It was a cold, cold winter, and it ended with the rains which are carrying on still. As I’m due to travel next week, I thought it time I got your witch’s garden ready for the spring, so I can return to find things well on their way.
I’ve decided to scale back the vegetable garden in the back. Nothing much ever seems to come from it, and I had quite a bit of luck last summer with containers on the back porch. So I’m expanding that instead, and planting grass where for the past few years I’ve had blackberries, more grapes, pumpkins and corn. I’m not a fucking farmer, I’m a gardener. The sunflowers will go in front of the back porch.
Besides, it was you that was coming here to grow vegetables. Laura Ingalls with a British accent getting dirty in her witch’s garden. I don’t think Michael Landon would have approved. And I prefer your black to calico.
I got a start on the garden part of the garden a few weeks back, when I built a cauldron into the stone work. Granted, without you here with your spells and potions, it’s mainly used for burning branches and twigs. But it’s closer to the bench now, which is nice this time of year to take the bite out of the night.
From a practical point of view, it also allows the lawn mower to come further back, which means fewer weeds to pull. I’m losing a bit of space where I used to plant broccoli, but I can find somewhere a bit more opportune for that. It’s possible some of the wildflowers will still come up in that area, and that’s fine. I can always mow that bit with my push mower.
Of the three beds back there, I’m leaving one for cucumbers and whatever will grow in the shade of its trellis … onions, lettuce and spinach perhaps.
The middle bed has St. John’s Wort. It used to grow wild in the grass behind the beds, but last year it was choked out when I was gone for much of April. The only bits that survived was a small mound which had leapt into the bed. So I’m letting it take over that bed, minus a bit of space for greens.
The same holds true for the third bed, the one by the bench. There’s a small section for vegetables, and I’m going to plant the rest in day scented flowers. The pine that’s growing overhead eats up a lot of the sun on the beds now, but it does give shade to the bench. Lettuce grows great there, as did the Kale last year. But those are mainly early season vegetables. Later on it becomes quite dry, and I’d prefer not having to water so much back there.
The ivy is totally overgrown, the honeysuckle a mass of knotty vines and the lilac is starting to bloom. So it strikes me that I might want to spend time here this year, just sitting. With the bulbs there in the spring which are outrageously colorful at the moment, the wall of ivy on one side, the pine and honeysuckle blocking out behind, it could be quite lovely there.
I don’t sit enough, which is likely why sometimes I let the garden go. It’s your garden after all, even though you seldom find yourself here. When I started in the role of gardener I think we saw it more like Quint in The Nightcomers. Over the years it’s come to remind me of another story, one with the details or even name long forgotten. It was of a man who kept the garden for the lady of the manor, who disappeared one day, never to return. But he kept her gardens for the rest of his life, just in case she one day found herself home. I can’t remember how it ended …
That’s how I see my role here. You offer advice and encouragement from afar, so I have it over that hoary old gent anyway.
The witch’s garden is coming along. It’s always a mystery what survives the winter. The Daylillies are almost guaranteed, and of course the Tansy is already beginning to surge. The first true sign of spring is when the Yarrow begins to show up again. Coneflowers are beginning to poke up above the ground as well.
I love the story of how Lillies came about. Zeus had fathered an illegitimate child, but wanted it to have immortal powers. Why it didn’t inherit them from him I’m not sure. So he would bring the child to Hera, his wife as she slept and the baby would suckle. One night Hera awoke to find the baby at her breast and tossed it roughly aside. The spewing milk formed the milky way, and the drops that fell to earth became Lillies.
The Rattlesnake Master plant survived, for a bit of early American herbalism. The root used to be used as a cure for snakebites, and it was thought carrying a bit of the root in your mouth warded off venous snakes. I’d think tied to your ankles might work better.
Last year’s Valerian is also poking up out of the mulch I covered it with at the beginning of winter. It’s the first time I tried that with it, and the first time the plant survived the winter.
In the poison section of the witch’s garden, the Foxglove are starting to come up. It’s too early for Castor Bean plants, but I did manage to clear out the last of the dead ones, still towering overhead like a forest. They are the most adept plants at self seeding I’ve come across. I find them popping up twenty or thirty yards from where I’ve had them planted, and of course, spend much of the beginning of summer pulling up volunteers from the garden itself. I’ve even had then start in the gravel driveway. I collect far more seeds than I need, considering I never have to plant them. I’ve got enough in here to produce enough Ricin to alert Homeland Security. But in truth, I keep them because they’re quite pretty.
None of the Belladonna came back last year, ironic considering you were here. But then you never needed it really. It’s said ladies in the Renaissance used to ingest it to dilate the pupils, to appear more beautiful. You need nothing to be more beautiful, and I prefer the way sometimes we catch each other’s eyes and the pupils dilate naturally.
Every year I check for the Monkshood and Wolfsbane, but they never come up. It’s a bit swampy there to be honest, and I should try again in a place a bit more favorable. I recall they like a woody environment, so it might work well under the Butterfly Bush, with the poison ivy for nefarious company. It’s not really a witch’s garden without them, is it?
No sign of Hyssop yet, which became a border in the little cottage garden there. The Jasmine barely recovered last year and I think it’s time to accept that Jasmine just doesn’t do well here. Or at least in that location. I think I’ll stick to Moonflowers on those trellises, as they grow thick and cast shade on the couch and table. The Black Hollyhocks still come up there along with a variety of other flowers, half of which I forget from year to year what I’ve planted.
I had Datura in the ground and in containers back there last year, but it’s too soon for those. As so the Nicotiana as well, which came volunteer for the first time. It was also the last plant in bloom before the ice killed it. That was the first witch’s garden plant you recommended I believe. I’ve not missed a year without it.
The Bradford Pear which will not die is in bloom and quite nice. Not a witch’s garden plant obviously, but you love beautiful things. The Dogwood in the front is going that way, and the Forsythia at the end of the street is bright yellow. My mother would be trying to persuade me to go get cuttings for her if she was still with us. The house where it was planted now stands empty. It’s been empty on and off since the Jordans lived there, who moved in when I was an early teen. It was actually planted by Mrs. Morris, an old lady I barely remember, She wore a black dress every time I saw her, white hair up in a bun, alone in the old house after her husband died, giving piano lessons. I still hear her piano some nights when I walk by.
We tried to catch her cat when she died, but it went feral and avoided everyone. A coal black cat, lived under the house and still it found its way inside till the Jordan’s moved in. I swear I still see it on occasion, almost fifty years later. More than likely it meant an untimely end from the new owners and I’ve seen ghost for half a century.
The Magnolia Tree is trying to bloom, but the blossoms are burned from the last snow which fell as the blooms were starting. I built a patio under it today for you, for the bench that sets beneath it. It’s the best place in the garden to sit in summer, where the branches hang low over head, the best canopy in the place.
That’s as far as I got before the rain set in again. A few hours both days this weekend it held off for me, then washed away the debris I didn’t have a chance to pick up.
I have a week before I leave, which should be enough time to get everything in place. April takes care of itself, light on frost, heavy on showers so I don’t need to be here to water things. I’m sure I’ll come back to a healthy crop of weeds, but I expect there will be treasures in those weeds as well. And it will be time to order the witch’s garden plants that I didn’t manage to coax out of the ground.
We miss you here, and your dark rum is where you left it, all those years ago.
A look at plants, ideas, resources, moon gardens, herbalism and how I became the witch’s gardener. Gardening with a history.