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Carry on Cyclamen

My Cyclamen

As you can see from the photo I am not skilled at carrying over a cyclamen. I buy one or two in November or early December, and they look great right through and past Valentine’s Day. But once they lose all their blossoms and start to wilt all over I never know quite what to do.  Today I got my e-leaflet from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and saw the clearest directions for handling cyclamen after bloom that I have ever seen.  Here it is:

“By April, their energy is spent (but by then, the first spring bulbs are up) and we consign our dozen or so cyclamen to the basement for six weeks of rest. Then, in mid-May, we un-pot them and plant them in out-of-the-way, shady spots in the garden. There, the bulbs (technically speaking, corms) gather strength and produce a few leaves. Before the first frost, we gently dig them up, re-pot them with a loose potting mix, and find them a window with good, filtered light. By the time Thanksgiving has passed, they’re back in flower. In case you think this migration is hard on the plants, we have one cyclamen that has made the pot-to-earth transition for considerably longer than a decade and is going strong.”

I am ready to try again.

Bloom Day May 15, 2009

Dandelions and violets in the flowery mead are still blooming.

Johnny jump ups are scattered everywhere. Where do they all come from? I wonder what a johnny jump up seed looks like flying on the wind. I’m not sounding like much of a gardener so far.

Many of the daffodils are starting to wind down, but others like this pheasant eye daff (Poeticus) bloom late. When I visited the daffodils at Tower Hill Botanic Garden last year I learned that all the shades of pink in pink daffodils come from the red genes in the pheasant eye.

How is it that I never noticed this low growing cotoneaster bloomed? Is this really the first year? Name lost.

Lilac season is just beginning. This is the ancient white lilac that was here when we bought our house in 1979. There is a hedge of white lilacs melding into a row of the old lavender lilacs. I’ve added a Beauty of Moscow whose beautiful pink buds open to white, Miss Willmott who won’t bloom until at least next year, deep purple Ludwig Spaeth, and the pretty pink Miss Canada who will not bloom until a bit later.

We’ve got a couple of semi-dwarf plum trees, and sometimes we get plums. When there are extras I can them and I think they are just beautiful in their juice.

We planted a sour cherry years ago. Any cherries that develop go to the birds. I was racing the rain when I took this photo.

We have apple trees  in bloom – at the edge of the lawn, along the drive (actually the town road), in the fields, next to the vegetable garden and

most spectacularly, the Sargent Crabapple in the center of the Sunken Garden.

For more beatiful blooms go to May Dreams Gardens. And thank you Carol for giving us this great way of seeing what is going on all across the country.

Cover Your Ground

                                                “Green your garden” sounds like an unnecessary admonition, but as the discussion about global warming heats up (pun intended) gardeners are looking at ways to lower their gardens’ carbon footprint.

            Because digging the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere no-till cultivation methods have gained new advocates.  In addition to saving human energy, sheet composting/lasagna gardening has become more popular.

            Another way of reducing the carbon footprint of the garden is to reduce the size of the lawn.  Gas powered mowers are the most common mowers and produce those polluting greenhouse gases that we are all worrying about. They also use gas and oil that we are trying to cut down on.

            However, it is possible to eliminate, or reduce mowing by planting ground covers.

The term ground cover is a large one that includes shrubs, vines, and perennials like pachysandra that we are all familiar with.

            It’s easy to call up the names of a few ground covers: pachysandra, vinca and ajuga, but then I start to run dry.  Barbara W. Ellis has no such problem. Her book, Covering Ground: Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping with Colorful, Low Maintenance Ground Covers (Storey $19.95) is full of ways to cut down on lawn and labor while making your garden even more beautiful.

            Ellis is an engaging writer with enormous experience and knowledge. She begins with an inspiring examination of the kinds of sites that might benefit from groundcovers from steep slopes, to wet areas to stream edges and border areas.

            The second section of the book is a particularly useful reference, with clear photos, of groundcovers for various areas, sunny and dry, shady, boggy, and for different types of soil from sand to clay.

            Since we all know that putting the right plant in the right place is the best guarantee of success this section is a valuable and useful reference

            She organizes other lists for types of ground covers from shrubs like flowering quince which will be 2 to 3 feet high, forsythia, and a host of cotoneasters which can be as low as 4 inches or as high as 3 feet.

            We usually think of vines growing up, but they can also be used to spread over the ground. Ellis suggests which vines like ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ honeysuckle and clematis can be used this way, and how to manage and care for them.

            She also has a section on using ornamental grasses that will not need mowing, as a groundcover. She reminds us that ferns and moss are other sorts of groundcovers.

            Ellis even has a section about hardscaping and other ways of covering the ground. I am making my own new garden paths with wood chips, but gravel and various pavers are mentioned.

            I appreciated all the information she gives about the size and spread of the plants she describes, the soil and amount of sun they prefer and the hardiness zones. She also notes which plants are natives, and has a section on invasives which are to be avoided, even if you see them for sale at a nursery.

            A final section Planting, Growing and Propagating gives basic advice about preparation of planting different sites, renovation, and how to grow plants from seed and take all manner of cuttings to increase your stock.

            The headings in the table of contents are so well worded that it will help you when you want to look up a particular type of plant, but there is also an excellent index that lists plants by common and proper name.

            Ellis notes which ground covers are natives, but I called Ron Wik, the Nursery Business Director at Nasami Farm in Whately, for some suggestions.  Nasami propagates native plants in their large greenhouses and is open Thursday through Sunday 10 AM til 5 PM until mid June. The complete list of natives they sell is on their website www.newfs.org, but Wik gave me five suggestions.

            “Carex pensylvanica is a clumping grass,” Wik said. “You can plant it 8 to 10 inches on center in mulch to get them started and to outsmart weeds. Once it is established it will outcompete weeds and within five years the clumps will touch. In a breeze it looks like moving water.”

            Gaylussacia brachycera is known as box huckleberry. “This is a versatile shrub. We can barely grow enough, but this year we have a good supply. It is useful for dry shade areas, has little flowers and huckleberries.  You can eat them, but this is not the variety that a farmer would plant,” Wik said.

            Even though Sibbaldiopsis tridentate translates as three tooth cinquefoil, Wik said, “We call this shrubby five fingers.  It has shiny dark green leaves, about 10 inches high and is good for dry slopes. It grows high on Mt. Monadonock.”

            Woodland or creeping phlox is familiar to all of us with its dense mats that produce pink, blue, white and red flowers in the spring. It’s good for shady areas.

            “Cliff green is another low evergreen shrub that won’t grow more than 10 inches high. It’s a good substitute for junipers, but it’s less abrasive. It’s not a conifer, but it is similar in texture,” Wik said.

            If you are considering reducing your lawn area Ellis will give you some great suggestions, and a large array of natives will be there for the choosing at Nasami Farm. 

          This is naative Waldsteinia or barren strawberry (note the brilliant strawberry like flowers) that I am planting to cover a strip of ground I no longer want to mow. Ron Wik said they have more for sale at Nasami. I think daffodils will look very pretty coming up through it in the spring. 

Snow in May?

Even though snow has been recorded in Heath in every month of the year, including August at the Annual Heath Fair, this ‘snowy’ lawn is actually comprised of drifts of mayflowers.

At least I thought they were mayflowers, but when I looked them up to find the botanical name I found that the name mayflowers refers to trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens. When I asked my husband what he called those tiny blue and white flowers with a golden heart, he said he used to call them mayflowers (just like me) but our Canadian neighbor corrected him years ago and said they were bluets. Bluets!

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are members of the bedstraw family. They are native to Nova Scotia and southward. They often form large colonies in grassy fields.  But I don’t know how they get started, as on this new lawn.

Monday Record 4-27

Tynan arrived to spend part of school vacation with us and we devoted ourselves to art, the garden, and celebrating Earth Day at the eleventh most beautiful waterfall in Massachusetts.

Recycling hits the Art World

    First, off to Umass, my alma mater, to visit our friend Dan at the new Studio Arts building. He gave us a tour of the undergrad studios where we saw all kinds of art, collage, drawings, assemblages, paintings, clay sculptures, and even a work made with black headed pins.  Tynan was greeted by a Junk Man.

            Then off to the famous Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The Museum is celebrating Carle’s 80th birthday and The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s 40th Anniversary with a special exhibit.  Another wonderful exhibit was of Virgina Lee Burton’s work. What child isn’t a friend of Mike Mulligan and his Steamshovel? 

Cleaning around the new Potager

Cleaning around the new Potager

 Back at the End of the Road there was work to do. My husband, known as The Major to the grandchildren, and Tynan had to take down old barbed wire fencing around the new Potager, and clean out to give room for the squash vines to spread. 

Working on the tractor is no chore.

Working on the tractor is no chore.

            Removing a big beam and an old harrow required the help of the tractor. 

Saplings into beanpoles

Saplings into beanpoles

            Ty also helped me by cutting down 10 saplings for bean poles which I will need very soon.

Tannery Falls

Tannery Falls

            Then we set off on a quest to find Tannery Falls in the Savoy Forest. The map showed a parking lot by the trail, but as we got close there was a sign saying the road was not maintained and we traveled at our own risk. It was a pretty rough road! But a very nice parking lot. 

The trail is very steep, but there are occasional railings and stairs built into the hillside. There are actually two waterfalls, but the trail mostly leads beside the rushing stream that makes the larger, and very beautiful falls. We estimated it at about 70 feet high. 

            If there is water there must be bare feet. Even if the water is icy 

            After garden work, and a hike amid great natural beauty we came home to build a fire for the first cook out of the year.

            On Saturday The Major took Ty back to his mother while I picked up my order from the Franklin Conservation District. Why didn’t I check that American Hazelnuts are a favorite food of deer, or that Serviceberry grows very tall before I ordered them.  My planting scheme needs to be totally reorganized! 

Nasami Farm in Whately

Nasami Farm in Whately

            A brief stop at Nasami Farm run by the New England Wildflower Society.  They  have several large greenhouses where they propagate native plants suitable for the garden.

Like this beautiful Pinkshell Azalea.  But I already didn’t know what I was going to do with my hazelnuts and serviceberry so left empty handed.

This Monday morning I can see all the growth in just one week, especially since we had three days of extremely unseasonable temperatures in the 80s.  But all my attention now is on water.

A happy day when we found this well in the garden

A happy day when we found this well in the garden

 

 Yesterday afternoon the water pump died. We opened a little well in the Lawn Bed for emergency water and now we are waiting for the repair man.

            Wish us luck!

A Cough Remedy

Most of us go to the drugstore for all manner of over the counter remedies, but it wasn’t so long ago, that people turned to plants for their remedies. Even now, some of us know that poppies and foxgloves still provide us with medicines, but others are quite forgotten.

Coltsfoot grows along my road. Its yellow dandelion-like flowers mean spring is here. It often grows along roadsides where the soil has been disturbed. The brilliant flowers are quite a surprise because they bloom so early and are so noticeable.

Unlike the dandelion, coltsfoot has flat blossoms. The large leaves (shaped like a colt’s foot) appear after the blooms, hence its old name of Filius ante patrem which means the son before the father.

Its proper name Tussilago farfara actually means “cures a cough’”, The large leaves are harvested in June and July, then dried. When needed a tea was made and served with honey. It was used not only for alleviating coughs, but also for asthma.

Although I don’t often think of herbs being smoked, coltsfoot leaves are an ingredient in herbal cigarettes.

It can be propagated by root cuttings or seed and because it is such a spreader, it can be used as a groundcover in a sunny location. And be handy for a homemade cough cure.

A Thrifty Herb Garden

My chives on April 6
My chives on April 6

   

            Cooks need herbs. Since the media is filled with articles about the thriftiness of a vegetable garden in these difficult economic times it suddenly struck me that one of the thriftiest and easiest gardens to start is an herb garden. I get dizzy when I think of the money I spent (before I had an herb garden) on bunches of parsley, cilantro and basil and less common herbs that are even more expensive.

            Herb gardens are also easy to start. A utilitarian herb bed requires no design skills, just a sunny spot with soil that drains well. Most herbs will do fine in ordinary soil, although any plant is happy for a helping of compost. There is no need to spend money on fertilizers, and pests will be rare.

            Many herbs including rosemary, thyme, chives, French tarragon, marjoram, and sometimes sage, are perennials that will come back year after year.

            Last year my rosemary plant had gotten so big and unwieldy that I left it out in the garden when winter arrived.  This year I will get a new small rosemary plant and put it in the herb bed, but pot it up and bring it indoors for the winter. Rosemary doesn’t mind a cool indoor room, but it needs to be kept watered to thrive. Mine was always happy when it was warm enough to leave its pot and live in the garden soil during the growing season.

            French tarragon is not supposed to be dependably hardy here in Heath, but mine has done well for several years. 

            Many people manage to keep sage going for several years, but I find it iffy.  I’m still waiting to see if mine has come through the winter.

            Chives increase in size and don’t mind frequents harvests. They are so pretty and useful for oniony flavoring and for a bright garnish.

            Plain old thyme is so hardy and vigorous that it has jumped into my lawn, and even the weedy field beyond.  Once I realized that it had moved into the lawn, I took advantage of its adaptability and moved plugs of it out into dry weedy areas where it has taken  over and spread, always green. Obviously I don’t demand a lawn of fine turf. A flowery mead is all I desire.

            Parsley, dill, cilantro, basil, caraway, and summer savory are all annual herbs, easily started from seed. Parsley benefits from being started indoors because it is so slow to germinate.  Cilantro grows and goes to seed so quickly that it is wise to consider planting a small patch every two or three weeks during the season to provide a constant supply of fresh flavorful foliage.

            I look at recipes for grilling marinades and it is obvious that many of these herbs are essential for summer menus.

            Garlic is an important cooking herb. It needs to be planted in late fall. In the spring you can harvest the beautiful budded shoots called scapes, chop them and use them for garlic flavoring. You will still be able to harvest the mature garlic bulbs in mid summer.

However, at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium I learned from Denise Lemay of Stockbridge Herbs in South Deerfield, that there is a fashionable trend for planting garlic cloves in the spring garden and harvesting the fine shoots to use in the kitchen for their gentle garlic flavor.

Lemay also warned that although fresh peeled garlic can be preserved in vinegar, it should never ever be preserved in olive oil where it will quickly ferment and produce the botulism toxin. Shortly afterwards, I met a woman who told me she had been given a jar of garlic in oil but it began to bubble. She thought it looked dangerous and threw it away. Smart woman.

There are ways to lower the costs of an herb garden, or any new garden. First, you can share your seeds. A whole packet of seed is often too much for a single garden. This year my neighbor and I coordinated our seed order so that we can share seeds. One packet each of summer squash, zucchini, and Waltham butternut is more than enough for our two small families. We went through the whole list looking for this kind of economy.

There are other seed swaps, locally and on line. The National Garden Association has a seed swap page on their website, www.garden.org.

You can buy all kinds of seed starting equipment, but much of it can be made from recycled plastic mushroom or other produce boxes, and egg cartons. Two caveats. If you are going to use plastic boxes remember to punch drainage holes in the bottom. If you use egg cartons remember to keep the cardboard damp, just as you would for peat pots.

            The easiest way to keep any seed box properly watered is to put it in a tray that will hold some water. Osmosis will bring the water into the soil.  This is especially important for the cardboard egg cartons that should be kept damp.

            Next week I’ll talk about preserving herbs. Drying and freezing your own herbs will increase the amount of money you save by preserving your herbs for winter use.

            Right now I am enjoying the signs of new growth in my own herb bed. April has just begun but the chives are ready to use.

 

April 4, 2009 

Hellebore – The Christmas Rose

 

photo courtesy of mooseyscountrygarden.com

photo courtesy of mooseyscountrygarden.com

 

            As a lover of roses, I longed to plant a Christmas rose, although I could not imagine how, in Heath, it would bloom at Christmas. When my garden knowledge grew I realized that while I may be able to plant a Christmas rose and have it bloom, it is no rose, and will probably not bloom for me at Christmas.

            The Christmas rose is, in fact, a member of the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family. Its proper name is Helleborus niger. The word niger or black refers to the root of the plant, not the flower which can be white or a pinkish green. According to my Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia it is hardy to zone 3, which certainly includes Heath, but it is more likely to bloom late here in the fall.

            The first time I saw a hellebore blooming was at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston in the early spring.  This was probably the Hellebore orientalis, or Lenten rose. This is listed as hardy to zone 6, and might survive in Heath in a protected location. Where hardy it is considered the easiest hellebore to grow.

            The legend surrounding the Christmas rose is that on the night of the Christ Child’s birth, a little shepherdess  named Madelon was watching her sheep when she saw the Wise Men with their precious gifts hurrying to the stable, and the shepherds also gathering up dried fruits and honey to bring the Babe. She had heard the glorious news, but had no gift at all and wept.  An angel appeared; where Madelon’s tears fell, the angel brushed away the snow to reveal the delicate Christmas rose.

            It is important to know that all the hellebores are very poisonous, leaf and root. They have been used medicinally, but they have also been used on the tips of poison arrows.  Animals understand poisonous plants. You will find hellebores on lists of deer-proof plants.

As a reminder, other dangerous plant poisons come from the nightshade, hemlock and aconite.

Native to Europe, and usually found on sweet soil in the sun, hellebores have proved adaptable to our more acid American soil. They are also happy in the woodland garden. They like a moist soil, but not wet. A poorly drained site will kill a hellebore long before a drought will.

Both the Christmas rose and the Lenten rose are acaulescent, which is to say the flowers have no stem. The flower rises directly out of the soil. Another familiar stemless flower is the autumn crocus or colchicum. 

The evergreen leaves are smooth and dark green. The flowers are actually a modified calyx which means the flowers bloom for up to three months. (Another long blooming flower is the poinsettia whose flower is actually made up of long lasting bracts surrounding a tiny sterile flower that most people barely notice.)

The Lenten rose is different in bloom season, coming in the spring, and the as the flower stalk rises above the flattened leaves, it branches out into a cluster of flowers. The modern hybrids have a vigor that makes them easy to grow.

Over the years many hellebore hybrids have been developed and are available to gardeners through specialty nurseries. Some hybrids have the simple single flower form, but others are many petalled, some are spotted, and the color range has been increased.

There are other hellebores. Hellebore foetidus, the stinking hellebore, only has leaves that will leave a bad smell on your hands. These evergreen leaves are two feet tall with foot long spikes of bell-like green flowers.  This variety is listed as hardy in zones 6 and 7.

Plant Delights (http://www.plantdelights.comis an excellent specialty nursery offering many cultivars of many plants.  If you are a hosta lover, this is a nursery you must visit. They also have a large selection of hellebores, including many hybrids.

It is interesting to me that the excellent Plant Delights catalog and website gives different hardiness information than my Wyman’s.  My book uses the 1971 hardiness map which has been updated several times since then. This is a lesson for all of us, to beware of some of the information in older books, and to pay a lot of attention to the information given by the nurseries where we buy plants. Tony Avent, founder of Plant Delights, is one our country’s most respected nurserymen and I put a lot of faith in his catalog listings.

For those who want to see if they can catch a Christmas rose in bloom, Tower Hill Botanic Garden (www.towerhillbg.org), home of the Worcester Horticultural Society, is open Tuesdays through Sundays right through the winter from 10 to 5 PM except for Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Tower Hill is a wonderful resource even when we can’t visit.  Every Wednesday from 2-4 PM you can call 508-869-6110, extension 110 to ask questions about plants and gardening. 

With the arrival of the holidays you might want to consider giving a gift membership to the Worcester County Horticultural Society. The cost is $55 for an individual and $70 for a family, providing a newsletter, discounts on programs, in the gift shop and at their plant sales, as well as unlimited free visits to see the hellebores, daffodil hill, wild garden, apple orchard and many other garden delights.   

November 28, 2008

 

           

 

 

Holiday Cactus

Thanksgiving cactus

Thanksgiving cactus

 

 

 

            Flowers are a part  of the festive holiday decorations.  Some are even named for the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus bloom in shades of white, pink and red all through the holidays. They are hardy plants needing very little care, but it is important to remember that even though we call them cactus, they are not desert plants.

Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus are actually a part of the Schlumbergera family, natives of moist tropical forests. They are succulents but need to be watered from spring until fall. Let them dry out between waterings.

Neither do these cactus need direct sun.  In the tropical forest they would be shaded. The ideal location indoors is a cool room with bright indirect light..

I put my plants outside for the summer. They get plenty of water and filtered light on our piazza. I don’t bring them in until mid-September or when I start to fear a frost. Cool autumnal temperatures cause them to set flower buds even if they don’t get 12 or more hours of dark at night which is the usual advice.

When I bring them in I keep them in unheated bright rooms that are not much used, and therefore dark when the sun goes down.  This regime brings them into bud at exactly the right season.

My red Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata,  also called the crab cactus because of the sharper toothed stem segments, is well budded right now. My Christmas cactus, S. bridgesii, has smooth rounded leaf segments and a deep pink flower. It has set tiny buds that will bloom after the Thanksgiving cactus.

There is also an Easter cactus that looks similar but it is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri and blooms in the spring. It may produce flowers at the joints of stem segments as well as at the stem ends.  Its cultural requirements are also pretty much the same.

Once the buds have set, the biggest threat to blooming is temperatures that go above 70 degrees, causing the buds or flowers to drop.

All these plants can be repotted in the spring after they have bloomed. A good soil mix should include 1 part potting mix, 1 part perlite and 2 parts peat moss. Some people have good success using an African violet potting mix.

Stem cuttings can be rooted anytime except when the plants are blooming. I’ve had new plants take root when I haven’t noticed that a stem segment has broken off and fallen into the pot; this plant is among the easiest to propagate .

There is something very satisfying for the indoor gardener to have a large Schlumbergera with its arching branches and brilliant flowers with so little effort.

Even though it does not bloom during the winter holidays, I’m going to mention the orchid cactus, or epiphyllum. This is a magnificent plant, much larger than the other plants I have discussed here. The heavier fleshier stem can be three feet or longer, but can be controlled by judicious pruning.  Mine has bloomed sporadically at different times. I just recently had a few blossoms, but mostly it blooms out on the piazza in the summer.

The orchid cactus is also a native of the tropical jungle and has all the same requirements as the other tropical cactus..

 Last week I wrote about forcing hardy bulbs, and a reader asked me how to force amaryllis. Amaryllis bulbs are sold around this time of year, already conditioned, in order to bloom in big glamorous glory during the holidays. Each bulb will produce two or three, or even four gorgeous trumpet shaped blooms.

Amaryllis are more expensive than hardy bulbs, but they can be successfully carried over to bloom again indoors.

The bulb is large, and it is good to choose a firm good sized bulb, if you have that choice.  Many garden centers sell the bulbs with a pot that is all ready to go.  Even though the bulb is large, it should be given a pot that is only a little larger than the bulb, allowing about a half inch all around. Amaryllis like being potbound.

Potting soil for amaryllis should include some compost and perlite.

Fill your pot about half to three quarters full of your potting mix, set in the bulb and add more mix, firming it well, but leave the upper half  or third of the bulb exposed.  Watering will help settle the potting mix, and you may find you need to add a little more.

Amaryllis like to be warm (70 to 75 degrees) in a sunny location with at least four hours of direct sun a day. When it is in bloom a slightly cooler location will help the flowers last longer

Depending on the variety, the bud will present itself first.  Whenever the bud appears make sure to keep rotating the pot so that the flower stalk will not lean towards the light.  Amaryllis flower stalks are strong and no staking is needed.

During this growth and blooming period amaryllis should be watered  well, as soon as they are dry, and fertilized every two weeks.

After blooming the flower stalk should be cut off near the top of the bulb.  As with all bulbs the foliage should be left to gather new strength in the sun, because they can bloom again after a period of dormancy.  I’ll revisit this after Christmas. 

November 15, 2008

          

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

All through October the town of Salem, Massachusetts is awash in witches. They are all dressed in black with pointy hats and try to look as forbidding and dangerously magical as possible.

Though the word witch has assumed the dark cloak of evil, there are white witches as well, and witches’ gardens could as easily have included healing herbs as well as herbs that are a little more problematical. Of course, as with so much in life, how a plant, or anything else, is used will determine whether it is good or evil.

The mandrake plant isn’t common is many gardens these days, but throughout history it has been considered not only an aphrodisiac, but an aid to fertility. Another important use was as a soporific and to deaden pain on the battlefield. Legend has it that Hannibal somehow managed to get his African enemies to drink it. When they fell asleep his own army swept down and killed them all. He could have used the mandrake differently, to similar effect. He could have had his army wear it, become invisible, and then sweep down to confuse and kill.

Comfrey is another vulnerary, an herb used to treat battle wounds. Or to treat any wound, hence its common name of knitbane. Its usefullness comes from the allantoin in its leaves which can be laid on a wound or beaten till pulpy and used as a poultice. It can also be eaten, preferably when the leaves are young, which is when livestock will also appreciate it. I know my chickens do, although I feed it to them first while they are really hungry. It is rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus as well as vitamins A and C.

Achillea, yarrow, named after the warrior Achilles is also known for its alleged ability to stop bleeding. Witches use it as well, for divination purposes, and was probably one of the herbs that Macbeth’s witches used.

Coltsfoot which grows along our roadsides looking like dandelions, long before the dandelions bloom is known as a cough dispeller. A decoction mixed with a little honey is good for coughs. And one may very well have a cough and cold in the very early spring when the flowers first appear.

Lots of herbs get used for coughs. One recipe includes several, horehound, hyssop, licorice root and marshmallow root.

If you are feeling low and not hungry, some mint will help because it is reputed to make you desire meat. I wonder how that fits in with mint sauce and mint jelly which are often served with lamb?

Garlic is an herb with so many uses and virtues that it is hard to list them all. It is antiseptic, and has been used to remedy rheumatism, intestinal worms, lost virility, and used as a diuretic and laxative. It was so useful that during the Renaissance it was called a heal-all.

There are magic trees, as well as magic herbs. The rowan tree is one of the most famous. It was often planted in cemetaries to protect the dead. From witches? And its wood is considered the best for dowsers.

Deadly nightshade, and datura are plants associated with witches on broomsticks, but it should be noted that these herbs, and certain others, are hallucinogenic. A dose or two and you might feel you were flying through the night sky.

Fortunately in this world, where there are dangers there are remedies. If we gardeners grow rue in our gardens, this Herb of Grace will keep us safe from all witches and evil.

Recently I found a website with lots of herbal and magical information, as well as scholarly links.