The witch’s garden theme this year has been self sufficiency. It’s not the black plague, but hopefully it’s the worst we’ll see in our lifetimes.
My plan was to put more focus on the moon garden and cottage garden, but I made the mistake of ordering those plants from Spring Hill Nurseries. Back in February, before the shit hit the fan. They were all in stock and set for shipping a week or two before the first state shut down. It’s almost three months later, and the shipping date has been pushed back twice this week. And yet I get emails daily pushing me to place another order.
So yes, I’m pissed, but what can you do? By the time I realized they didn’t actually have those plants in stock, nobody else did either.
So I focused on the vegetable garden, and herbs attuned to healing.
Growing a witch’s garden in the midst of a pandemic takes on a new urgency I find. I’m paranoid enough to worry about things like supply chains, so I wanted to be sure I had home remedies for common ailments, just in case.
And with that, my witch’s garden grew rather traditional.
In the past I focused on poisons and the more diabolic botanicals. But the cunning women (and men) of the past were more focused on healing than harming.
So new plants you’ll likely see popping up this year include Wood Betony Bergamont, Bloody Dock, Horehound, Valerian, Patchouli, Vervain, Angelica, Hyssop and Rue. Which meant I needed to clean out a new bed, as well as extend existing beds. It’s been the spring of the shovel, hoe and rake.
One area was cleared off by the birds. The gardener has been feeding them all winter, and on cold mornings she got into the habit of just spreading the seed on the ground. The result of that has a nice patch cleared of all vegetation and nicely aerated, if somewhat devoid of worms.
It’s also resulted in birds returning to the lawn which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. We have bluejays now, and woodpeckers. The last few nights I’ve heard owls.
What survived the winter in the witch’s garden?
I was surprised to see Belladonna come back this year. Last year I had one plant which only reached about eighteen inches, always looked puny and died back early and the weeds took it.
So I was amazed to see that it was one of the first things coming up this year, and even more when it had its first bloom on Walpurgis Night. A gift from the witches if you will, as typically the first bloom happens in later June or July.
I was concerned about the Elfwort I planted last year. I dutifully checked the area where it was planted a few weeks back and found two likely suspects, one of which I accidentally broke down to ground level. I cleared out around them, gave each a bit of food and kept them watered. Only to realize I was off by about a foot, when the Elecampane burst out in a different location and within a week had leaves a foot long.
So I also have two thriving and as yet, unidentified weeds which weren’t Elfwort after all.
I ordered a second plant, which I planted this week next to last year’s. These little bastards grow exceptionally large, up to eight feet with a large yellow flower. There’s a lot of folklore associated with them and they can be used medicinally.
And with a name like Elfwort, you can bet it has a place in a fairy garden.
Two Moonwort plants came back this year, which was also surprising. I scattered a few seeds along the border last year and a few plants tried to make it, but ultimately died early. They only bloom the second year, so I was happy to see two plants pop up, and were among the first things to bloom in the witch’s garden this year. They develop translucent discs later in the season which contain the seeds for next years.
Casting serpents from the fairy garden
We’re considering turning the old garden into a fairy garden. Not the cheesy kinds you see in nurseries and garden centers, but one with plants rich in folkloric associations.
Unfortunately, it’s grown rather feral over the past couple years, and has become the breeding ground for serpents. I hate snakes. It’s not a rational fear. If I know one is there I’m fine with it. I won’t touch it, and if it comes towards me I’d likely run screaming like a little girl. It’s much better than it used to be. I had some bad experiences you see?
It’s that instant I see it I hate. I fucking dread it, so I’ve been avoiding that garden. But as the damned things are spreading out to other parts of the lawn, I have to do something. I tell myself they’re good, a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They keep rodents down. But no rodents, no owls. I prefer owls to snakes.
The gardener is my snake handler. I whacked one with the weed eater last week, and she dutifully dispatched it. She’s a vegetarian, so she carried it a block away to a vacant lot, full of trees and grass to recover. She’s thoughtful that way, and whilst her gardening skills are sometimes a bit iffy, she takes care of me.
We cleared out another area next to that garden and found three. Or rather she did. I stood behind her and helpfully pointed them out when they began to slither. Since then I’ve been keeping that area clean. Grass free even. Slowly I’m attacking the bushes they hide in and trimming them back, making a lot of noise in the process. She’s going to tackle the woodpile in the back where I’m convinced the mother of all snakes lives.
I’d likely just burn the pile but the thought of an exodus of squirming reptiles would make it impossible to sleep for years.
Some pretty things make an appearance
I planted Aliums in the witch’s garden a couple years back. Last year I was surprised to see them come up, though they were rather puny. This year I have four coming up, and at least half had good size heads already.
I first fell in love with Alliums at Old Westbury Gardens, on Long Island. There’s a summer cottage in the wood which had them in profusion and finding that spot was like stepping into Wonderland. I don’t yet know if there is any folkloric attraction, but I’m sure fairies would find them as enchanting as I do.
So anyway, the gardener and I are transforming that garden into a fairy garden. Which will mean plant shopping and it will likely be next year before it really starts coming together. We’re both short on that delayed gratification gene, but we’re getting better at it. And we love plant shopping.
So far I have Mrs. Sinkins Dianthus and coral bells planted, as well as Japanese Yew. There’s a holly bush nearby and a wall of ivy which now covers much of the patio and sidewalk, which also needs trimmed back. Another job for the gardener as it butts up against the aforementioned snake infested wood pile. I did have Lilac growing there, and Evening Primrose which I’d love to bring back. I was getting a few Primrose returning, but now I think the dense floor of ivy and squirming mass of reptile keeps them from coming back.
I have Daffodills there each spring, and Cala Lilies later on. And there’s a Clematis growing up the wall of Ivy. About seven years ago I planted St. John’s Wort, which is still thriving. I’m trying to train it to fill one of three beds I had, but it will likely be next year before its full. Each year I get about a liter of Wort, which keeps me somewhat level. It’s one of the few medicinal herbs I’ve actually used on a regular basis.
There’s an ancient rose bush, which I didn’t even know was there, to give you an idea how thick the brush around it was. It was growing up about twelve feet into its branches. I’ve got it cut back to a manageable size now, but it’s way too shady there for roses. Still it’s a hardy bastard and keeps trying.
And there are Azaleas, Peonies, Honeysuckle and an unidentified, crazy bush which knows no boundaries. It’s the secondary snake haven, and this year will be trimmed back.
I built the patio out there some years back and didn’t know it’s acceptable to keep the blocks an eighth of an inch or more apart. It makes patio construction much easier. Instead I went for the Inca gap, not able to get a playing card between the stones. The main reason we want that patio cleared to use however, is it has about the best view of the stars we have. Or at least one which is conducive to kissing as well.
One needs hidden spots in the garden. And with the Mrs. Sinkins Dianthus, which has a clove like evening scent, it’s a good excuse to spend evenings there. Behind the ivy.
New plants in the witch’s garden
I was expecting a bit more from Henbane last year. Instead I got a plant that grew about a foot tall, always looked scraggly, put out a few flowers and was promptly eaten to the ground by bugs. Tragically, before I could get photos.
I later read this is typical. After realizing I didn’t get a photo of it in bloom, I decided to try again this year. It came in the mail, I planted it and it was promptly eaten down to the ground with two days. I’ve used a _________ spray on it and will keep my eye on it this year. At least till I get a photo.
I’m trying a new Belladonna this year, a species from Turkmenistan with yellow flowers and purple veins. It’s said to grow a bit taller than the European versions, so I planted it away from the others. In addition to the one I had come back, I ordered four more Atropa Belladonna plants. I have them scatted among Monkshood and Daylilies, and eventually there will be a Yew bush casting shade. With our hot, often dry summers I find dappled sunlight suits Belladonna better than lots of full sun.
Or at least that’s my theory this year.
Also new this year is Calea Zacatechichi, Aztec Dream Herb. Traditionally it was used to induce visions, as well as vomiting and flu symptoms as it’s nasty bitter. When taken in a more moderate dose it is said to help one remember their dreams, and makes the dreams somewhat more vivid. I might consider trying a tea made from it as I’m all for more vivid dreams. I just don’t care to vomit for them. And I might be too old for hallucinogenics, even with the Aztec connection. Then again …
Black Tulips we planted because they look appropriately funereal, in a row along the front sidewalk, a nice introduction to the garden from the street. It’s a shame they won’t still be around when the Black Hollyhocks are blooming.
The lilies are coming up once more, the two large ones already close to four feet tall. I can still remember their scent from last year, and come hell or high water, we will have a moon garden this year.
And I close this entry out with a curious observation. We have a fairly large Jasmine plant, which comes indoors for winter. Last year, when it bloomed in the spring, the nights in that part of the house were fragrant, and Jasmine is my favorite scent. This year whenever I check there was no scent, despite having more blooms.
I put that down to it being warmer in here this year, as my gardener cares more for heat than I do. So we’ve had a warmer house, and Jasmine loves cooler nights. The past couple nights, as I take a walk through around one in the morning, I’ve noticed the scent. So it’s still putting it off, it’s just its internal clock is a bit off.
So Spring is well underway, and with all the time off, we’ve had a chance to get the gardens nearly ready to go. Our goal is to have them caught up by the beginning of June, and the pool open as well.
The season for rum drinks is almost upon us.