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!


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