A ‘Special’ Day

I’ve written about my love for bees and honey before on this blog. We normally have three types of honey in our cupboard: runny, set, or cooking (ie cheaper supermarket honey that has been filtered and heated – it doesn’t matter to me if it is being heated again!) that come from a variety of local sources. Just occasionally we have ‘special’ honey, that was made locally to a market stall somewhere we have visited on holiday – and that will replace one of the other jars.

Recently I have discovered a problem however. M only wants to eat ‘special’ honey on ‘special’ days. Since we can’t fit four jars in the cupboard, and don’t want her to miss out on the honey, I have had to be creative about what is a ‘special’ day. So far I have always managed to come up with something that satisfies her.

So this has got me thinking – can every day be a special day? Is every day special simply for us being alive? Does this dilute the effect of celebration days, or does it simply bring more enjoyment and appreciation of each and every day that comes along?

To my surprise it has been the latter.

Advertisements

Gardening with Roses

Rosa 'Flower Carpet White' gearing up for a late flush. Geranium Buxton Blue and Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea' accompany.

Rosa ‘White Flower Carpet’ gearing up for a late flush. Geranium ‘Buxton Blue’ and Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ accompany.


Ever since I started gardening, I have had roses. As a child I grew one called ‘The Fairy’, twiggy and prickly but filled with tiny, pink, very double flowers in summer. My first rented house with a garden had two standard roses growing which I tended, and a year later starting my own garden roses were some of the first things I planted.

However now that I am redesigning the garden, I have been considering what plants I want to keep, and which ones I don’t. Roses were high on my ‘thought list’ because they are very tricky to garden around, being so prickly. Their shape with a narrow base and widening out means weeds grow readily underneath which I can’t then get to, or they get invaded by hardy geraniums and campanulas which smother new growth leaving smaller roses in particular with awkward, leggy shapes and flowers only at the ends of trailing stems. The end result hasn’t always been very satisfactory to me, let alone pleasing. So I considered removing all the roses and growing more of the other flowering shrubs that were easier to manage. Viburnums, Deutzias, Hydrangeas, Dogwoods, hardy Fuchsias etc.

Then Rosa Graham Thomas came into flower. And continued to flower steadily for the next two months. At that point I realised nothing really compares with roses. Not even peonies. I may not have the right ones in the right places for my garden, but roses just keep giving and giving all summer long. Their flowers are beautiful, the petals can be dried and eaten, Bees love them, as do many other insects, especially semi-double or single roses, and birds like the hips in autumn and winter.

So no, I’m not going to do away with roses. Instead I have placed an order for three new ones for the front garden, dowsing to help narrow my choices to those most likely to succeed. Then next year I will plan more for the back garden. I look forward to flowers all summer.

Learning to follow my Intuition – Honey

Bee on Marjoram flowers

Bee on Marjoram flowers

Intuition is one of those amazing things that we all wish we could have all the time, but most of us don’t, or at least not very well. That is my current perspective anyway. How often do I have a feeling I should do something, and take no action, and then later wish I had acted differently? Getting stuck in a traffic jam is a classic for me, as even though I sometimes get a message to go a different way I nearly always ignore it and see what happens. Last week a road was not only blocked but closed completely. I could have avoided it, but chose not to.

The key to doing better, I feel, is to not only acknowledge the messages I get, but to actually follow them! So when I finally worked out that honey seemed to be trying to get my attention in every way it could, (I noticed I was eating honey instead of jam, using honey shampoo, checking out books on bee shamanism although not actually buying them, investigating better gardening for bees, and have always burned beeswax candles when possible) I decided that I would try and find out what lessons bees and honey had for me.

I started out by reading ‘The Shamanic Way of the Bee’ by Simon Buxton. This was a truly fascinating account of his initiation as a bee shaman, and my respect for what it means to be a shaman, chosen by and dedicating your life to the spirits, increased enormously. It was amazing to discover that this was a native tradition, going back centuries, yet still relevant today and still practised in this country by those who are called to it. I also loved learning about the origins of the ‘flying ointment’, so often attributed to witches, but here shown to be fully part of the bee tradition – the three relevant herbs, henbane, deadly nightshade and thorn apple, all growing in the same island location and coming together in the form of honey which does indeed help the initiate to fly. On something very like a broomstick…

Reading this book helped me fully understand that a shamanic path is not for me in this lifetime! I am very happy as a witch who journeys, but who has a family life and interests outside of witchcraft.

I then investigated beekeeping. This has never been something I wished to pursue personally, and still isn’t, but I now have a better understanding of how the honey I eat was made and gathered and how the flavour is affected depending on the time of year and types of pollen gathered. And related to that, how I can garden better for bees.

By this stage I was getting a little frustrated that I didn’t seem to be able to work out the answer to all the messages I was getting. What was I missing? What did I still need to know about bees or honey, and where could I find out?

Since I generally try to learn through books in the first instance, I then did a library search on honey and then wrote down the Dewey decimal number for every book that came up in the local area. The next time I visited the library I was armed with my list of numbers, no idea what section most of them were in, and went round to see what was in stock. Now at this point intuition had to take over again, because I mentally rejected the book I actually needed. My hand picked it up regardless, my brain told it to put it back. My hand didn’t. After a few minutes of still firmly holding the book, I accepted the inevitable and put it in the pushchair. This is a technique I have used in bookshops – buy only the books my hand refuses to put back on the shelf. They always have something to teach me. I don’t usually argue that hard in a library, because I can always bring it back the next week, but since on this occasion I had argued quite hard against it I decided to read it first when I got home. The book was ‘The Honey Diet’ by Mike McInnes.

What did I learn? That honey is processed and stored by the body in a very different way to sugar because it has partly digested by bees. This means you avoid the peaks and troughs that come from eating sugary foods, the brain doesn’t have to shut down to protect itself from too much sugar – when it will frequently send out a ‘still hungry’ message because it can’t access the sugar you just ate, meaning that the average person eats another biscuit or chocolate bar and perpetuates the cycle. I also learned how after honey is eaten, the body stores its particular sugars in the liver for use as brain food rather than as fat like other sugars are. So I need to give up eating sugar and just eat honey. Hmmm. Giving up wheat was bad, finding honey recipes that also avoid all the other things I am allergic to could be seriously challenging! No wonder I didn’t want to know… But it probably is the next step I need to take to be truly healthy and to be more balanced in my sugar levels – especially while still feeding M and being unable to predict how much milk she will want each day and night. The cure for “baby brain” at last!

Then finally another book that if I needed any more convincing would give me the push I needed to make the changes. Tanis Helliwell, ‘Hybrids: So You Think You Are Human?’ Apparently bees came to our planet from Venus to ‘hold’ the Earth when it was sinking into darkness. They helped to raise the level of vibration of the Earth, and everything on it. I can only assume that all the plants pollinated by bees came as a result of bees being here, and it is strange to try and imagine a world in which they are entirely absent. We can, she suggests, learn many lessons from bee behaviour: honeybees working together, queen bees being in charge of huge organisations and solitary bees being individuals, and more seriously Colony Collapse Disorder when there are not enough able bodies bees looking after the dependants in the hive. But we can also benefit from being around bees and raising our own vibrations. Enjoying the many colourful flowers they pollinate, and eating honey will help to do this. Honey is one of the favourite foods of Elementals; I feel it brings me closer to their world.

Fleeting Beauty

Anemone nemorosa

Anemone nemorosa

There are many short-lived flowers in my garden, each of which have their season, come once, and are then gone again. Bulbs, for example, which will last only a few weeks at best, or this Anemone nemorosa which usually flowers throughout April but will be gone by the summer. However an extreme case is our flowering cherry tree, Prunus Pandora.

Prunus Pandora

Prunus Pandora

Right now it is in full bloom, and looks absolutely stunning. Every nectar-loving insect in the vicinity has come to visit: several types of bees, butterflies, other flies, and it hums with life. But having gathered the nectar and spread the pollen, tomorrow it will be loosing its petals. Within a week the show will be over for another year, and the tree will recede into the background again. Unlike our other trees, it does not produce fruit. It throws up suckers in all sorts of annoying places. Low branches and those on the property boundary need pruning and don’t grow back with the same elegance and grace.

So why grow it? I had considered that what makes us human is to enjoy the beauty in life, rather than simply shaping our environments to maximum convenience and usefulness for ourselves. Just like it is my impulse to craft and to be creative. However I then wondered if I had this wrong. That the ‘human-ness’ is the layer of necessity and need, while the divine spark within us is what actually prompts the enjoyment of the moment. Entering that timeless moment is what connects me to Spirit, and reminds me that I am Spirit. Life isn’t drudgery and hard work, life is about fun, enjoyment, being lighthearted. Catching the fleeting beauty when it comes. Doing things just because we want to, not because there is any need. Life is a gift.

Prunus Pandora

Prunus Pandora

Ivy

Ivy flowers and berries

Ivy flowers and berries

I have been thinking a lot about ivy recently, for two reasons: first because of its Winter character, being evergreen and flowering when all else has finished, and second because as the trees loose their leaves I have been particularly aware this year of how the ivy has spread up their trunks and is surrounding them.

To look at the second point first, the RHS advice on ivy is that it will not harm a healthy hedge or tree. Their website states “where it grows into the crown this is usually only because the trees are already in decline or are diseased and slowly dying.” This does not bode well for some of the trees around me! I have pulled it from our hawthorn hedge a few times over the years, where it tries to swamp some of the older trees, or invade the flower areas, because left unchecked, the balance seems to be entirely in favour of the ivy. If ivy gets into stone walls, they generally need rebuilding. However for all the problems it causes, I have to admire its spirit.

Ivy invading the crown of an oak tree

Ivy invading the crown of an oak tree

Ivy is unusual in flowering in late autumn, making it ecologically important. There is an ivy bee which lives just for these flowers, basing its entire life cycle around the ivy, although sadly not this far north. Hoverflies also feed off their nectar. Then the berries last through the winter, feeding many birds when other fruits have gone. The leaves are evergreen so provide shelter for many insects, and also temperature regulation and protection for us humans when grown on buildings. Ivy is like the holly in having two leaf forms – a pointed, palmate leaf, and a smooth edged, simpler leaf on flowering shoots. However while the holly grows its points for protection against the low shoots being eaten with smooth leaves higher up, the ivy does it to increase its surface area where light levels are low.

Ivy leaves are good for removing pollution from the air, and also toxins from our bodies. They are mildly anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. Their best use is in lung conditions, easing the ability to breathe by helping to relax muscle spasms as well as loosening mucus. It combines well with Thyme for this purpose. Unfortunately ivy is also poisonous, generally causing stomach upsets, so any recommendations for home preparations are limited to external uses such as skin complaints or insect stings, for which it is apparently effective. Luckily I haven’t had a reason to try this out!

Traditionally ivy is seen as female, possibly due to its spiral growth connecting it to the Goddess. It is included in bridal bouquets – and it is supposed to bring luck, fidelity and fertility. The holly is seen as its male counterpart in winter, hence there are many references to the two together, often in conflict for superiority with each other but sometimes in partnership.

Personally I have trouble with ascribing genders to trees or other plants, so to use gender as a starting point for understanding a plant or for its use is therefore problematic. (Individual tree spirits or faeries are a different matter!) So what does the character of ivy offer? I see it as tenacious, can grow anywhere from the darkest shade to bright sunshine, and will use whatever it finds to climb up and over any obstacles. It is highly adaptable and not fussy. It can wander freely, and can be binding yet is not bound itself. It can offer protection, nourishment, but also death to the unwary. Know yourself, know what you seek before asking ivy to help, but then trust in its ability to network and scramble to reach the light where it will flower regardless of the weather – even on a dull late November day as shown here!

Ivy 'hedge' in flower

Ivy ‘hedge’ in flower