One evening I had a friend over for drinks. The friend in question had run afoul of my good graces some time ago, and though I was certain he knew of my displeasure, he acknowledged it not.
Now this man, let’s call him Orlando for the purposes of this story, is quite knowledgable about witchy plants and certainly knows his poisons. His ceaseless charms and grace started slipping away however, during his second glass, and as the crystal slipped from his fingers and he slid helpless to the floor, he managed to utter “Monkshood … you’ve poisoned me. Where in the name of god did you find Monkshood?”
Which is the question I hear posed most often – “where do you buy witchy plants?”
That’s a tricky question. I found a number spring up from wildflower mixes, which is logical as herbalism draws on local plants for any given place. Quite a few come from most any greenhouse … Foxglove, St. John’s Wort, Echinacea – if they’ve got flowers and herbs you can fill quite a few spaces.
But let’s face it … you don’t have a proper witch’s garden without at least one of the biggies – mandrake, belladonna, wolfsbane and of course poppies. You can of course get poppies anywhere, but not the right kind.
For these you have two choices … grow from seed or purchase live plants. Bouncing Bear Botanicals sells live Mandrake, Belladonna, Mugwort and a few others. (hmmm, it might be possible to buy live roots … I’ll have to check that out.)
The order I placed with Bouncing Bears worked like a charm. But you have to wait till the plants are available. Go to the website, click on the plant and you’ll see a notice saying to notify you when the plants are available. Then hope you get an order in before they sell out, and than there’s no problem in transit.
So I hedge my bets by ordering seeds from Alchemy Works, who has a diabolical selection for a witch’s garden, a fairy garden or even a moon garden. Also, you get a complete rundown on the folklore of the seeds, as well as growing instructions.
Unfortunately, my powers fail me when trying to metamorphose sees into seedlings. Nearly all my attempts last year were dismal failures, in large part because of the mysteries and vagaries of cold stratification.
Cold stratification, for those of you not in the know, it a process which attempts to fool your seeds into thinking it’s been a long, cold winter, and that it’s beginning to warm up and time to sprout. You are now in the know.
So this year I decided to go with the “sew on winter’s solstice” method, or in my case, as close to that date as possible. The main requirement for this to work seems to be to have a winter as close to the European climate as possible. I had an inkling this would be the case this year, and I wasn’t far wrong.
However, never having raised several of these plants, I can’t say with any degree of certainty what their seedlings would look like. So this spring, when green things start popping up through the dirt, how would I know if I’m ripping out a weed or wolfsbane? I would happily forgo weeding and wait till the plants were identifiable, except I would imagine that my native weeds would choke out the foreign interlopers.
Rather than convert my icebox to a seed germination station, I implanted in a series of window boxes, several species of seeds, in fresh starting mix, and kept them off the ground, but in the elements.
They went through several snows, in which I even created artificial snowpacks when the sun would melt the seed box’s cover. On the first day of spring I brought the ones that need indirect sunlight to germinate to the patio, and left the two which need sunlight outside.
Now we’re getting temperature averaging from 50 degrees to 70, with nights still dipping down below freezing. I keep an eye for signs of life, but thus far nothing.
Now for those who hate the idea of cold stratification as much as I .. even typing the words leave a taste in my mouth both ugly and repellent … and think this idea not mad. Here is a listing of the plants, currently – I hope – germinating: