The buffet is opened: Today came to visit the first bees! Still a bit slow and clumsy from the cold, but so nice to see them back in our garden!
Earlier this week, I went to my old childhood playground and gathered willow catkins. My mom dug out these old painted wooden Easter eggs and little beetles. In 2 weeks I will be moving. It is hard for me to imagine, but something in me is determined to discover and live in a new place.
Today winter returned once more. The temps went below zero again, but this time the cold was accompanied by snowfall, covering the garden in white. A field fare (Turdus pilaris) – first time for me to see this bird – spends the late winter here, thriving on rose hips and left over fruits. Snowdrops are living up to their name and a spiderweb swaying in the wind, portentously catches snowflakes… the time for winter’s magic isn’t over just yet.
After several weeks of drought and freezing cold, low “Wiebke” first brought rain and then snow, which lasted for a day and brought much needed precipitation. Within a few hours the white blanket was gone again and spring took over the next day. Winter slumber is definitely over! Alas, most early flowering plants had already blossomed at the end of an unusually warm January, and where then surprised by the Siberian cold that lasted throughout the month of February. In the end I ran around the garden with a watering can, carrying and pouring gallons of water from the rain barrel in our basement. Meanwhile we missed to empty the second rain barrel left outdoors and of course it burst when the water in it froze completely. To do: buy new rain barrel!
Now, there is still a bit of work to do with preparing the garden. And god, I am going to miss this view…
Meanwhile, I have been dedicating time almost every day to processing last year’s herb harvest, sorting seeds and also began filling the next seed boxes! As of yet, I am done with about 1/3 of the contents. This year I am not doing it all at once, but little by little, working on the boxes parallel with other creations.
I plan to finish processing and packing up all the remaining herbs, seeds and wood until the end of the month. Hence my quietude here. I will be back with news and updates later in April. So long, I am already wishing you a blessed spring equinox and much joy with your own gardening endeavors!
My ritual for the summer solstice took place on Wednesday morning, at 6:24 am, the time of the astronomical beginning of the summer. As the sun rose, opened also the first poppies, as if they had an inner clock set. Together with the singing of birds and buzzing of early bees frequenting the poppy flowers, I greeted the arrival of the hot season. With the smoke of the incense composed for this occasion, I blessed the new herb patches. A common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) that I had already seen a couple of times in the garden, came really close now as if to inspect my doing.
I spent the rest of the day planting henbanes and datura into the newly made bed. The following days I harvested different herbs and roots during auspicious hours, and dug up more ground to open up even more space for the herb patches, which by now feels much like a never-ending project. I was often working until dusk, but I would be in magical company…
Since the summer solstice there are little fireflies dancing around our garden at dusk. Their literal heyday happens to fall between the summer solstice and Eve of St. John (24th of June), which is why they are also known as “Johanniswürmchen” in German. It is the night, when the males can bee seen “dancing” in the air in search for a female. The male fireflies are now in their last incarnation, during which they only drink water and sustain themselves from reserves gathered during previous chrysalis stages. The females in turn are not able to fly and thus attract the males by emitting light. From this may stem the English name “glow worms”. There are many different light emitting bugs to be found all across the world. But in my location the males of Lamprohiza splendidula are the only males also capable of emitting light. The males of other firefly species in my area do not emit any light. Hence it is 100% the males of Lamprohiza splendidula when seeing fireflies dancing in the air where I live. When the males have spotted a partner they descend vertically unto the female for copulation and die shortly after. I guess that’s what you call “getting laid”! Now, before you accuse me of disturbing them in their most intimate moment; I found them on our basement steps and first did not realize that it was two mating fireflies. I wanted to secure it but also was curious which species it had here and hence took this photo and then relocated the pair to a nearby flower patch. Hoping for a new and larger generation of fireflies to frequent our garden soon!
The garden month of June
When the moon is waning, early in the morning, at the dawn of the Day of Saturn, encircle with an iron tool three times the black hellebore’s root, dig it up protecting your hands, cut it in two, keep the larger half and put the smaller one back into the soil.
When the moon is dark, in the middle of the night of Venus and hour of Saturn, light two beeswax candles, one to the left and one to the right of the Valerian. Carefully remove some parts from the roots, which are spreading into all directions. Save a few cuttings for planting new patches of Valerian and keep the rest for drying.
I have been growing rue in pots for years, always moving it indoors during the cold season. Now was the first time I planted one outdoors. And it gave a sorry sight after the long winter… All the more excited am I to see this very same rue plant flowering and prospering! This little bumblebee joined me.
The annual buzz concerto has returned – bumblebees of all size and couleur are busy frequenting the lush flowers of the white and purple flowering foxgloves. As they enter the flower their buzzing sound is amplified.
I recently read somewhere that monkshood and foxglove would not get along beside each other. I cannot confirm this…
Perfect match: the flowers of blue monkshood are adopted to the physiognomy of bumblebees, the only insects able to enter the flowers…
This month came also – finally – some rain showers. Though compared to the rest of Germany and previous years, we really had the lowest amount of rain in a long time. I remember our drenched meadow from previous years, June would always be rainy. Not so this year. There were a few short thunderstorms, and relatively soft rains, with maybe 1 exception. In the face of a near blackened sky I spent one afternoon making the garden save for the announced storm, one could hear rolling thunder in the distance… and in the distance it would stay. Our rain barrels ended up only half filled.
I had sown black, white and purple poppies as well as a mix of seeds. I was really surprised though about the many different colors and shapes. Basically no flower would be like the other: it’s having purple to red, purple to black, black to red, white, white to purple, filled, simple, fringed and all of these combined!
By surprise, these red corn poppies appeared in the patch were I had sown various poppy variants, which were sown in rows and accurately labeled, hehe. These must have been part of the seed mix gifted by one seller. I sure don’t mind…
The bees, bumblebees and other pollinators are frequenting the poppies every day, as also new flowers open daily. The foxgloves, Northern wolfsbane and henbane are nearly done flowering. So are the shrubs, except for roses. Lavender has yet to start. So the poppies, rue etc. are a welcome food source.
Hover flies mimicry the look of other, more dangerous insects to confuse predators. It seems to work also when in competition for newly opened flowers, such as this lovely dark colored poppy.
Remember the bee approaching a poppy flower above? Here is the same flower, now frequented by a large earth bumblebee. Despite its size it would not dare to access before the bee had left.
So much for them poppies. 10 days later and with the month ending, the last poppies are done flowering. In a few days from here the pods and seeds will be ripe for harvest. I will need them for my necrosophic incense of Qalmana as well as new qliphotic blends.
Preceding the summer solstice, I went to gather herbs for midsummer: mullein, viper’s bugloss, mugwort and yellow chamomile make up a lovely bouquet.
May is a tough month, both for me, as well as the green. Whilst April is still cool, bulbous spring plants are in bloom and other plants just begin sprouting fresh green, May sees the arrival of the first hot days and the green now grow and expand rapidly. It’s the first time during the year that I find myself running and watering daily. Seedlings have to be replanted and previously pricked out plants demand larger pots or have to be planted to the ground, least they wither. It’s an overall stressful period. And as I find myself plagued with pollen allergy the plants too start to suffer from various diseases: first and foremost aphids (which have been multiplying rapidly and in significantly larger amounts than in previous years), secondly black spot disease and mildew (plaguing my beloved Munstead Wood rose) and thirdly a fungus that causes leaves to crumble and roll up (this fungus infests fruit trees and is effecting our cherry tree heavily this year). So I am constantly on watch, removing aphids by hand and cutting off diseased leaves and twigs.
It’s also a month for harvest: paying attention to the moon’s phase, auspicious days and planetary hours, I dug up mandrake and greater celandine root and collected elder flowers. Further the seed capsules of the Hellebores can set free their load any day and I am of course eager to collect their seeds, especially those of the black flowering variants. Alas, ants also have an interest in the oil-rich and therefore nutritious seeds and quickly carry them away into the darkness of their underground abodes. I got serious competition… Did I mention it’s a stressful month as pertaining to the garden?
But there are also joyful moments, e.g. when the light of the evening sun shines through the flowering trees…
And yet there is more work to get done. My garden goals for this year include making a new flower bed beside our back porch. It’s a spot, where flowers will enjoy noon and afternoon sun during the summer. But before I can plant anything here, I first have to break up the old ground, which includes the removal of old tree roots as well as implementing a root barrier to the side of the hedge, mainly to keep the ground elder out. This part is done now. When finished with digging up the entire space and removing weed, I will blend the old soil with compost and humus-rich soil. The process thus far:
You see, it’s still a way to go for my future flower bed! But now some more impressions from the garden and recent herb harvest….
I spent this month mainly with work on the next row of wooden seed boxes, adding new herbs to the set and reading up on them. The central theme this time were summer herbs (with the summer solstice in mind), which are sown in spring or early summer, such as poppies, cornflower, chamomile, evening primrose, yarrow, viper’s bugloss etc. Then I paid attention to Harold Roth’s book “The Witching Herbs” (signed copies available here), and included seeds for the magical herbs discussed there. Besides these I added some endangered plants such as the wonderful centaury and plants that are in decline, such as the field larkspur. With wood betony and motherwort there are some new old, forgotten about healing herbs joining the series.
Another herb I was curious about (and I know that you are too), is the enchanter’s nightshade. It is quite inconspicuous in appearance, almost invisible between other herbs. It is not poisonous at all and in fact, much more beneficial than, what its name suggests. This makes for some very interesting treats for employing this herb in sympathetic magic…
Along with adding more new herbs I also updated the sowing tables and added info texts for each. Further, my attention was drawn to the Euphorbiaceae plant genus. Last year I had been pointed to the spurge as part of a Martial incense recipe. I started researching but could not pinpoint which type of spurge was meant. There are many plants in that genus, which is found in large diversity all around the globe. But which is the one most relevant in Western medieval / renaissance magic? By chance and when searching for spurge seeds, I came across a seller on eBay who just mentioned randomly that the caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris), with its impressive size, poisonous milky sap and auspicious shape, was the plant famously believed to break hexes and ward of witches from one’s home…. Well, here we go. It is now added to the selection of poisonous herbs coming with the boxes and I can’t wait to grow it myself.
What more? I finished and shipped the last of my “Poisoner’s” seed boxes. I will now overthink the concept and design for this one.
I also spent a lot of time in the garden, harvesting masterwort root, thinning and weeding out, pricking out seedlings and sowing more…
My shortage of henbane last winter led me to sow new henbane, which resulted eventually in hundreds of little plants of black, white and the rare Egyptian henbane! These have now been separated and planted in trays of 24 each + 1 mixed tray. The temperatures are still low and even though it did not actually freeze again, it is too cold for the small plants (the test tray doesn’t seem to like my outdoors experiment on the window sill). I am therefore keeping the trays with the white and the Egyptian henbane indoors, together with purple Indian datura and several moon vine plants. The tray with the black henbane seedlings stays in the unheated greenhouse.
Besides, l am now a lady with a barrow full of fragrant lily of the valley! 🌱🌱🌱 (Thanks to an unexpected gift from our neighbors, who are restructuring their garden.) I now have to prepare a spot for them to grow. Else, that barrow has now met its final destiny…
Herbs I plan to sow this and the following weekends:
blue hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ‘Caeruelus’)
caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris)*
centaury (Centaurium erythreae)
clary sage (Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica)
enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana)
evening primrose (Oenothera odorata ‘Sulfurea’)
honeywort (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’)
lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus)
poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus ‘Night and Day’)
st. john’s wort (Hypericum perforatum ‘Tauberthal’)
Since some years, just before Lenten, I am spending a little fortune on oriental hellebores. This year it had to be – among others – a filled purple-black variant. It is not as black as I had hoped, but still a lovely sight and very Gothic. The bees love it too, along with crocuses and other early spring flowers. Out of a heap of soil left out on the meadow from last year’s construction work grow little snowdrops. Looks like this one will have to stay. I am thinking ‘herb spiral’…
I have sown a couple of new plants, among others different species of henbane. I bought the seeds from a french seller on eBay, who shipped them at near speed of light and included gift seeds of Datura discolor. I have sown them beginning of March, without priming. The Hyoscyamus niger var. agrestis seeds germinated within a week. The seeds for the rare Egyptian henbane (Hyoscyamus muticus) germinated after 2 weeks, as can be seen in the following pictures. I am really satisfied with the results.
The first round was sown on the 4th of March. I prepared another tray two weeks later, with dream herb, sinicuichi and primed moon vine. Further I primed seeds of mandrake, morning glory, white henbane and datura, which were sown 25th of March.
Thus far only the Ipmoea alba germinated (it did so within 3 days after priming with 100% germination rate). But no sign of the daturas yet or the other herbs.
Now here are also the results from my 2016 winter solstice sowing:
The wormwood was the first that germinated, but now is going slow. The second photo shows what I hope to be a comfrey seedling. I would love to have it in the garden. Comfrey is easier to propagate via cuttings, but you know seed -> genetic diversity… The third photo is of different henbane seedlings. It will show which of the henbanes are annuals and which are biennials. I had sown a lot more but nothing happening thus far.
The garden awakens
From seed to root, from flower to fruit – impressions of the plants in the garden, which is just getting started…
The greater celandine has sown out itself in a circle and now forms an auspicious ‘fairy ring’. I am not sure yet, what to do with all of it. Tincture the entire circle? For the moment it just looks fancy.
The aconites return – thankfully. I had lost half of them last year due to root rot. (Partly my mistake.) I was wondering though, why other plants grown in that corner would fade as well. I had grown wormwood there earlier. Wormwood emits substances into the soil that keep other plants from growing in its proximity. Could it be that these are still in the soil and effecting other herbs? On the other hand it had a lot of rain and the ground was sopping. Aconite likes a moist ground but this may have been just too much.
The deadly nightshade now appears in places where I can’t remember to have planted it. Nice coincidence: on the above picture a single thin thread of spider web is attached to the plant, which is named after the Greek Atropos. (Atropos was one of the three fates and in charge of severing the thread of life.)
Last year I planted a small Aconitum hemsleyanum, which I had grown from seed and kept in the pot for too long. It was on the brink (pot left outdoors during ceaseless rain).
Far from tender is the masterwort. In the raised bed it found the perfect spot, ready to conquer all. I don’t mind, its root is a powerful magical and medicinal agent.
Closing this round, the lovely lovage is working its way through the ground elder. Lovage does not like competition. I will have to help here – which means, it will be another year trying to dig up and decimate the obnoxious ground elder.
New Seed Boxes
This month I also got to work on the next row of wooden seed boxes (numbers 31-36). I received such a wonderful feedback last time and more emails. I have been working on them non-stop for the past weeks and they are near completion. Emails will be sent out to those that reserved one and then it’s first come first serve… Meanwhile here are the last four sold and shipped earlier in March:
The fronds of the male fern fade during the winter time and leave behind a flaky root-stock, which grows bigger every year and turns black at the center, whereas new fern fronds sprout at the periphery. I like to think, as the years pass, the root begins to look like the scaly back of a dragon hiding beneath the earth, whereas the fronds form the dragon’s wings…
…and one may even spot the dragon’s head lurking in the soil.
The root has been used until recent times as an anthelminthic to expel tape worms. This is supposedly due to flavaspidic acid, a Phloroglucinol derivate, which is contained in the glandular hairs. The root stock and leaf stalks are deadly poisonous, especially in young plants. Overdosage may result in severe poisoning and death.
Banded grove snails (Cepaea nemoralis) overwintered between withered fern fronds. Snails and slugs are a gardener’s nightmare, though I’d like to think these banded snails are the “good ones” as opposed to the brown Spanish slug (which I myself battle by the means of sharp iron tools and worse).
However, not only gardeners of modern times are struggling in the fight against terrestrial molluscs, but also medieval knights went to battle the creatures in full armor, as a recent article at the Smithonian.com website elucidates utterly strange and still unexplained depictions in medieval manuscripts:
And as if that wouldn’t be enough, snails occur also as a metaphor for death and withering in the biblical Psalm 58:8
As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
Not enough? I strongly recommend you to check out the Hunting for Snails blog, for a plethora of wondrous examples of snails in medieval manuscript art and this collection by the British Library.
Documenting the garden all year round, the new garden diary. Photos, experiences and observations pertaining to the garden as an ecosystem throughout the seasons, the influence of weather, soil, sun, interactions of pollinators, birds and other animals, the work that needs to be done and whatever does not fit into the other categories. I hope to complete a full year circle with this diary, starting now, during the winter rest…
January 24, 2016: half of yesterday’s snow is already gone. Temps rose from -8 °C to + 8 °C over the weekend. The birds took advantage, searching for worms in the moist grass. According to my father, even bumblebees could be seen flying around.
Upon request, providing now photos and documentation of seedlings and young plants, as an aid for recognizing and distinguishing self-sown plants from other plants and weeds. Along with this, I also provide information and experiences pertaining to the germination of seeds and seed dormancy. Making the start are young rue plants, sown in 2015 and a mandrake germling, which popped today:
These rue plants were sown in 2015 and hardly developed in my unheated greenhouse. I took them indoors before the frost, first having them by the window in the basement and now on the window bench in my room. At last they are growing. Warmth and enough sun light are the essential thing with rue plants.
Living proof: sometimes seeds need to fall dry before they will germinate. I had not watered this tray for a while and let it nearly dry out. Then started watering again. That’s apparently what was required to break the slumber (dormancy) of this little Mandragora officinarum seed, which germinated yesterday. It was sown in the summer of 2015 and spent several months in the soil, where exposed to warmth and cold.