Jun 29, 2014

Of All The Flowers I Did Not Plant

Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?  ~ Douglas Adams

I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now.  ~ John Lennon

Of all the flowers I did not plant, there is one that is my favourite.  I don't know that it is polite to pick favourites when it comes to the flowers in your garden.  But I have one anyway.

It sits in the corner of the faerie garden.  That strange strip of land where everything grows happily, no matter what it might be, or what its light or soil requirements are.  So many things have appeared there, just like magic. A vast selection of plants I did not seed in, or buy from a garden center.  "Weeds" like chickweed, plantain and dandelion sneak in, but that's to be expected.  What is unexpected is the strange flowers that pop up from who-knows-where.  Flowers I've never laid eyes on.

This alien beauty appeared four years ago. I had planted the garden with a bright pink foxglove, and then a foot and a half over, a dark purple salvia, and then another foot and a half from that, a fierce blue delphinium. The following spring, a strange plant appeared exactly where the pink foxglove had been.

I waited for it to flower, and was terribly confused when it did.  I nearly pulled it out that first year - disappointed in its odd look and sudden encroachment in my garden.

But it grew on me - the mysterious beast.  Each year I've been waiting to see what it will do.  The flowers are the lightest pink, some veined with green.  It looks like a delphinium, but not one I've ever seen.  Just a tuft of flowers on the top of wildly tall stems.

I've taken photos to the local garden center, but they can't tell me exactly what it is.  A faerie flower perhaps.

I'm so glad I didn't pull it out, those four years ago.  I tell my silly self that this is how you know magic is real. When flowers appear that you did not plant - that you can't imagine you've ever seen the likes of before.

Have you ever seen anything exactly like my mysterious beauty?  I'd love to know!  By its foliage and flower I'd have to say its a delphinium-of-sorts.  Perhaps the blue one down the garden had a love-affair with the racy pink foxglove, and this odd duck is the product.

How it found its way to my little garden I may never know, but I'll treasure its company each summer and remind myself that strange and wonderous things do happen. Sometimes right under your nose.

Jun 24, 2014

All Upon A Midsummer Weekend

Midsummer dawned sunny and hot on Saturday, and I had a plan.  Which of course meant, nothing would go as planned.

I took my walk beside the river, the plants growing tall and reaching for my knees after the rains of the previous week.  The Saskatoon berries were ripening and I picked as many as I could reach. It was a small harvest, but I'll return tomorrow for some more in the hopes of getting a few jars of jam out of the effort.

Upon returning home with the tasty jewels, I noticed that my dear rue had started keeling over from the winds. It was time for a trim.  A huge armfull of green-vanilla scented bliss later, I strung lengths of twine in the basement and hung the charming herb to dry

Later that morning I drove to the next town to the lakeshore in order to take part in a solstice gathering, but was turned away. There was a classic car show happening, and no parking to be found for blocks.

I carried on to the west, up the hillside and stopped at the cemetery that houses the ashes of my grandparents.  I washed their headstones, and left them the lavender that I had woven into my hair that morning.

I continued on my journey up the mountain, and found that the yarrow was ripe for picking.

A basket full of the healing herb, and dusty and dry myself, I still wasn't ready to go home, so I drove south toward the desert.  I stopped at a farm stand to pick up local honey and just-ripe cherries, and paid some silver to a favourite crossroads before moving into the land of sage brush.

I stopped to pick a handful of the fragrant plant and carried on to another cemetery to pay my respects to the goddess, in one of her many forms.

By the time I found myself back at home hanging bundles of yarrow and sage, red cheeks and arms from too much sun, I was exhausted. I had plans to attend an evening circle at the lake as well.  But the hours in the sunshine and fresh air had left me weary, and the glass of crabapple wine I was sipping was a terribly good additional excuse not to drive again.  

I spoke my gratitudes, petitions and charms that night, and toasted the longest day, and then slipped effortlessly into dreams of plants and mountains and ancestors.

I hope your Midsummer/Solstice was absolutely delightful, and everything you hoped for - even if it didn't go exactly as planned!

Jun 19, 2014

A Haunting in June

Canada Post has managed to distract from its rising postage prices this past week, by releasing the coolest set of stamps I've seen in a very long time - on Friday the 13th, no less.

Based on ghost stories and hauntings across the country, the stamps feature foiled photos (print and digital "paintings") depicting legends from different provinces.  You can read each of the stories here.

From a spectre bride (and bellhop) at a haunted hotel, to a nightly spotting of a train that no longer exists, to burning ghost ships - these are just a few of the strange stories depicted on the stamps, which will apparently spawn a series to appear each year.

I nabbed my set right away, but I'm heading back to the post office to see if I can find more.

Postcard anyone?

Jun 4, 2014

Naming, From Buck-Brush to Clap-Lions

From the time that I was very small, my father would take my mother, brother, and I up into the hills surrounding our little town, and drive us up and down narrow roads with barely a tire track worn into them. We would find our way down these paths so many times that we would give them names. My father also named trees, animals and plants for us whenever he spotted something he thought was interesting.  Often, as we grew older, my brother and I would mumble some sort of affirmation that we had seen what he was pointing out, but our interest waned as our teenage years blossomed.

Who knew that a short time later, I'd want to know the name of everything, and what healing properties it might hold, and what its flower might look like, and how it might continue on, leaving seeds or spreading roots behind for next season.

How strange that my father used to tell me handfuls of odd names for plants I couldn't care less about, and now I want to remember why he calls creosote bush “buck-brush” (my guess is that it rather looks like stag horns when bare in the winter.) It's called greasewood too. And chapparal

This is what folklore is, at its most basic. A family, community, spiritual or ethnic group develops and passes on stories and names, and ways of doing things, and tales about folks who have done things in a very bad way - in order to warn you off doing the same.  Words have power in folklore.  They point the way out of trouble and speak of healing and tell of a future mate if you twist the apple stem just right.  But it's the naming that gets me every time.  Often in relation to how a plant looked, or what animal might be attracted to it, the naming of flora stretches the imagination and flows from exotic, to practical, to plain silly.


Take mullein for example (a favourite of mine,) its folk names include hag's taper, Jupiter's staff, flannel leaf, torchwort, Quaker's rouge, and so many more. It looks quite like a torch, standing several feet high with its bright yellow flowers.

One of the other plants my father identified for me many years ago was "grouse-berry."

"Grouse-berry" is a low growing, spreading plant that can sometimes develop into a small shrub if trained. With pretty little jade leaves, the plant blossoms dainty and pink, and then forms bright red berries that attract grouse.  "Grouse-berry" is actually bearberry. Other folk-names include crowberry, foxberry, uva-ursi, and when combined with tobacco or other plants for smudging or smoking, it is called kinnikinnick.


Another cheery yellow wildflower that pops up this time of year is toadflax. It has the most charming folk names: butter and eggs, calf's snout, dragon bush, dead man's bones, bridewort, and devil's flax, to name a few.

I always called it wild snapdragon.

When my older niece was a little girl, I took her for walks down by the river. As we made our way south, I'd tell her the names of several plants we saw, just like my father had done for me, and on the way back it would be her turn to name them.  Once, when we arrived at the wild snapdragon I had pointed out, she struggled for the name. I offered to give her a hint, but she said "no - I know it," and then shouted "clap-lions!"

I laughed a bit more than I should have that day, but I've never forgotten my niece's first plant folk-name.

 Toadflax Clap-Lion

Are there any plant folk names that you or your family were partial to - or outright invented?  Do name them for me!