Thursday, 29 October 2015

Witch's Thimbles and a Witch's Garden

As it is approaching Halloween and I haven't done a lot of blogging recently (lots of things happening but not a lot blog worthy), I thought I would do a little post about Witch's Thimbles.

A curious name; Witch's Thimble is another name for the foxglove, or digitalis, with its tall spikes of bell-shaped flowers. A deadly poison, which if administered in high enough doses can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and death.

I introduced both white and pink foxgloves to the allotment when I first took on the plot and now they flower there profusely - seeding freely, scattered at will by the winds, adding an unexpected splash of colour to a dark corner and lining the boundary fences.

The stately spires of foxgloves make me think of hedgerows where they grow in the dappled shade; woodland glades; coastal walks where self-seeded wildflowers sway and dance in the breeze on either side of the path; or gorgeous old cottage gardens with foxgloves jostling amongst roses, hollyhocks, peonies and geraniums.

The garden at La Petite Maison combines all of these. 

Foxgloves blend amongst a plethora of herbs including fennel, rosemary, thyme, sage, artemisia, yarrow and lavender and intermingle with pink roses, peonies, verbena bonariensis, teasels, hollyhocks, clematis, poppies and the prolific little daises often found in old stone walls in Cornwall - Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane). In front of the hedge along the back of the garden, a black elder, a crab apple and a rowan tree arch their young branches above foxgloves and as they mature, these trees will provide the dappled shade that foxgloves thrive in.

The profusion of Witch's Thimbles and Devil's Nettle, Opium Poppies and Verbena growing both at the allotment and in the garden, might have led the folk in days gone by to declare that these were the gardens of a witch.

Red-flowered Nasturtiums

and Monarda border the edges of the allotment - keeping "witch hunters" away.

Marigolds (Calendula)

and Sunflowers planted around the plot keep other witches out.

Devil's Nettle or Yarrow

 is used by witches to make incantations and as poultices for wounds 

while the Opium poppies would be be used for sleep potions. (Remember the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz put Dorothy to sleep in a field of poppies?)

There is a Hawthorn hedge at the allotment and a Hawthorn tree in the garden.

Hawthorns are a symbol of protection and in the past most Witch's gardens contained at least one Hawthorn tree that as a guardian and protector of the entrances to the "Otherworld" protected the house against evil spirits.

It is important not to damage a Hawthorn tree lest the Guardian spirit becomes angered. I am concerned that Evie's terrible incident may have been a consequence of her recent decision to use the Hawthorn tree trunk as a scratching post, tearing the bark destructively with her claws!

I love to sit by the shed in summer 

and watch the fat Bumble Bees crawl deep into the bell-shaped flowers the foxglove

 and listen to their lazy drone as they feast drunkenly upon the nectar. 

It is not only the bees and butterflies that love the foxglove - Folklore says that Fairies too are quite fond of the flower. In Folklore, foxgloves are also called Our Lady's Glove, Folk's Glove, Lion's Mouth and Fairy Caps. Fairies are often depicted with a foxglove bell for a hat.

If a foxglove is bending, it is said that the flower is bending to receive the fairy.

One folklore tale of where the name foxglove originated was that fairies used to give the flowers of the foxglove to foxes to wear on their feet so they could sneak undetected into the chicken coops.

It is believed that if you want fairies to make a home in your garden, plant some foxgloves where you want them to live. 

It was also believed that taking foxglove allowed people to communicate with the fairies, (probably before something drastic happened to their heart - so don't try that at home!)

Although foxgloves were used to lure fairies, the opposite was supposed to be true - that they were effective in breaking fairy enchantment over humans.

In a witch's garden are plants with flowers from every birth sign, so that the right ingredients are at hand to cast spells on everyone. Foxgloves and snowdrops would be used to "hex" someone born under the sign of Aquarius.

I treat the foxgloves that self-seed around the garden and at the allotment with care, tenderly digging them up and replanting them should they have seeded in an inappropriate location. In the garden, gravel paths edged with granite cobbles are ideal for the foxgloves to seed into. and whilst I like the informal naturalistic way that they self-seed, Mr Long-Suffering prefers the paths to be neat and tidy, so I carefully lift the young seedlings - (it is said to be bad luck to destroy foxgloves) and move them to another location where they can grow happily and undisturbed.

Admittedly I cannot resist leaving a few young plants casually growing from between the cobbles and amongst the gravel under the bedroom window. Not for me the formal and meticulously tidy garden - untamed and semi-wild is much more to my liking!


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Le Jardin de La Petite Maison

The autumn equinox has been and gone. As usual I am running behind, although at last I actually feel as though I am catching up again and the To Do List is finally down to single figures. I am settling into life at La Petite Maison despite my impatience to have all the loose ends tied up.
A surprise late Indian Summer has enabled us to progress the garden. 

The roses are flourishing in the October sunshine.

(The Ingenious Mr Fairchild - a David Austin Rose that I stumbled upon by accident has the most gorgeous lilac pink peony like blooms, and is now one of my favourite roses in the garden).

A Red Admiral Butterfly 

soaks up the sun, while

Verbena and Bronze Fennel sway in the gentle breeze against a blue sky,

beside the blue/grey leaves and copper stems of Rosa Glauca and pink spires of Foxgloves.

My grand plan for “Le Jardin de la Petite Maison” is for a cottage / coastal garden where beautiful old roses combine with herbs, wildflowers and perennials; where tall flowers wave gently throughout, creating flow and movement amongst the splashes of colour as sumptuous, fragrant Roses and peonies melt amongst Bronze Fennel, Delphiniums, 

Foxgloves, Columbines, Rosemary, Nepeta and Lavender; and where Verbena Bonariensis, Scabious and Knautia Macedonia, appear to float and dance among the other plants. Randomly scattered plum coloured peony-flowered poppies will self-seed freely throughout the garden, adding to the informal and natural appearance.

Hollyhocks stand tall at the sides of the winding gravel paths; inspired by Charleston - home to The Bloomsbury Group.
So many projects have been ongoing that I have had to put my blogging diary to one side in order to concentrate on them to get them completed.

On the upper level of the garden is a seating area and small secluded "summer house", in front of which is a rectangular pool edged with the same cobbles that line the border around the house and the winding path leading to three steps formed out of salvaged railway sleepers.

My quirky little summerhouse (labelled jokingly as "The Bus Shelter" by one of my men-folk!) with  its slate roof and brick floor (bricks salvaged from the renovations) is now painted (Farrow and Ball French Grey) and ready to support the elegant climbing rose that has been planted on one side – David Austin’s Mortimer Sackler.

The pond in front of the summerhouse - after a few annoying hiccups is almost complete. Around  three sides of the pond will be planted an Arum Lily alongside Hostas, Ferns, Lady’s Mantle and Foxgloves. A white waterlily will float tranquilly on top of the still water – to be enjoyed as we sit lazily in the summerhouse next summer watching the plants grow and willing them to mature quickly, (probably sheltering from the rain, if this summer was anything to go by). 

The old white rose Madame Alfred Carrier is starting to scramble up the side of the shed, painted the same colour as the summer house, with off-white latticed windows and screened on one side by a trellis covered in a profusion of white roses and clematis.

A dovecote and tree trunk reside in the shed – waiting to be positioned near the Rowan "Pink Pagoda", 

whose branches - heavy with pink berries drape elegantly above the log pile in the far corner of the garden.

A young Malus "Gorgeous" abundant with Crab Apples that glow red against the azure sky has been planted in front of the hedge at the top of the garden.

On the opposite side of the garden to the summerhouse is a Chinese Spindle tree with pink berries and autumnal leaves of red, orange and yellow. Unfortunately it is less than 1 metre tall, so will not be making any great impact this year or next! Beside the summerhouse I have planted Cornus Kousa "Miss Satomi", a stunning pink flowering dogwood.

A passion flower clambers along the fence on the left hand side of the garden, behind the upright branches of Rosemary, “Miss Jessop”. At Miss Jessops feet, blue/green sage and lavender soften the chunky wood and gravel steps that lead upwards to an arch, soon (hopefully) to be swathed in the pink cottage rose Old Blush - known as “the last rose of summer” entwined with a late-flowering clematis Viticella. 

Flopping over the reclaimed granite cobbles that edge the borders and over the used railway sleepers are the little daisies found flowering so prolifically in the gardens and streets of Cornwall. The dainty white and pink flowers of the daisy intertwined with the pink valerian that can be seen sprouting so often from cracks in the old stone walls of quaint coastal villages.

Time has lapsed so that it is too late to sow the lawn this year, but all the preparation will be done ready for the Spring.

The terrible stress that I have been under whilst the renovation of La Petite Maison was underway is abating and I am starting to experience living again. I cannot wait to squander my time on non-essential frivolous tasks such as embroidering scraps of linen, instead of sewing lengths and lengths of (albeit gorgeous) linen for curtains. I long to return to the allotment (Do I really? There is so much to do after a year of neglect– I feel rather daunted just thinking about it!) and to enjoy the garden – watching the recently established plants put down their roots creating a new vista around La Petite Maison.

The photos are not plentiful as the garden is still in a fledgling state, but I hope the few that I have taken have given you a hint of what the future of the garden at La Petite Maison will be.