perennials.

☐  Plant new trees and shrubs.

☐  Plant summer-flowering bulbs.

☐  Prune and feed roses.

☐  Start weeding.

☐  Prepare vegetable garden soil.

☐  Keep an eye out for early garden pests, like slugs.

☐  Add new mulch to beds.

☐  Fix fences around the vegetable garden.

Plant Profile


Common name


Latin name

Hepatica acutiloba

Bloom time

Early spring


Part to full shade


Moist, rich, neutral soil

Pests & problems

Generally disease free; occasionally affected by leaf miners

Best use

Dense drifts on woodland slopes

Best enjoyed in blowsy drifts of purple and white, the North American liverleaf is an easy-to-grow spring ephemeral well suited to the woodland garden. Emerging from beneath piles of winter leaves, liverleaf is one of the year’s first bloomers. A close relative of the buttercup, the liverleaf shares the same artless, open blooms of the family, although unlike buttercups, the cultivated varieties are commonly purple to blue. Clusters of rich yellow stamens ring the delicate flower’s center, adding more interest and color. Plant liverleaf on woodland slopes and along forest trails. It is an excellent naturalizer. As the seasons shift, liverleaf’s violet blossoms will slash through the last dregs of wintry murk and get spring springing on its way.


Cold stratified seeds will readily germinate outdoors in spring. If sowing in pots or trays indoors, start plants in early spring, eight weeks before the final frost date. This way, they’ll be ready for transplanting as soon as the weather warms. Make sure the soil remains moist until germination occurs.

Root Cuttings

Root cuttings are an easy way to propagate liverleaf. Divide roots with a sterilized, sharp knife to prevent infection and tearing. Plant the cuttings directly outside with the point of growth facing upward.

Young Plants

Liverleaf takes approximately two years to bloom when grown from seed. Bear in mind that young plants may require additional watering when first planted to speed establishment and growth.

Mature Plants

Mature, flowering individuals require lots of water during the spring months. After flowers have withered at the end of spring, the plants’ old leaves may rapidly brown. Snip off old leaves with pruners or scissors to make way for new green growth next spring.

Plant Profile

Wild Hyacinth

Common name

Wild hyacinth

Latin name

Camassia quamash

Bloom time

Early summer


Part shade to full sun


Rich, well-drained, acidic

Pests & problems


Best use

Perfume, as each of its colors offers a separate, distinct aroma

When swaths of wild hyacinths bloom clear across western North America, fields mirror summer skies. The light blue flowers look as beautiful in the garden as they do in the wild—blooming in oceanic-scale profusion. Statuesque summer-flowering bulbs, wild hyacinths grow up to four feet tall, so make sure to give them ample space. Relied upon as a staple food source by the Salish, Blackfeet, and Nez Percé Indians of the North American west, wild hyacinth bulb tastes somewhat like sweet potato when cooked. To harvest the bulbs, wait until autumn, after the flowers have withered, and roast in the oven or over the fire.


Although wild hyacinth can be grown from seed, it takes three or more years for the small seeds to mature into flowering bulbs. Seeds can be collected during July and August, and perform best when sown directly outside, or into a cold frame the following spring. Germination will occur within one to six months.


Small bulblets are best collected from the mother bulb in midsummer, during the plant’s dormancy. Gently pry off the small bulbs and replant about four inches deep and six inches apart in rich, moist soil.

Young Plants

Young plants require little attention if out in the garden. If growing them in pots, be sure to keep soil moist and lightly fertilized.

Mature Plants

Mature individuals are incredibly hardy, and will tolerate a range of soil types without fertilization. In general, however, wild hyacinths prefer freely draining soils rich in nutrients. If given sufficient space and moisture, wild hyacinth will steadily reproduce over time, expanding into large and handsome swaths of flowers that bloom reliably each and every year.


How Plants Work

In biology, form follows function. The large, umbrella-shaped leaves of shade plants capture light filtering through the crowded jungle canopy, while the compact nubs of succulent foliage store a precious cache of water. All the way down the taxonomic tree, plants have evolved mechanisms to get done what needs doing: spines, barbs, and irritating hairs protect against herbivory; bulbs, corms, and tubers lock up important nutrients; and myriad flowers tend to that most crucial of all biological acts, reproduction.

Leaves are the site of a plant’s two vital functions: transpiration and photosynthesis. As oxygen and carbon are exchanged via the leaf’s delicate membrane, sunlight is captured and turned into energy. For this reason, it’s important to keep leaves dust free and exposed to an appropriate amount of fuel-supplying sun.

The plant’s stem is the steward of buds and one of the sources of new growth. It’s also the transport system for water and food. Some plants, like cacti, use their stem to store food, while others, like crocus, keep it buried underground. In either case, the stem is an important stabilizing structure, and must be kept sturdy and healthy in order to perform its functions. Appropriate sunlight and moisture will ensure that stems do not grow thin and weedy or weaken and rot.

Roots are a plant’s anchor. They’re also responsible for nutrient and water uptake. Interference with the delicate root hairs that make up much of the root system’s absorbent surface are often the cause for flagging plant health—if roots become waterlogged, they drown, stopping nutrient exchange. When transplanting seedlings or divided clumps, remember the fragile root hairs, and provide extra love and care until new hairs have time to regrow.

Know Your Plant Vocabulary

Knowing the correct terms is essential to knowing your plants. Speak plant and watch your relationship with them grow.

Corm: an underground stem used to store food

Inflorescence: a cluster of flowers

Meristem: plant tissue that produces new growth

Photosynthesis: the process by which a plant captures sunlight and uses it to synthesize food

Pistil: the female reproductive organs of a flower that receive the pollen

Sepal: the protective tissue that covers a budded flower’s petals prior to opening

Stipule: a structure found at the base of certain plants’ leaves

Stamen: the male, pollen-producing reproductive organs of a flower

Stomata: tiny openings on the leaves where gas exchange takes place

Transpiration: the process by which a plant loses water through pores on the leaf surface

Turgor: rigidity of cells due to water absorption


How to Grow from Seeds

In essence, starting seeds is simple: tuck a seed beneath the dirt and, with a little bit of luck, something will grow. In reality, seeds are finicky things and require lots of patience and attention. To cut down on seedling losses and increase germination rates, invest in nutritious sterilized potting mix. If you’re just starting out, plant seeds that are surefire growers, like cosmos and sweet peas.

What You’ll Need


Sharp knife

Bucket for mixing




Peat moss

Seed trays

Note: Some very hard seeds like cup and saucer, nasturtium, and moonflower vine need to be soaked overnight or nicked with a knife prior to planting. Check the back of the seed packet for this information. Make sure to soak or nick all the seeds that need this extra help to ensure successful germination.


1. In a bucket, mix together equal parts of finished compost, sand, perlite, and peat moss. Add water until the mixture is evenly moist.

2. Lightly tamp soil into seed trays or pots. (Shallow seed trays work best as moisture is more easily monitored in small containers.)

3. Gently brush 1 to 3 seedlings per container onto the surface of the soil and lightly cover with soil. A good rule of thumb is that each seed should be planted at a depth three times its width.

4. Place seed trays in a bright, sunny location and try to keep the temperature steady, around 65°F. Keep the soil moist, but not soaking. Rot is the fastest and easiest way to kill seedlings.

5. After the seeds have germinated, wait a week or two to see which will arise as the strongest in the pot. Pinch off the weaklings to give the fittest the best chance to grow. Allow them to develop two sets of “true” leaves before moving them. Once the danger of frost has passed, plant these seedlings out in your garden or in larger containers.


Plant a Native Garden

Naturally resilient to pests, pathogens, and the ever-changing weather, native plants are an obvious choice for the hands-off gardener. However, native plants are not just what is on offer at your local mass garden-center—natives come in a multitude of colors, forms, and fragrances for the greediest of garden kleptomaniacs. Pollinators love native plants, birds flock to feed on their seeds and fruit, and they’ll lend a real sense of place to your home and garden. When choosing natives, think of their utility for each of the seasons. Native species are designed to carefully fit a special niche in the landscape, whether that is providing food for the first hummingbirds of the year or giving dense shelter to the last drifts of autumn butterflies as they migrate to their winter homes. Here are the steps to take to invite native species into your backyard.

1. Figure out the goals of the garden. Are butterflies, bees, or birds the intended focus? Does the garden need more winter interest or fruiting trees? See the following lists for help.

2. Understand the garden’s environmental characteristics. Purchase a soil test kit from your local nursery and find out whether the soil is acidic, basic, or circumneutral. There are a host of native plants that are suitable for most types of soil.

3. Whether you’re in the United Kingdom or the United States, be sure to know your garden’s growing zone. These zones are determined based upon regional minimum temperatures and are the starting point to knowing what you can, and can’t, grow. Topography, elevation, and aspect can all affect the microclimate of the garden. Look up which zone your garden falls into on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website (see Resources) and spend some time learning about minimum and maximum temperatures in the local area. Although native plants are more tolerant than their exotic counterparts, not all of them are cold hardy.

Our Favorite Native Plants and Their Uses

All of these natives can be grown in several different zones across the world. They are particularly well suited to their region of origin, but are useful wherever they are planted.

Northeast United States

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum): attracts turtles

Shadbush (Amelanchier): attracts birds; produces edible fruit

American hazelnut (Corylus americana): attracts bears, squirrels, and other rodents; produces edible nuts

Virginia switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): provides a winter habitat

Great laurel (Rhododendron maximum): provides a winter habitat; attracts butterflies

Southeast United States

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana): attracts bees and beetles

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus): attracts bees and beetles

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium): is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica): attracts early pollinators and hummingbirds

Yellow lotus (Nelumbo lutea): attracts beetles; produces edible seeds

Midwest United States

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra): attracts bears, squirrels, and other rodents

Green-headed coneflower (Rudebeckia laciniata): attracts bees

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis): provides a winter habitat

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): attracts monarch butterflies

Western sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis): attracts bees and butterflies

Southwest United States

Greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula): attracts birds and bees; produces edible fruit

Scarlet globe mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea): attracts birds and small mammals; is a host plant for small-checkered skipper butterflies

Threadleaf giant hyssop (Agastache rupestris): attracts hummingbirds and butterflies

Rocky Mountain clematis (Clematis pseudoalpina): attracts bees and butterflies

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii): attracts bees; produces edible seeds for birds

Southern California

Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium): attracts bees

Blue sage (Salvia clevelandii): attracts bees and hummingbirds

Pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius): attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds

Pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum glutinosum): attracts hummingbirds; produces edible fruit for wildlife

Western dogwood (Cornus nuttallii): attracts bees; host plant for blue azure butterfly; produces edible fruit for wildlife

Pacific Northwest United States

Vine maple (Acer circinatum): is a host plant for brown tissue and polyhemous moths

Western wild ginger (Asarum caudatum): produces edible roots and leaves

Deer fern (Blechnum spicant): provides dense cover and forage for deer, mountain goats, and elk

Inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra): attracts bees

Blue columbine (Aquilegia caerulea): attracts hummingbirds and bees



Ingredients to Inspire

A Primer on Cheese Making

Make a Simple Ricotta

The Greatest Scape

Make Elderflower Champagne


Ingredients to Inspire




Blackberries (early)

Blueberries (early)


Figs (early)









Asparagus (purple and green)

Belgian endive



Chayote squash


Collard greens

Fava beans


Fiddlehead ferns

Garlic scapes

Green beans



Mustard greens


Pea pods






Snow peas



Swiss chard

Vidalia onions



A Primer on Cheese Making

Odes have been written to it. It smothers our omelets and makes our hamburgers golden. Whole grocery store aisles are devoted to it, and countries claim it as their own. We are speaking, of course, of cheese.

How did this majestic coagulate come to be? Legends vary. For some (namely the Swiss), the story involves a wandering merchant traveling across the desert some five thousand years ago. The traveler was transporting some sheep’s milk in a pouch made from the animal’s hollowed-out stomach. The activity of travel agitated the milk, like churning, and when it combined with the naturally occurring rennet in the sheep’s stomach, it turned into curds and whey. Others believe that in the process of salt-curdling milk for preservation, cheese was invented as a happy by-product. Evidence of cheese making can be found scrawled on ancient Egyptian tombs and in records of the Roman Empire. Though we may never know its exact origin story, cheese has come a long way since.

Cheeses Today

Grocery aisles are piled high with varieties of cheese sourced from around the world. Crumbly, buttery, milky, pungent, robust: it can be a dizzying experience to roam the cheese counter. That’s why experts have developed—over hundreds of years—ways of classifying cheese, in order to bring method to this creamy madness.

• Fresh: uncooked, unaged, soft, and milky (ricotta and mozzarella are good examples)

• Soft-ripened:


  • “The new book that’s becoming our natural beauty obsession. . . . It’s a comprehensive, coffee table–worthy, DIY project–packed manual for enjoying all four seasons through interaction with nature—including recipes (foraged elderflower champagne! Pumpkin butter!), gardening and home tips. . . . It’s also a particularly good resource for natural-beauty buffs.”

    “Wander through the pages of A Wilder Life in awe and appreciation. . . . [The book] urges readers to garden with a purpose—to stew, brew, can and pot. . . . . Nature isn’t just a screen saver. It’s a soul saver.”           
    —The New York Times Book Review
    “Will smarten up any side table.”

    “A beautiful, informative, thoughtful compilation of facts, recipes, DIY instructions, and more—a book designed to put you a little more in touch with nature and a lot more in touch with yourself.”
    —Organic Lifestyle Magazine

On Sale
Jan 26, 2016
Page Count
272 pages

Celestine Maddy

Celestine Maddy

About the Author

Celestine Maddy is the founder and publisher of Wilder Quarterly. She was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business for 2012 and is also a Cannes Lion winner. Before founding Wilder Quarterly, Maddy was the director of emerging media at the global agency StrawberryFrog. She lives in San Francisco, where she is currently VP of marketing at Reddit.


Learn more about this author