A Witch’s Garden Spring 2012

I’ve been gardening every year since the eighties, but this has got to be the best garden I’ve ever had. Everything is coming up so vigorously and lushly. These are generally perennials, plants that spend the winter below ground, holding themselves back until the days start getting longer. I’ve always done better with perennials than any other type of plants (my annuals sometimes are pretty lame). I figured I was just sympatico with that type of growth pattern–grow for a season, then withdraw into the Underworld, engage in a different kind of existence there, and then come back up when the sun returns. Makes total sense to me as a lifestyle, lol! This year, though, I am really astounded by the amount of growth the perennials are putting on.

For instance, I planted some raspberries against the fence towards the back of the lot when I first moved in here in 2007. They’ve always been spindly because I put them in a place that gets less and less sun every year on account of the Norway maples that have sprouted up all over. But this year they have tons of canes and flowers all over the place. What’s more, berries that I picked from them in the past couple of years and then tossed into the garden elsewhere because they weren’t ripe enough (or perhaps the squirrels planted them) have turned into HUGE raspberry plants. I wasn’t quite sure what they were the first year. Last year I suspected they were raspberries or some kind of native berry I wasn’t familiar with. But this year, all doubt is removed as they have put on large white flowers against good sized raspberry leaves. I am very much looking forward to tasting these berries! And I am encouraging these bushes, because they seem to make the plants around them happy too.

Each year, the columbines come back nicely but the black hollyhock struggles up and promptly gets a fungal infection and looks sick for the rest of the year, feebly putting up a couple of pathetic, diseased stalks with rumpled flowers. This year it is fat and the leaves are very large and so far healthy looking. A serviceberry that I planted in 2007 and that promptly died (I thought) has reappeared and looks healthy. The variegated Solomon’s seal that last year looked pretty feeble is hearty and even made flowers this year. The lemon balm, which all but disappeared last year, is back and it is BIG. I am really happy because I want to tincture it to make Carmelite water. And the golden oregano is quite large and has spread significantly. Even the hyssop is not flopped over, as it usually is, but is standing tall and healthy.

A good example of the kind of luck I’ve been having this year is a pot that contained some sort of plant with interesting leaves that although withered, made it through the winter on the patio. I wasn’t sure what it was. I thought it might be a primrose. So I cleaned the weeds out of the pot this spring and gave it some water. Well, it’s a white foxglove that I planted last year. This to me is really wonderful, as I love foxgloves but haven’t been having a lot of luck with them lately. They grew great for me when I lived in Horseheads, but since coming to Elmira, zip. I did start a ton of white foxgloves this year, and the seedlings are doing well. I also started Digitalis parviflora and Digitalis obscura for what I promised myself would be the last year, as I have had no luck growing them from seed after 3 tries. I did get them from a different supplier this year, and holy cats, they have sprouted with a vengence! I am really looking forward to seeing the flowers on these next year. They will go to line the front walk with their white brothers.

Another good example of rampant growth this year is the prairie rose (Rosa setigera) I started from seed back in 2005 or 2006. I moved three of them here in 2007, but only one survived in a pot. I planted that, and this spring it is over six feet tall and about 8 feet wide and is absolutely covered with buds. I expect to finally be able to make some rose petal wine this year. I am always awed and humbled by what can grow from a small seed. This is a BIG plant. And I can see that animals like it too–there’s a sort of little burrow in the side of the mass of stems from perhaps a chipmunk.

Valerian is already blooming, tall as I am, and the white flowers are so rich smelling. Angelicas have come back very well, and even a chervil that I thought was a dead has come back. These are such dainty and beautiful plants. Scullcap, however, looks a bit overwhelmed.

Mugworts are taking over the world in the artemisia patch, although the one holdout is the wormwood, which looks like this might be its last year. I will have to start more. This has been a huge plant in the past, but I have also harvested tons from it, perhaps overdoing it. Yarrow, feverfew, and tansy, both gold-leaf and regular, are also very hearty this year, and surprisingly even the lavenders, some of which have been engulfed by the mugwort, are blooming. The one thing that has disappeared this year is the Roman wormwood. They seemed unable to produce seed here and so were sort of just a novelty in my garden.

The orange horned poppy variety that I grew from seeds last year is making seedpods, and so is the double-flowered greater celandine. I hope I will have a lot of seeds from that. This is such a pretty plant and grows wonderfully in shade. I first got to know this plant when I first moved to Horseheads from Florida and it was the only thing that would grow in the dry, dense shade of an enormous Norway spruce. This plant has double flowers, so it is especially cheerful. A plant I bought last year that did not do very well, variegated woody nightshade, has thrown a sport–a branch on the mother plant that has different characteristics than the rest of the plant. The variegation is due to a virus, and it looks it, but this sport has leaves of pure butter yellow–and they are healthy. So another unexpected favor. I hope I will be successful in creating new plants from this sport. They would look great growing through the yews like their wild cousins do–the yellow leaves would really show up well.

Every year I buy some fruiting shrubs, but I have not had a lot of luck with them. It seemed that each year half of the new ones would not make it and half of the ones who lived just looked unhappy. This year I tried a different supplier, Nourse Farms, and wow! The elderberries are really vigorous. I put them in pots because the last ones I tried to grow were so feeble. I think I will be able to put them in the ground shortly. This evening I found just the spot for them. I also bought five blackberry plants of a thornless, upright variety that went against my back fence. They arrived as tiny stick but have made a bunch of leaves already. The currants and gooseberries I got from them are doing better than some of the currants and gooseberries I bought two years ago. The shallots that I got from Fedco Seeds and put in the ground early this spring are growing well also. I am looking forward to major pickling of shallots in my giardiniera pickles this fall.

And that does not even cover the usual suspects, like the clary sages, the nettles, the self-heal, the spearmint!!!. Only two of the vervains have come back; they might not like being crowded by the mint. I intended to start more this spring but ran out of seeds. The other thing that has come back in a healthy way is the belladonna. I have had such problems getting these to overwinter in this lot. When I lived outside of town, they did great on the east wall of the house. Here they have just up and died over each winter. But this time they made it through, perhaps because I very carefully mulched them and marked them with sticks so I wouldn’t accidentally pull them up in spring. I didn’t have much hope for them, but it was so great to see them peeping out of the mulch this spring. I hope I will get my own seeds from them this fall and a modest amount of herb to sell. I am so tired of trying to find this herb in good quality out there “in commerce,” as they say.

I have lots more seedlings to put into the ground–henbane, more belladonna, foxgloves, woad, weld, rue, clary sage, and more. The only thing that did not come up is the mandrake, because I left them to soak for 5 weeks (forgot about them). That’s okay–better luck this fall with them.

The one thing I am still experimenting with is Black Toad (Solanum nigrum, black nightshade), and that I am going to try once more for not only berries but edible leaves. I will post about my experiences. What I really want to do this year is make wine from it, if I can get enough berries. I think I might be able to do that, since I have 25+ seedlings already and they are the only thing that is going in the shade patch this year, along with dedicated soaker hoses, mulch, added fertilizer in the form of soy meal, the whole nine yards.

At any rate, I look at my exuberant garden this year, and I wonder if the reason why it is coming up so well is because it knows that I have come into my own as a witch. I really feel my connection to it is much stronger than it has ever been in the past. I have always loved gardening, but it definitely involves a lot of trial and error and plenty of plant massacres. This year, besides experiencing a qualitative leap in my magical acumen, as far as I am concerned, I also very deliberately started far fewer plants than I normally do so that I would not end up neglecting anything and could even coddle lots of plants. I decided that I would not much bother with the veggies I usually grow, because my lot is just so shady and because it is so much work for not much return in the conditions I have–not only shade but many tree roots, which really suck up the moisture and fertilizer. I feel like already I have been greatly rewarded. Less really is more. It looks like it’s going to be a real interesting summer in the garden!

I wonder if other folks have had the experience of a jump in magical abilities coinciding with a greater productiveness in your plants (or your animals).

10 comments to A Witch’s Garden Spring 2012

  • FaustianBargain

    Yes..there is something about this year. I think the earth is going to reclaim its power(I also think that there is going to be a change and a lot of animals are going to become extinct or endangered …in other words..they are going to disappear from the this world we perceive…because we have failed in our compassion to them and each other..but that’s another story..I won’t digress)…anyways…this is how feel. That the earth is going to give us another chance to make things right. A new cycle..a chance for everyone to be take care of themselves first..our food independence will become paramount. And then our freedom from big pharma..which means medicinal plants will begin to show themselves again. And finally..well..you’ll see. Just my 2c.

    P.S. you got mail! Check your inbox!

  • FaustianBargain

    Forgot to add…I got rue, soapwort, cinquefoil, st.jphns wort, mullein and comfrey coming back. And elderberries..but would that be considered medicinal? I want to start more fox gloves this year. I think I have about eight or nine in full bloom now, but they are scattered and all over the place. I want to grow them in a neat and pretty way. Hollyhocks are being fuzzy. My ayurvedic plants except gotu kala didn’t make it. They are not speaking to me this year…and it’s ok. Still friends and all that. But the year, my intentions are set elsewhere…:)

    • Alchemist in Charge

      Hi, faustian,
      Lemon balm is definitely a weed in my garden and that’s just the way I want it too. It pops up and fills spaces, sort of like the ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), but I like the lemon balm’s smell better. It’s not anywhere near as bad as the wild lettuce, which despite me carefully harvesting as many seeds as I could last year seeded itself all over the place. I think I am going to have to bag a couple of the tops this year and pull the rest. I’ve already pulled a lot.

      I think you are right about food and medicinal plants. I’ve been working on this for a while, but not too successfully in the food department, since I kept going at it from the perspective of someone who has a sunny lot with no trees. So in the past couple years I have been trying to go with the flow of my shady, treed yard by putting in the currants, gooseberries, and elderberries (which are indeed medicinal but also made a great wine and jelly). I just put those in the ground. I haven’t done well with strawberries at all, since I planted them in an area surrounded by tree roots and with insufficient sun. In fact this year I just mowed over them, ceding that plot back to the yard, but they came back anyhow and are flowering. Go figure. I might get a few berries off them to eat while I weed elsewhere. I have been bribing the squirrels with black sunflower seed for years, and except for the first crop of raspberries (and I am not positive it was squirrels–could have been the kid next door)–and some mandrakes, they have generally left my garden alone. In contrast, they regularly devastate Old Man Sevin’s garden next door (just yesterday he was showing me a bottle of poison he wanted to spread on his plot because one leaf had fallen off a pepper plant, yikes). I’m hoping in a few more years I will be getting enough fruit out of my yard to take care of a good chunk of fruit needs. I’m still debating about getting blueberries, which I love, but I don’t think I would be willing to net them. Another one I’ve been turning over is a hazelnut hedge. I have a useless, work-producing privet hedge on one side now that does nothing but require pruning. Birds and squirrels won’t eat the fruits. Flowers are nectar-robbed by mason bees, but this year there are few of those. They smell sweet, but this is just not a shrub I want, so I am calculating to cut it all down and replace it with something me, the squirrels, and the birds will enjoy more. Maybe a hedge of native shrubs with berries. Anyway, sounds like your garden is being enormously productive. I am envious!

  • faustianbargain

    i would like to plant currants. my gooseberry is pretty much dead, i think. its all very sad and depressing. my neighbour couldnt wait to get rid of their blackberries and raspberries. the bramble can take over. i am hoping it will in my backyard..as its by the fence and i wouldnt mind bushels of berries at all!..lol

    squirrels and birds do behave if you ask them to play nice! i have taken to feeding the crows cat food and hazelnuts in shell for the squirrels. i got a 25 lb bag of raw hazelnut in shell free from a friend who has a farm. he gave it to me because i am a chef. i hope he doesnt learn that i give it to my squirrel friends! i heard that squirrels eat acorns more than peanut or corn as that’s their natural food in the wild. and hazelnut is the closest to acorns. beatrix potter said that there would be no oak forests if squirrels didnt do us the favour of forgetting where they buried their acorns..:) (50% of the time, if you are wondering!) i got a long ways to go before its empty..but wondering how much hazelnuts cost in bulk. but i will deal with that when the time comes. anyways..one of the squirrels was losing her tail..i think it was from the peanuts in shell i was feeding them. its better now..also the skin disease she seemed to be having has improved..i put some calendula homeopathic drops with the sunflower seeds. but it could be a shedding/seasonal thing. dont know for sure. but important thing is that her coat is better now. moreover, the crows were also picking the peanuts they were burying in the beds. now, i set aside exactly 6 hazelnuts and some kind of fruit thats past its prime. and sunflower seeds thrice a week. they really enjoy gnawing on the shell to get to the nut meat inside.

    another awesome use for hazelnut tree is that truffles can grow under them..closest to oaks, remember?

    anyways..back to the crows..one of them has been bringing me snake heads and dipping bloody raw meat in the bird bath. freaked me out. one of the pair has been missing..so i guessed that there were baby crows or crow eggs somewhere nearby in a nest. i was surprised because i didnt think crows could hunt or kill..they are scavengers, not hunters. and then it stuck me…the crows were probably ‘borrowing’ from the nests of the raptors in the area…its their breeding season too. that is just a guess. what do you think? anyways..it was a pretty cool snake head! i also spotted a couple of cowbirds in the front yard by the feeder. new this year. they lay their eggs in crows’ nests and letting them do all the work. so i guess papa crow is doing overtime looking for food.

    i have a privet too… by the side..i see that it has uses..for one thing, it is a privacy thing for the utility meter. secondly, we have had birds nest in it for at least two consecutive years! for this reason, i am loathe to cut down any medium to largish tree or shrub. last year, we found a robin’s nest in our neighbour’s wisteria that was taking over the fence.

    this year, i am spending a lot of time at the communal garden for the ecology non profit i am part of..people are interested..but most, only to look and make useless/unsolicited/unhelpful comments. noone wants to get their hands dirty and actually work on the ground. that baffles me. its not a social club..its about gardening and ecology and food! others want to have fund raisers and parties at the local winery to raise money. and the local winery, btw, is not even in our town. i rolled my eyes and went back to planting. oh well..

    i have a good feeling about this year. not just plants, but also about animals and their welfare. some animals might disappear…but its not a bad thing, you know.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      You’re lucky birds are using your privet hedge. They have never used mine for anything except to sit in when Old Man Sevin has thrown a pile of millet on the ground. For a while he was attracting pigeons this way, but they year they haven’t been around, thank the gods. They are voracious and had started to invade my garden. A robin began to build a nest in his ladder leaning against his garage right near the privet but disdained the privet itself. Plus Old Man Sevin can’t leave it alone and has to try to carve it into shapes on his side, so then it looks like crap. I have been thinking about cutting it down since I moved in here, but I know it would be a big job and I’m not sure what to replace it with. It does provide privacy, but it also blocks all the western sun on about 1/3 of the backyard. The last thing I need is more shade back there. I was thinking of replacing it with a wire fence against which I could grow berries of some kind. The fence would help Old Man Sevin and his children resist doing any trimming or pruning or leaf-blowing underneath it with their endless loud machines. It is like the 1950s over there in terms of pesticides, synthetic ferts, and machines. A hazelnut hedge would likewise block the sun, but at least it would provide some nuts. I have heard that squirrels love hazenuts and if you don’t protect your hedge, they will take them all, so I don’t know. I would love to have room for a white oak, not only for the squirrels but because it has so many magical associations and I like the leaf shape. But I already have a silver maple and a tulip tree, both of which are quite bit, so there is really no room for anything else–or if I did that, the whole back yard would be understory. I did decide I would concentrate on perennials last year on account of the conditions I have back there. In the front there is sun. I have grown a bunch of stuff to put up there this year. Outside of the Cornelian cherries I started last year, which came back fabulously and even flowered on their small selves, the rest are things I want for seeds, like the foxgloves, rue, woad, weld, wild white petunias, and so forth. I’ve been thinking of putting a hedge of roses that produce hips along the side with the neighbors. I’ve thought of trying to grow one of the hardy almonds, but I have not had the best luck with fruit trees, so I am sticking to shrubs for now. I am very tempted to cut down the yews that have grown quite scruffy and large–foundation plantings. Here again people have to carve them into shapes, which is fine if you like to waste your time doing that, but I do not. So they have become gigantic–one is up to the roof. They do block the hot sun and winter wind, but algae is now growing behind them on the house, which I don’t think is good. I would love to replace them with roses. The squirrels do love the berries on the yews, though. Every fall the bushes are rustling with squirrels harvesting them and driving the cats nuts. So the yews stay for now, because I do love having the squirrels around. They are quite fat. They must love you for giving them hazelnuts.

  • FaustianBargain

    You have a lot of trees..your lot must be huge! I see what you mean by the shade inhibiting growth of a garden…your front yard is being wasted..do you think you can put half wine barrels there instead of raised beds or maybe even grow dwarf fruit trees in it? My citrus and figs are in containers still…i like berries, fruits and greens…I will happily skip most of the other vegetables…maybe grow shallots and garlic too….you can grow carrots underground and lettuce or greens together…etc..makes good use of space. Your old man sevin sounds like a great character for a book you really should start writing…:)

  • Alchemist in Charge

    I thought of my yard as just basic city lot size until I actually began to compare it with those of other houses in cities. It’s 10K square feet, which is pretty good size. It has two problems–it is narrow, so there is not any buffer between my house and those on either side, which makes for a lot of noise, and the back, which is the huge majority, is almost completely shaded and heavily covered with tree roots in places. When I moved in, there were half-dead lilacs lining one side of the back, the silver maple and the tulip tree, which are mature trees, a giant serviceberry that I never get any fruit from because it’s too tall, the privet hedge, and an arborvitae that they ripped out because they had to do some work on a retaining wall. Norway maples have since grown up all around the back end and the side with the lilacs. They are pretty tall now. People hate them, but I don’t mind them, because the squirrels do eat the seeds after they rot a bit. The silver maple is a wonderful tree–I often go out and sit next to it at night, and the squirrels hang out there all the time–but its roots are on the surface, and I found out if I mulch over them or try to add raised beds, the roots would grow right up through them within 2 years, so that’s no good. I had thought of putting large pots around some of them for growing root veggies, since it’s really difficult to grow them in this very rooty, rocky ground. I do have some good stretches of shade that don’t have too many roots after I dug out a lot of them. I put the elderberries in one of those and will be putting black nightshade in there as well, but I will still have room left over in that plot. I have one little sunny strip at the side beyond the privet hedge, and that is almost all filled with mugwort, yarrow, tansy, feverfew, lavender, southernwood, and wormwood, and I will be adding henbane this year. There were peonies there, but I ripped them out because I do not care for them. A flower without a good smell is just not much of a flower to my mind, and they were blocking the sun.

    The front is small, about the size of the house itself, which is a tiny Cape Cod. In front I have some dead yews and two large live ones. The Cornelian cherries I planted last year are in the middle of each half of the front. There are wires coming in from both sides that I have to avoid, so anything else I put up there has to be smaller than the Cornelian cherries. That’s why I’ve thought of roses and the perennials I have planned to line the edges. I would love to fill up that whole space with herbs so I would never have to mow that again. I could squeeze a lot in there, but I know my landlady wants lawn. So I can’t colonize my sunny spot as much as I would like.

    I also have rows of large pots against the west wall of the house on the driveway and along the west side of the carport. This is where I can grow tomatoes and peppers and eggplants, although this year I have only tomatoes planned for there and haven’t even emptied those pots of weeds yet. That’s a good place for things that like it warm, so I will put my dittany of Crete plants there eventually. Maybe I will put some beans in those pots and have them grow up on teepees, since that is the only bean-worthy area I have anymore. I love to eat pole beans right off the vine.

    I did have a plum tree for a year, but it dropped dead. It was in a large pot in back. I thought about getting a Stanley plum for back there, since it could take shade, but then I was really unimpressed with the plum wine I made and in contrast loved the blackberry wine I made, so I chose to put five plants of a new variety of upright, thornless blackberry in that spot instead. That’s working real well so far. I like that I will be able to take cuttings off all the berries of various sorts plus the Cornelian cherries when I move eventually.

    Right now I have red, pink, white, and black currants, black raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, and a serviceberry as perennial food sources. I can propagate all of them to make more plants, plus I am growing annual ground cherries, black cherry tomatoes, and black nightshade, so I figure I have the fruits mostly covered, although I might still add some strawberries in my remaining semi-sunny spot in back. I need to work on leafy perennials next and perhaps mushrooms for the plot of very deep shade that is at the far end of the lot near the blackberries. Have you grown mushrooms? I would love to have a couple mushroom patches and not have to pay the exorbitant prices for organic shrooms. Plus have a little more variety.

  • faustianbargain

    sounds like my lot..only my front yard is bigger and most of my backyard is shaded by eucalyptus that was planted by the city and the side yard is shaded by our neighbour’s pine. i asked them to trim the branches that was causing damage to our roots and they decided to cut it down. i feel guilty now. altho’..i guess i will get more sun. meanwhile the tree cutting people have left ladders and rope on the tree and have disappeared! *headache*

    anyways…i cant do anything about the eucalyptus because its planted by the city even though its inside our fence..moreover..its a downward slope and about 2000 ft of the lot lies between a busy main road and a second fence. so yea..that sucks. nothing really grows under the eucalyptus..but i keep trying.

    my solution was raised beds..but the owner who lived here before us threw rock all over..just cleaning it and moving it was such a huge expense..i cant even haul it out as its heavy! noone would take it off the garden..even for free..so i clear small raised bed sized spaces as and when i can. my lawn got a lot of sun..so i ripped it out. unfortunately, cant grow a lot of food there because its the birds and squirrels’ playground..plus the slugs and snails..altho’ lately, they have been playing nice by keeping to the brugmansia and nausturtium nooks.they just seem to like it there!

    i love your berry collection. i am inspired to plant more berries..maybe next year when i can buy bareroots. i havent grown mushrooms..but i believe its super easy. there are all kinds of kits available that sell the plugs and super easy instructions. you stick the plugs under a suitable tree or into a felled log…we now have mushroom kits using coffee ground. its all the rage here. even our local home depot is selling the organic coffee ground mushroom kits. unfortunately, i cant get it because i am not sure i can handle coffee grounds or eat whats grown in them due to its interference with my homeopathic remedies. i think half wine barrels are the answer..i found that drilling holes on the sides as well as the bottom is effective.

    mint and lemon balm in your front lawn will take over the space…also clover even though its seasonal..plant thyme, culinary sage and lavender in drifts..it will be so pretty!! its all edible too. and you can sneak in dandelions too..i would love to have a tiny lawn space full of dandelions..:)

  • faustianbargain

    and they are all mostly drought tolerant too! strawberries might like it there. and sunflowers. there are other ‘weed’ like plants like borage..:)

  • PinesgirtlinVT

    Wow! Even up here in Northern Vermont the earth is regenerating! My garden is sooooo lush!

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