Sanctuary Stewards: Liz Rog & Daniel Rotto
Fern Hollow lies on an 18-acre woodland in the Driftless Region of NE Iowa. It is a magical place, rich in all seasons with native plant and animal life.
We have lived here for 31 years. For 15 years our family of four lived in the rustic and beautiful log cabin that was built by my great-great-great grandparents, which is now a B&B enjoyed by people from around the nation. We have found that there is an abundance of people who are glad to stay in the woods in a cabin with cold running water, a composting toilet, and limited electricity made by solar panels.
Throughout our 31 years we have nurtured relationships not only with the land and the plants, but with the neighborhood and wider community through the regular hosting of events and tours which bring people onto this land. Some examples include:
We host plant walks and foraging events. (Let me know if you’d like to lead one next year!)
- I am the coordinator for a local intergenerational education organization, and for 20 years have hosted annual events that bring children and adults into these woods. These include May Day festivals, wildflower walks, play days in the woods for children, adult rituals that revolve around the turning wheel of the year through the natural world, and good ol’ campfire sing-alongs.
- As part of our garlic mustard eradication campaign, we host an annual garlic mustard pulling party in the springtime—we have live music and call the event ‘Dig and Jam!’
- Our daughters planted and tend a medicinal herb garden, and their upbringing in these woods has served them well as they continue, at ages 19 and 21, to seek knowledge and experience about plants. Recently they organized a skill share here in the valley which brought in 60 people, both locally and from elsewhere.
- We are fortunate to live in a community which has become a destination for many who seek knowledge and support in recreating sustainable community living practices through gardening and orcharding, foraging, herbalism, simple technologies, old wisdom, and creative arts. We are surrounded by these wonderful neighbors:
- The Pepperfield Project (PP) is a nonprofit educational organization started by our next-door neighbor, David Cavagnaro. This is an educational homestead where classes are offered on seed starting, plant propagation, seed saving, food preservation, and cooking, among other things.
- Seed Savers’ Exchange, located four miles from Fern Hollow, is a destination for many who come to Decorah and many who stay at our cabin. SSE has played a huge role in the gardening and land protection ethic that has been part of the foundation of our community these past decades.
- Many people in our rural neighborhood are involved in creative and sustainable projects with their land: CSAs, organic cropland, hunters, anglers, conservationists, and a commercial organic hops yard.
Species that grow here and are included on the UpS “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” lists:
trillium, echinacea, bloodroot, blue cohosh, wild yam, snakeroot, lady’s slipper, lobelia, maidenhair fern, cream gentian, and mayapple.
Here are some other plants that live here:
honewort, Solomon’s seal, Joe Pye weed, Culver’s root, white avens, buttercup, twisted stalk, choke cherry, germander, yarrow, burdock, belladonna, blue vervain, meadowsweet, St. John’s wort, wild mints, elder, shepherd’s purse, celandine, skullcap, nettle, prickly ash, many ferns, sweet woodruff, chicory, bergamot, wild carrot, agrimony, boneset, cleavers, juniper, motherwort, catnip, false Solomon’s seal, self-heal, purslane, black cherry, sumac, goldenrods, meadowsweet, chickweed, mullein, plantain, rosehips, anise hyssop.
Here are some of the spring ephemerals that grow here:
rue anemone, spring beauty, trout lily, snow trillium, nodding trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, bloodroot, hepatica, bellwort, Dutchman‘s breeches, squirrel corn, buttercup, Virginia bluebell, violet, columbine, wild geranium, sweet William, wild ginger.
We are excited to connect with United Plant Savers through this designation as a Botanical Sanctuary and proud to be one of the dots on the map that’s creating the national network. We look forward to exchanges of knowledge with UpS members, and to passing along that knowledge to the many people of our region who are hungry to connect with the wild plants around us. Come visit!