Today marks one year since I rather nervously began this blog! You can see my first post (with all the original typos!) here. I hardly dared expect that anyone would read it besides a few close gardening friends! But I'm so glad I did it! It has been a lot of fun, I've gotten to know more enthusiastic gardeners, and it has already opened new doors of opportunity that I wouldn't have dreamed of a year ago! Gardening is even better when it is shared, so thank you to all of you who have subscribed, and to those of you who comment...I love comparing notes on gardening with you!
So, yesterday was officially the first day of Spring. The sun finally came out after about 2 weeks of cloudy, snowy, gloomy weather. I spent part of the afternoon in the greenhouse getting things ready, and it was actually HOT in there! Some of my seedlings are out there soaking up the light today. They had gotten a little "leggy" from being in the house so long! I'll be planting lots more seeds soon. Looking back at this time last year, (blogging is also a great way to keep a garden journal!) I already had pepper and tomato seedlings up. I haven't even planted them yet this year! There is so much to be done! I'm hoping this sunny weather will hold out. The sky is the bluest blue today, and the sun shining on all that snow is almost blinding!
It also appears that we have even more snow on the ground than at this time last year. There isn't even so much as a dent in the snow to tell where my birdbath is!
That's about all I have to say for now, but I just couldn't let this day pass without a mention! :)
We just dug out from a second Nor'easter yesterday. We have had over 10 feet of snow so far this winter, with about 40 inches now on the ground. So, to celebrate, I decided to post these pictures and contrast them with the same scenes in the summer! Can you believe its the same place?!
My garden is over there...somewhere!
The arbor now...
And in August 2016...
What's left of the greenhouse!
Here's the view from the middle of my vegetable garden...
And from the same spot in August 2016!
Looking down at the greenhouse from the top of the snow mountain!
The view from the doorway of the greenhouse...
Looking out the greenhouse door last June...
And finally, here's my pride and joy again...a couple pots of heartsease and some mignonette. But it looks like they won't get any light here if we get another storm!
Hopefully we won't have too much flooding when this all melts. But I can hardly wait for glorious Spring to arrive in earnest! :)
"No lot is perfect; but that is the nearest to it which has Heartsease to sweeten it."
This tiny flower is one of the first to bloom for me in the Spring, and sometimes continues to flower through the Fall until the snows cover it. It is such a small, insignificant plant, yet so worthy of its name! I even have a few plants growing in pots on the kitchen windowsill, and they are indeed a comfort for my winter-weary heart!
Viola tricolor is a native throughout most of Europe, as well as North Africa and parts of Siberia and India. Gerard, who calls it "Hartes-ease" and "Paunsie", writes that it "groweth in fieldes in many places, and also in gardens". As Robert Buist remarks, "The simplicity and and striking beauty of this lovely little flower has attracted notice from the earliest floral times". Shakespeare knew it well, as did many other early writers, and the legends associated with it are so numerous that I think a whole book could be written about this flower alone!
It gets its botanical name from the fact that the flowers are usually, as Gerard says, "of three sundrie colours...that is to say, purple, yellow, and white or blew: by reason of the beuatie & braverie of which colours, they are very pleasing to the eie".
But this dear little flower goes by an amazing number of names. In America, it is commonly known as Johnny-jump-up. The name Pansy comes from the French word Pensees, or thoughts. Shakespeare mentions this in Hamlet: "There's pansies, that's for thoughts"; and Ben Jonson writes:
"I pray, what flowers are these?
The pansie this;
O, that's for lovers' thoughts."
Other names include, Love-in-Idleness (as in A Midsummer Night's Dream), Cuddle/Cull/Call-me-to-you, Meet-me-in-the-Entry, Three-Faces-Under-a-Hood, Godfathers and Godfathers, Stepmother, Bouncing Bet, Kiss-her-in-the-Buttery, Kit-run-in-the-Fields, Ladies' Delight, Battlefield Flower, None-so-pretty, Flame Flower, Pink of My John, Herb Trinitatus, and, as Phillips says, "others equally whimsical and unappropriate".
But I think Heartsease is the sweetest name of all! Louise Beebe Wilder tells us that "The little Pansy was deemed a potent heart remedy or cordial and so received the name of Heartsease". But others say that it got this name from the fact that it was used in ancient times as a love potion. Regardless of how it came about, it certainly caught the attention of many writers and poets! Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888) wrote these lines:
"Heart's Ease! one could look for half a day
Upon this flower, and shape in fancy out
Full twenty tales of love and sorrow,
That gave this gentle name."
There is a delightful story about how the Heartsease or Pansy came into our gardens...
There was once a little plant who was so shy that it crept into a secluded corner and there, under the shade of some taller plants, unfolded its blossoms. But it was soon discovered by a little bird, who sang of its beauty to the whole world. One day, an angel who had come to earth on a mission of mercy, heard the bird singing and asked to be led to it. When she saw the modest flower, the angel cried, "Ah! how lovely you are! Too lovely to dwell alone in the shadows. You should be a flower in the garden of angels. But wait, I have thought of something even more beautiful for you. You shall be the angel's blossom, but you shall bloom in the land of man. Go, sweet Pansy, bloom in every land and bring to all people sweet thoughts of peace and love and faith". Then the angel kissed the flower, leaving an imprint of her face on each blossom.
The ending to this story explains how it came to be called Herb Trinitatus, or Trinity, Flower...
The kiss of the angel gave it a perfume sweeter even than the Violet. But since the Pansy grew in fields, people were trampling on and destroying the crops whilst looking for it. So the Pansy prayed to the Holy Trinity to take away its fragrance so that it would no longer be sought. Its prayer was heard, and the name Trinity Flower was given to the self-sacrificing little blossom.
This lovely poem also suggests that it was planted by "mercy's angel":
There is a little flower that's found
In almost every garden ground,
'Tis lowly but 'tis sweet;
And if its name express its power,
A more invaluable flower
You'll never, never meet.
I said in every garden ground;
Perhaps in Eden 'twas not found,
For there it was not wanted;
But soon as sin and sorrow came,
The flower received its gladdening name,
By mercy's angel planted.
My child! if God within our bower
Should plant this lovely flower,
To tend it be our duty;
Then, should there be a smile or tear,
So it be mutual, it will rear,
Unfold, and show its beauty."
And James Russel Lowell penned these lines in the beginning of his book of poetry entitled, Heartsease and Rue:
"Along the wayside where we pass bloom few
Gay plants of heartsease, more of saddening rue;
So life is mingled; so should poetry be
That speak a conscious word to you and me."
John Bunyan gives a beautiful tribute to Heartsease in The Pilgrim's Progress. When Christiana and her sons were passing through the Valley of Humiliation with Great-heart as their guide, they paused to listen to a boy singing as he tends his father's sheep. When the lad finished his song, Great-heart turned to them and said, "Do you hear him? I dare to say that this boy lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called 'hearts-ease' in his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet".
There is a wonderful children's story about a fairy who wanted to change herself into a flower. She entered a garden, and all the flowers vied with one another to convince her that its was the best lot. The Rose called herself the queen of flowers, the lily showed all her regal beauty, and so on with the Dahlia, Morning Glory, and Iris. But still the fairy stood irresolute. Finally, a little flower growing in a crack of the garden wall cried out, "Be a Pansy!".
"Nay", said the fairy, "you are but a weed, and you have no name."
"Haven't I?", said the Pansy, "Go to the poor man's garden and ask him my name-he'll tell you it is Heartsease; and where will you find a better one than that? Oh, be a Pansy!"
"Well, really", said the fairy at last, "I think I will."
In yet another fairy tale, the fairies were gathered on Midsummer's Eve to discuss what they could do to make the world a brighter place. One of them suggested that they make a new flower, and the rest agreed. So they got out their corn cups and their brushes of dandelion down and set to work. They took blue from the sky, red from the sunset, yellow from sunbeams, and brown from earth, and mixed them together. All night they worked, and when morning came, there were the flowers beautifully painted. Some of them had drawn each others' likenesses and that is why we often see little faces on these flowers. The world has been brighter and better since that night.
This humble member of the Violet family (Violaceae) is thought to be the ancestor of the larger-flowered Garden Pansies which began to be widely cultivated in the 19th century. (Although they were apparently still something of a novelty in Texas in 1878, when a Mrs. J. D. H. reported to Vick's Monthly Magazine that total strangers would come to her garden to see "them flowers that have faces"!) I love the large Pansy too, and have a tray of Swiss Giants seedlings on my desk right as I write. But the little Heartsease will always have a place in my garden and in my heart. I edged my herb garden with them last year and they were so lovely! In his Flora Historica (1824), Henry Phillips suggests planting them in masses: "When seen individually the flower must be noticed with admiration, yet it is not calculated to make a figure in the garden unless planted in large clumps; but when a considerable plot of rising ground is covered with these flowers, the appearance cannot be equaled by the finest artificers in purple and gold". (I should also mention that the flowers have a very pretty way of bowing their heads in wet weather to protect their "faces" from the rain!)
Heartsease is considered an edible flower and has also been used medicinally for a wide variety of complaints, including epilepsy, asthma, cough, skin problems, and heart ailments. But by Phillips' time, it was "nearly if not altogether neglected, for fashion creeps even into our pill boxes". Mrs. Grieve says however, that "it was formerly official in the United States Pharmacopoeia" and notes that it was then "still employed in America in the form of an ointment and poultice in eczema and other skin troubles, and internally for bronchitis". I believe it is still used by some herbalists for both eczema and acne, and I am looking forward to experimenting with it myself this year!
I would be greatly interested to know how the seeds are collected on a large scale by commercial seed growers! My method was to go out at least once a day and gather all the seed capsules as they burst open, but before they had thrown the seeds far and wide. As our neighbor said when he found me at it one day, "You have to sneak up on them"! I then brought them in and made the mistake of laying them out to dry on a table. After a while I noticed that my supply of seeds wasn't increasing as much as it ought to. I suspected the "mousies", so I put them in a jar and covered it with cheesecloth. The next day, I found several seeds caught in the cheesecloth, and there were even a few seeds on the table around the jar. Evidently they are thrown with quite a force as soon as they dry, no matter whether they are still on the plant or no! One of those seeds landed in the pot with my Amaryllis, which led to the happy discovery that Heartsease will grow quite happily on a windowsill even during the shortest days of winter!
This little flower is so beautiful, so easy to grow, and it will cheer your heart throughout the year!
"The foxglove on fair Flora's hand is worn,
Here is yet another lovely flower rich in history and legends! The Foxglove has gone by many quaint names in the European countries to which it is native. In the British Isles, it was called Folk's Glove, Fairy's Glove, Fairy Thimbles, and Fairy Cap. It was believed that the fairies take refuge in the blossoms whenever a human footstep is heard approaching. There was also a superstition that picking the flowers would bring bad luck, since it robbed the "wee folk" of their favorite hiding place. It is said that when the Foxglove bends and sways so gracefully, it is really bowing to the fairies passing by, and has nothing to do with the breezes. The spots inside the flowers were supposed to be the fingerprints of elves and, according to one Irish legend, are a warning of the plant's poisonous properties, which also earned it the name of "Dead Man's Thimbles".
Parkinson writes: "Wee call them generally in English, Foxeglove; but some (as thinking it to bee too foolish a name) doe call them Finger-flowers, because they are like unto the fingers of a glove, the ends cut off". There is some uncertainty about how it came to be called Foxglove. One explanation is that it is a corruption of Folk's Glove, which is indeed one of its oldest names. And, yet another legend says that bad fairies gave it to the fox to put on his toes, that he might prowl around the hen houses silently. But others think that the original Anglo-Saxon word was probably not Foxes-glofa (Fox-glove), but rather Foxes-gleow (Fox-bell), after an old musical instrument with bells hung on an arches support, which the plant resembles.
The Norwegians did call it Revbielde, or Foxbell. One Norse legend tells how foxes wear the flowers as bells around their necks to escape the hunters, who are frightened away by the eerie sound.
In France, it was known as Gant de Notre Dame (Gloves of Our Lady) and Doigts de la Vierge (Virgin's Fingers). In Germany, it was called simply, Fingerhut (Thimble), and Leonhard Fuchs (the 16th century German botanist after whom Fuchsia is named), gave the Foxglove its Latin name Digitalis, from Digitabulum, which means, "a thimble".
Although it is a "violent poison", the Foxglove has long been used medicinally. In 1554, Dodoens prescribed it boiled in wine as an expectorant, and the bruised leaves were often used for sores and ulcers. Mrs. Grieve notes that "it seems to have been in frequent use in cases in which the practitioners of the present day would consider it highly dangerous". The Foxglove's true usefulness was discovered by Dr. William Withering (1741-1799), who tells the story in his wonderful Account of the Foxglove (1785). To summarize it briefly, in 1775, he learned about an old woman in Shropshire who had a secret remedy which had cured patients suffering from the dropsy (and old word for edema, causes by heart failure) when doctors' treatments had failed. This remedy was made up of about 20 herbs, but Dr. Withering realized that the active ingredient was none other than Foxglove. After much experimenting, he came to the conclusion that Digitalis purpurea "merited more attention than modern practice had bestowed upon it". His valuable discovery is still used today.
"The Foxglove leaves, with caution given,
Another proof of favouring Heaven
Will happily display.
The rapid pulse it can abate,
The hectic flush can moderate.
And blest by Him whose will is fate,
May give a lengthened day!"
Last summer, after handling my Foxglove plants and unconsciously touching my face, I noticed a very bitter taste and afterwards had a mild headache, with dizziness and nausea. I would be interested to know if anyone else has noticed this after working around their Foxgloves, but I wouldn't recommend experimenting!
Mrs. Grieve writes that "In large doses, the action of Digitalis on the circulation will cause various cerebral symptoms, such as seeing all objects blue, and various other disturbances of the special senses". More severe cases of poisoning can be fatal.
Foxglove is truly the "pride of the garden". It is a biennial, but will often persist as a short-lived perennial. It will also self-sow wherever it is happy, and a single plant can produce more than one million seeds! It is beloved by bees, and Mrs. Grieve observes that it is "much visited by other smaller insects, who may be seen taking refuge from the cold and wet in its drooping blossoms on chilly evenings". In the wild and in older cultivars, the flowers bloom on one side of he stem only, but there are now many hybrids which have flowers all the ways around the stalk (and often in rather gaudy colors, too). I love the old kinds best, and my favorite is the soft-colored "Apricot Beauty". In A Woman's Hardy Garden, Mrs. Ely suggests planting Foxgloves behind Sweet Williams or with peonies, where they will "produce an effect so beautiful that you will simply have to go and look at them many times a day".
A cottage garden certainly should not be without the beautiful Foxglove, and one cannot have too many of them, in my opinion!
The last 10 days or so have been very busy, which explains my somewhat longer than usual silence! I've been taking care of lots of babies! On the 21st, my dog Carina gave birth to 6 sweet golden puppies! There are 4 boys and 2 girls...
Besides puppies, it's also seed-starting time! I have celery, onions, heartsease, pansies, and heliotrope planted so far. The heartsease have already come up!
Celia Thaxter's words were going through my mind as I planted the pansies:
"The Pansy seeds lie like grains of gold on the dark soil. I think as I look at them of the splendors of imperial purples folded within them, of their gold and blue and bronze, of all the myriad combinations of superb color in their rich velvets. Each one of these small golden grains means such a wealth of beauty and delight!"
I also have several bigger heartsease plants (the ones I planted last month to get me through the rest of winter). I just moved them into more decorative pots and they are looking like they could bloom fairly soon!
Temperatures have been milder, but I still have to traverse the "mountain pass" to get to my greenhouse.
And there appears to be a small glacier forming in front of my flower gardens! :D
But when the sun shines, it is glorious! It is so nice to feel some warmth again! My sister snapped these pictures of sunshine piercing through the fog early yesterday morning...
And that's all of my update for now! :)
"Tulips lack scent, roses have thorns,
How shall I even begin to tell about this flower? I already knew something of its history and legends, but once I started to dig a little deeper, I felt like I had opened a treasure chest! This little flower has truly captured the hearts of both gardeners and poets. I hope you may experience half the pleasure in reading this little history as I have in putting it together!
C. L. Allen writes that it is "greatly desired in every garden, not because of the beauty of its flowers, but because of the beauty of the plant, its fragrance, and poetical association". It was this "fragrance and poetical association" that first attracted me to Mignonette. I had come across some mention of it in a garden book and thought that a plant whose name meant "Little Darling" had to be something special! I remember being somewhat disappointed the first time I saw a picture of it. But I am irresistibly drawn to any plant with an interesting history, and so I finally welcomed the Mignonette to my garden last year. It has since won my heart completely! As Dr. Lindley says: "This simple, unattractive weed, which is the envy of the gay and glittering throng that surrounds it in a garden, and which has no rivalry to dread, except from the Rose and Violet, is one of the first flowers that we learn to gather, and the very last that we cease to value".
The Mignonette, or Reseda odorata, was first introduced to the south of France, "where it was welcomed by the name of Mignonette, Little-darling, which was found too appropriate for this sweet flower to be exchanged for any other". According to Henry Phillips' Flora Historica (1824), the seed for Mignonette was first sent by Lord Bateman from the Royal Garden in Paris, to Mr. Richard Bateman of Old Windsor, in 1742. But it seems that it wasn't dispersed beyond Mr. Bateman's garden, and the year of its introduction is given as 1752, when Phillip Miller received seed from Dr. Adrian van Royen, and cultivated it at the Botanic Garden at Chelsea. It quickly became very popular in London, where it was grown in pots on the balconies, "giving something like a breath of fresh garden air to the 'close-pent man'". Cowper mentions this in his famous poem, The Task:
"The sashes fronted with a range,
Of orange, myrtle, or the fragrant weed,
The Frenchman's darling."
It was also sometimes grown indoors, although Phillips tells us that "the odour which this little flower exhales is thought by some, whose olfactories are delicate, to be too powerful for the house". By Phillips' time, it had naturalized in many places, conveying "its delightful odour from the parterre of the prince to the most humble garden of the cottager". Joseph Breck writes in 1851 that he had heard from "a creditable London seedsman" that "he alone sold a ton and a half of the seed yearly"!
This "fragrant weed" is thought to be a native of Egypt and other parts of northern Africa. There is a legend that it was named by Napoleon's soldiers, who saw it during their Egyptian campaign. When they inhaled its delicious fragrance, they were delighted and cried in ecstasy, "Mignonette!" (little darling!). But, although it's a nice story, it is almost certainly not true. Napoleon did indeed collect some seed for Empress Josephine's garden at Malmaison, however.
So who did give Mignonette its name? It is a mystery that has captured the imaginations of many, as in this poem by Susan Coolidge:
"Who gave you your name, Little Darling?
I wish that I knew.
Such a tiny, sweet, lovable blossom;
I half think that you grew
In the Garden of old, and believe
You were christened by Eve.
Was she first of all women to find you?
Did she gather and smell,
And carry a cluster to Adam?
If we could only tell
What they said and they did, he and she,
How nice it would be!
Or was it some quaint maiden
Of France in old days,
Who spied you and loved you and called you
(Oh, sweetest of praise!)
Caressingly, as to a pet,
By the name of Mignon-ette?"
So whether in France or in Eden,
'Tis all one to me,
Yours is just the best name, Little Darling,
Could possibly be.
And though no one had taught me, I yet,
A "quaint little maiden" did give it its name in this French fairy tale...
A young girl was bewailing her homely appearance because she was afraid that no one would love her. She often shut herself up in her room and wept. One day, a fairy in the form of an old woman appeared and asked her why she was crying. The girl told her that she longed to be beautiful so that everyone would love her, and the fairy replied, "If you will do just as I tell you for one year, your wish will be granted. Go out into the world, and never let an hour pass without doing something to make some one happier, and do not look into a mirror until I come again". The old woman then disappeared, and where she had stood there was a tiny plant growing in a flower pot. The child exclaimed, "Oh! the little darling!" and tended it carefully. She did as the fairy told her, and became so interested in helping people that she did not even think to look in the mirror. A year passed quickly, and one day, while she was caring for her plant (which had grown and thrived in her little window garden) the fairy returned and held up a mirror saying, "Look". The girl was amazed when she saw her reflection. Her eyes, once dim with crying, were bright and clear, her cheeks were rosy, and the whole expression of her face was changed. Then the fairy said to her, "You have filled your heart with such beautiful thoughts, and your life with such beautiful deeds that a beautiful soul shines in your face. your wish is granted, and like the flower I left, you will create a sweet atmosphere about you wherever you go".
Mignonette was also called Herbe d'Amour, or Love Flower, but it was used more often for planting on graves than in weddings...
"The delicate odour of Mignonette,
The remains of a dead and gone bouquet,
Is all that tells of a story; yet
Could we think of it in a sweeter way?"
Reseda is derived from the Latin word "resedare", meaning "to assuage", because some species were esteemed good for relieving pains. The fragrance was even believed to ward off certain diseases carried through the air, and among country folk, it was once thought to have magical powers.
In the language of flowers, Mignonette says, "Your qualities surpass your charms". And there is a story behind this motto, which I will do my best to relate:
The Count of Walsthim was betrothed to Amelia of Nordbourg; a beautiful heiress, but unfortunately also very frivolous and coquettish. Amelia had a cousin named Charlotte who, being the only child of her widowed mother, had been brought up with her as a companion. Charlotte had a beautiful heart, but being rather plain in appearance and having no dowry, she did not receive much attention from the wealthy young people among whom her cousin was the center.
One evening at a party, they devised a game in which the ladies were to choose a flower, for which the gentlemen were to compose an appropriate verse. Amelia, who had been arousing her lover's jealousy all evening by flirting with a colonel who was better known in the ballroom than on the battlefield, picked a rose. The rest also gathered the showiest flowers, such as a lily or a carnation. When they were nearly done, Charlotte returned from a charitable visit and was invited to join in their game. She modestly chose a little sprig of mignonette and presented it to the Count, at the same time asking him what verse he had written for Amelia's rose. He then gave Amelia this line: "Elle nevit qu'un jour, et ne plait qu'un moment", which in English means, "She lives but for a day, and pleases but for a moment". Then he handed a verse to Charlotte which read, "Ses qualites surpassent ses charmes" (Its qualities surpass its charms). Amelia, of course, was offended, but the Count transferred his affections to Charlotte. After they were married, he added a sprig of Mignonette to his family arms with the motto: "Your qualities surpass your charms".
As with many of our old flowers, modern plant breeding has, more often than not, actually lessened its qualities. Attempts were made to develop plants with larger flowers, but as Harriet Keeler wrote in 1910, "Enlarging the spikes has not always improved its odour; in some cases this has been transformed into something unpleasant, in others totally destroyed, in others strengthened." Now it is difficult to find a fragrant Mignonette, which I suppose is at least partly to blame for its decrease in popularity. I grow "Machet", and older variety which was introduced around 1889. Although definitely not what I would call overpowering, it does have a light fragrance which is quite unlike that of any other flower I know. The best word I can think of to describe it it "clean"!
I do hope that this humble flower will find its way back into our gardens soon!
I consider the Garden Balsam to be one of the most beautiful flowers in my garden. I just love its unique, tropical appearance and its stunning flowers! Mrs. Grieve calls it "one of the showiest of summer and autumn flowers" and G. Francis, in The Favorites of the Flowers Garden (1844) says that it "may be ranked amongst the most elegant annuals that the warmest climates have afforded us".
Impatiens balsamina is a native of India, China and Japan. The exact date of its introduction is uncertain, but we do know that it was cultivated by John Gerard in 1596. It was first offered in America by J. Townley of Boston in 1760.
Thomas Jefferson planted "Double Balsam" at Shadwell on April 2, 1767, sent "Balsamine" from Paris to Francis Eppes in 1786, and, in 1812, received "seed of some very superior Impatience Balsamina" from the Philadelphia seedsman, Bernard McMahon.
Although seldom seen in modern gardens, it was well-known in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The most popular were the double, or Camellia flowered varieties. Walter Elder praises it highly in his article for The Gardener's Monthly, entitled "Despise Not the Day of Small Things" (1863): "Of annuals, what can be compared to the Camellia Balsam, as double as a rose; no wax work nor any imitation of man, can compare with it in rich and dazzling beauty".
But my favorite is 'Peppermint Sticks', which has strikingly beautiful red and white mottled flowers. Although 'Peppermint Sticks' is a newer variety from Holland, its amazing colors are nothing new. As early as 1807, Alexander McDonald mentions a variety "with large double variegated scarlet and white flowers". Walter Elder, writing in 1863, extols "The white and scarlet spotted" balsam as "unequaled among flowers". And I quite agree! When they are in bloom, I often find myself just staring at them in awe!
Like so many of our treasure garden flowers, it has been given many names by its admirers. Among these are Rose Balsam, Lady's Slipper, Somer-sots, Garden Jewelweed, Tree Impatiens, and Touch-me-not. The last is a reference to the way the ripe seed pods burst open when touched, scattering the seeds some distance from the plant. Impatiens is derived from this same fact, and I am told that all members of the genus have this same characteristic.
G. Francis also relates "a curious circumstance" of the seeds. He writes that "those which are fresh, or of last year's growth only, seldom produce double flowers; but to have these, you must sow seeds from three to nine years old". Joseph Breck said much the same thing in his Book of Flowers (1851). I am definitely going to be experimenting with this in the years to come!
So far as I know, I. balsamina has no medicinal use. However, the Japanese used the juice of the plant prepared with alum to dye their nails red.
G. Francis writes that "the Turks represent ardent love by this flower". With us, however, it symbolizes impatience.
I often wonder why this beautiful plant has fallen out of favor in recent years. It is one of the easiest flowers to grow, and children will be delighted by the bursting seed pods! It truly is a must for any old-fashioned flower garden.
So far, this winter has been the coldest and snowiest I've ever seen! (Last year was a close second.) Here's a picture I took of my greenhouse from the roof of one of our buildings where I was clearing off the snow. In a few weeks I'll be starting some seedlings. Since the greenhouse is unheated, I can only take the plants out on bright days and bring them all back before it gets dark. Looks like that is going to be a challenge this year...but I'm getting used to climbing mountains of snow, so it shouldn't be too bad!
I already have a few seedlings on the kitchen windowsill to tide me over until it's time to begin planting in earnest!
And I've been eagerly watching the growth of my Amaryllis. I don't think I've ever had two stems grow before, so this is a treat! The first flower opened yesterday.
It reminds me of a huge butterfly!
This isn't a good picture of the flower, but I like the striking contrast between it and the scene out the window!
I'm really looking forward to seeing what others have found to brighten their Monday morning at Rambling in the Garden. I know some of you are already seeing some spring blooms outside! :)
Valerian is a wonderful herb that I simply cannot be without! It has been used since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome, so of course it is steeped in history. Mrs. Grieve says that "It is supposed to be the Phu (an expression of aversion from its offensive odour) of Dioscorides and Galen, by whom it was it was extolled as an aromatic and diuretic".
It was so highly esteemed during medieval times that it was given the name All-Heal. Another common name was Setewall or Setwall, as in these lines from Chaucer:
"There sprange up herbes great and small,
The liquorice and the setewall"
In his Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, Gerard writes that "it hath been had (and is to this day among the poore people of our Northerne parts) in such veneration amongst them, that no broths, pottage or physicall meats are worth anything, if Setwall were not at an end: whereupon some woman Poet or other hath made these verses.
They that will have their heale,
Must put Setwall in their keale."
Historically, it was used for for a wide variety of ailments including epilepsy, neuralgic pains, cramps, hysteria, nervous unrest, heart palpitaions, to strengthen eyesight, as a rememdy for cholera, and even to stop a fight! During both World Wars, it was used to help calm the nerves of civilians during air-raids, as well as for soldiers suffering from shell shock. And it is still in use now to relieve pain and anxiety, and to promote sleep.
Mrs. Grieve also says that "Valerian has an effect on the nervous system of many animals, especially cats, which seem to be thrown into a kind of intoxication by its scent". For this reason it is called Cat's Valerian, and it can actually be substituted for Catnip! According to Mrs. Grieve, "it is equally attractive to rats and is often used by rat catchers to bait their traps. It has been suggested that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin owed his irresistible power over rats to the fact that he secreted Valerian roots about his person".
A more recent, but still old-fashioned name for Valerian is Garden Heliotrope, because the flowers have, as Louise Beebe Wilder writes, "the delicious fragrance of real Heliotrope". In A Woman's Hardy Garden (1903), Helena Rutherfurd Ely describes its scent as "a most delicious odour like vanilla", and George Ellwanger, in "The Garden's Story" (1889) writes, "The creamy trusses of the tall valerian are a hive of sweetness". Yet not everyone has such a favorable opinion. My sister insists that it smells like dirty socks, and thinks that Phu is a fitting name! Mrs. Grieve describes it as a somewhat peculiar, but not exactly unpleasant smell". In Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges & Ferns of Great Britain (1899), Anne Pratt says, "To many of us, the powerful scent of Valerian is unpleasing; but this odour, still stronger in the roots, is much prized in the East, some of the most valued perfumes being made from the roots of various species". I think the fragrance is heavenly, and its comparison to Heliotrope is well-deserved! Perhaps the name Phu was given on account of the more powerful smell of the roots, which are the part used medicinally. (As for my dear sister's opinion, she is allergic to most fragrances and says that nearly all flowers "stink"!)
Interestingly, Valerian seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion in the early 20th century, at least in this country. In 1903, Mrs. Ely writes that it was "seen now-a-days only in old-fashioned gardens. I am told it cannot be bought of horticulturists". And Mrs. Wilder, writing in 1916, says that "It is so old-fashioned and out of fashion that it is not always easy to procure". Happily, many gardeners still appreciated its virtues and shared it with others who were less fortunate. Mrs. Ely says that she first obtained a single plant in this way, and "from this one plant there are now in the garden a number of large clumps several feet in diameter and I have given away certainly fifty roots". It is now offered by many seed companies who specialize in old-fashioned and heirloom flowers. And, to my surprise and delight, it has turned out to be the best selling of my seeds this year!
Valerian is a perennial hardy to zone 4, and is very easy to grow. In its first year, it develops a clump of very handsome leaves, and by early summer of the second year, to quote Mrs. Wilder again, "it bears a flat head of pinkish lacelike bloom at the end of its four feet of slender stem".
It is a lovely old herb "well worth having, for it lends a light grace to whatever part of the garden it occupies, and combines charminly with the other flowers of its day".
As I come to the end of this ramble, I get the feeling I've used way too many quotations! But the old garden writers describe their subjects so beautifully, I just couldn't resist using them all!
This morning my father looked out the window and saw a bald eagle soar over the field. I ran out with the camera, but the eagle was gone. He was quite surprised when I came back with these pictures instead! :D
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading. I also blog for Heirloom Gardener.