Edges

Edging is usually a low priority for me in the garden – but higher for my kind husband who does the grass cutting! The last time any borders got edged was probably when I put the pond in and turned most of the lawn into flowerbeds a few years ago. At the same time, some new paths were added which never had edges at all while they established themselves. Now it is time for me to decide which bits of grass count as path, and which have to be reclassified as weeds.

It is not a job I am particularly comfortable with. Easy enough physically: stand vertically, push the half moon into the soil with a foot, use foot to protect new edge and lever soil away, let soil fall higher into the flower bed, and repeat many times over. Then go back and weed all the bits of unwanted grass, dandelions, daisies, primulas, phlomis and everything else I have chopped out so that they may be composted and returned to the garden in due course. However, I find it strange looking out to see crisp, sharp edges. The boundaries between wild and mown strictly delineated. The flowers will spill over wherever they please later in the season, but for now they are contained within their spaces.

I consider how I am not a person who likes to compartmentalise my life. When I did, I was two people, neither of which were the complete ‘me’. I cannot divide myself like that. Nor do I always stay behind recognised boundaries. To be a witch is always crossing borders, physical or on other planes. Being not on the outside looking in, but frequently on the edges, almost part of things but with a foot in both worlds. I cannot shut nature out, it is part of me and I like to keep the boundaries blurred.

Animals, too, like transition zones. Wavy, soft edges give them a much greater choice of habitat as they combine the search for food with the need for some warming sun or protection from predators. These tend to be from mown to unmown areas, not from grass to flowers, but I worry that I have created an obstacle that they didn’t have before.

The alternative would of course be a wildflower meadow; grass covering the whole and growing between plants that are happy in that environment. Yet this still needs management to be successful and avoid a monoculture. Unless it is grazed, or cut yearly as hay meadows were, trees will eventually take over. And the wildlife supported would be far lower than the range currently found in my ‘cottage’ style garden.

I am reminded that the job of the gardener is to make these decisions. To decide for each plant where its boundaries should be and set limits. To create a design and hold it in my mind as a picture I want to make. So I carry on, following the natural shapes as far as I can.

Then I look down on my work from the upstairs window. While all the paths I simply re-edged are fine, I really don’t like the newly shaped path at all! What was I thinking? Finding my plans, I realise how far out some of my other edges are from what is drawn on paper. I wait for a day or two, hoping it will somehow look better; it doesn’t.

Two days later I have had time to work out what needs to be done. I find our long building rope, and lay it over the edges, moving it to where I think the path should go. I check again from upstairs, then find my edging moon again. Suddenly I am enjoying myself, being creative, making a shape that is graceful to look at and easy to walk (and to mow). Harmony restored. Even better, it has created extra space for flowers – which will flop over the grass in due course, returning the edges to their blurred state.

Getting the line of the path, and being covered with blossom at the same time.

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Moles … Again!

There are grass verges in front of most houses at the outskirts of our village, a legacy of Edwardian planning, setting the houses back from the road. Most of the verges are neat, mown regularly by the council, though occasionally covered in wheel tracks or removed altogether where space is needed for parking. Ours currently is not neat or tidy. Ours is completely covered in little brown molehills, where a small, black creature has evidently been digging in circles.

When I started this blog, I asked which animals would like to help me and offer their support. The result is the sketch I made at the top of the page. One of these animals was the mole, who made himself known to me in the same way as he is now, by making molehills all over the place. And then disappeared as silently and completely as he had appeared.

So now he is back, I felt he had a message for me.

Unfortunately with the holidays my meditation time was massively reduced, my focus has been elsewhere, and I never made the time to simply ask Mole what he had to say. Instead I spent three weeks being puzzled. Not annoyed with the destruction of the otherwise perfect lawn – it is winter and no one is harmed by a few molehills, but it is so extreme as to be very odd. And then suddenly the penny dropped.

Molehills on the grass verge.

I have been working with the elements individually, something I do every so often in a cyclical way, deepening my connections each time, and this time started with Earth knowing I find that element hardest. It is also the element of the North, and of Winter. A good time of year for working with rocks, crystals and other gemstones indoors, and going for (short) walks on Derbyshire gritstone, but not for gardening and connecting directly to soil with my hands. The ground in my garden has alternated between frozen or waterlogged for the past three weeks and certainly wouldn’t be helped by digging or compacting right now. But then I looked again at the molehills. Perfect soil, not frozen, not waterlogged, already loosened for me. Created by an animal of the Earth. So obvious in retrospect.

My original intention had been to try meditating with some soil indoors, just as I had done with different types of rock – one from my pond, another I brought back from Wales last summer, etc. Soil is after all the basis for trees, which I have never had a problem connecting with! But when I got outside I realised I had already done all the indoor work I needed to, exploring loam, sand, silt, clay etc. and how they relate to different types of trees growing, and if I did any more was in danger of becoming so Earthed that all would reach a standstill. I needed to be active, practical. So instead I had a really enjoyable time raking all the little heaps level, seeing the various qualities and ingredients in the soil that help plants to grow and moles to feed, and marveling at how much the soil can vary in colour and texture even over quite a small area. Not only that, but I managed to do it in the only hour of sunshine for about three days. A really lovely working meditation. So thank you mole, and I expect it is goodbye again for now.

A Light Dusting of Snow

Snow on the Grass

Snow on the Grass

Winter has arrived this weekend. I was woken in the night by the change of weather, feeling unsettled, with the wind howling around the house and through the trees. Then in the morning, bright sunshine, and a dusting of snow on the ground.

This year nature seems to have worked as if there is a plan. The autumn has been wet at times, but around here there have been no floods, or even significant mud. Just a good balance between wet days and dry days. There have also been no frosts signalling a premature end to the crops in the garden. Then just as all the trees have finished removing their waste substances into the leaves and discarding them, the winds pick up. A week earlier, and there would have been trees down, but now with their bare branches free to flex, they are okay.

Finally, as if everything is ready and the timing is perfect, we have snow and frost. Winter is here, it is time to gather stores, hibernate, and curl up by the fireside. Make plans for Yule. With luck, there will be enough cold days this winter to ensure next year’s fruit crops.

But for me, there was an extra dimension to the snow. I have commented before how I like the extra light it brings in the middle of the dark time; well this snow fall coincided not with dark climate but dark energies, brought by some visitors that were stuck in a downward spiral. I was struggling to protect myself from it and was feeling brought down, until I tuned into the energy of the snow. Dazzling white in the sunshine. It was amazing how effective it was at transmuting and transforming energies and bringing light back into me, and into my home.

So this is just my simple thank you to the weather!

Creating a Circle

Grass Circle with paths to the four directions.

Grass Circle with paths to the four directions.

I am really excited to have a new circle space in the garden, done in time for Samhain last weekend. It is 13′ across, and has four access paths positioned North, South, East and West.

It looks a little unfinished at the moment – I haven’t actually planned shape of the pond yet, just where it is going to go (about where I am standing), so I simply dug out the final side of the circle to mark the edge. I now need to do some measuring, thinking and drawing before any more digging, but I have been really pleased to get this far. Having a break for a couple weeks will hopefully allow the shifted ground to settle enough so I can see where to put the soil from the pond. Then in another month or two I can start moving those plants that are in the middle of the “East” path (to the left in the picture, a very large and very lovely Geranium ‘Patricia’) – giving easier access to the hedge on that side. Eventually the plants should signify the four elements: Windflowers already grow in the East for Air (those tall floppy Anemone hupehensis var. japonica plants), hot colours to the South for Fire, there will be Water in the West, so it is only Earth in the North that will need careful consideration.

There is no permanent marker for the centre of my circle of grass, but at present the paint mark is just visible. I would put a flat stone there, which would serve many purposes, but if anyone ever wants to camp in that space it might be a little uncomfortable! At some point in the future I hope to create a bulb spiral which will also mark the centre (leaving a space), but with my present record on doing anything with spirals I’m not rushing anything!

Corn Dollies

Last weekend was the pagan harvest festival of Lughnasadh, or Lammas if you prefer. It celebrates primarily the grain harvest, used for making the staples of beer and bread.

Once upon a time people were more aware of how all is conscious and alive and contains spirit. The corn (grain) spirit was one of the most important not only because it was such an essential part of the diet, but because barley, oats, rye, spelt, wheat etc were all annual plants. It would be a disaster if the corn spirit died over the winter, so a figure or other vessel was made and kept for the corn spirit to live in, which could then be returned to the ground in the Spring to help the new crop grow. Some areas have developed their own particular styles or shapes, which may have their own particular significance.

There is a second use of a corn dolly that I have used on occasion. Anything that you create with specific thoughts in mind will carry your intentions within it, and woven or knotted items do this particularly well. This year I wished to manifest something in my life, so focused my thoughts on the successful outcome while I wove the six stems of grass into ever repeating pentagons. The end result here is somewhere between a chalice and a horn of plenty, because that is the shape that fitted my spell. (No I’m not giving details of what the spell was for!)

Corn dolly made from grass stems

Corn dolly made from grass stems

What you see here is made from four foot long fresh grass stems cut from beside my hedge, woven into shape, and then dried out. (I did not wish to photograph the corn dolly for several days after I made it.) It is not as strong as one made from stems that are already dried, because they have shrunk slightly, but it did not require soaking to bend them into position so was doable in the time available to me. It serves its purpose. And later I will return it to the hedge.

Surveying Wildflowers

View of linear plot

View of linear plot

For eleven summers now, I have surveyed a tiny area of Derbyshire for Plantlife‘s Common Plants Survey. My randomly allocated square is not somewhere I would normally choose to walk, being the wrong side of a dual carriageway from here, but it has proved very interesting to return to the same small area over such a period of time, and chart the changes. I now think of it as ‘my’ square, so while I could swap to somewhere closer, as this year the survey undergoes massive changes, I decided to stay put. In its favour are well-kept footpaths which go through the exact centre of the square, and a small patch of woodland filled with bluebells in late spring.

The survey has changed twice since I started: originally there was a list of 65 plants, and I would check for their abundance within three specific areas – a square plot in the exact centre of the square, a linear plot nearby, and I chose to survey an additional linear plot that was along a particularly interesting bit of hedgerow. The list was then extended to 99 plants, and instead of the ‘habitat plot’, a footpath was followed North-South through the whole square to simply see what was present. I had the option of being a ‘super surveyor’ and listing all the plants, but 99 seemed to be a good number to get to know. Given that for several of these years I had health issues, or was pregnant, or had a baby in a sling, simple was good!

This year the survey is changing again, as a transition to relaunching next year to create something far more in depth, giving hopefully robust data that can be used to monitor how our wildflowers are changing over time. The list has been expanded to 400 plants, and includes common native species, those that are specific or indicative to particular types of habitat, and some invasive species. Habitats plots are back, centre plots are out (I suspect many were difficult to access), and the path idea remains.

One plot I am surveying this year remains in almost exactly the same location as the previous ten years – my original centre linear plot, which runs between the footpath and a stone wall. It is now 25m long not 20m which makes sense, and I have moved it up 2m to avoid a patch by the gate that has been mown since the nearby derelict farm buildings were converted into houses, but these seem like minor tweaks. The field the other side of the footpath was originally surveyed (or rather, a 5x5m patch in the corner was) and I have seen it change from clover in the first few years to arable crops, this year barley. However apart from occasional pruning of the overhanging oak trees, the linear plot gets very little attention and as a result it has become a riot of colour in early summer. Besides grasses, the main plants are stickyweed, cow parley and hogweed with occasional nettles and brambles, but to fill in the gaps there are poppies, chamomiles, speedwell, plantains, vetches, and this year for the first time I spotted Geranium dissectum.

Moving onto the path, this being a transition year there is an increased list of plants to spot but no booklet yet to confirm the identities, nor a simple list to tick off what I could see. So I took a different approach and wrote down every plant I could identify. Given that M’s concentration span wouldn’t allow me to look up plants in situ, I then took photographs of anything I wasn’t sure about and spent the next few days going through them and identifying as many of the remainder as I could. Some of course are not on the list for monitoring, and some will need the second visit for additional identification information, (either because there are similar plants that I didn’t get enough details to distinguish between them, or because they weren’t in flower yet) but how much more I learned by doing it this way! I have added at least half a dozen plants to my knowledge which I now feel I could recognise again, plus I am just starting to explore a whole new world of grasses – quite important on my path since around half of it is through fields that are only occasionally grazed by cows.

The middle section of my path runs through the woodland – which has just been taken over by a new owner who has removed alien invaders like Himalayan Balsam and planted many new trees. However, not all of them have plant labels, and from those that do there are some very interesting and unexpected additions, including 37 different native species according to the notice on the entry style so my identification skills here will be developing as well! Unfortunately the intensive management renders the woodland fairly useless for monitoring purposes, but how fascinating to watch!

And the remaining path? This runs along the side of an access track and has fairly different plants to the other sections, although by no means everything that I know is to be found within my square. However one new exciting find for this year was an pyramid orchid, just a solitary flower seen along this section and not yet open. I hope for some more by next year. So my list for the path is up to 63 flowering species, plus grasses, plus probably some sub-species of yellow flowers that I have lumped together (various sow thistles or hieraciums for example, not in the official list) giving me a starting point for future comparisons.

Flowers and Weeds – Part 2

Whilst writing last week’s post I had great difficulty in directing my thoughts, because weeds kept wanting to encroach and change the focus of the post. So I decided to split it into two parts; here is the second, dedicated to the type of plants some call ‘weeds’ but which flower alongside ‘flowers’ in my garden.

The most common definition of a weed I found online is:

A wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.

In my early days of gardening, I used to try to impose my control over what grew, removing the wild plants and replacing them with favoured flowers and shrubs grown from seed or bought in. Over time most of the non-native ones either died off, or were removed as looking out of place. I now have a rather more fluid definition of a weed in my garden, which can vary depending on what the plant is, where it is growing, and how much of it there is:

A weed is a plant that doesn’t bring joy into your heart.

Our lawn area contains many plants which do not come under any definition of grass. We have in the past sprinkled feed and weed around it and put much effort in to restrict the plants to grasses. However after I started to feel energies with my hands, I realised I much preferred a mixture of grass and clover and daisies and dandelions and self heal and mosses and whatever else wanted to grow there to just plain grass. So it was much easier just to mow it and enjoy it as it was. My aim today is not to eradicate anything, but just keep some kind of balance between all the different plants that grow. The only real weed in our lawn at present is a thistle rosette that I don’t particularly want to sit on! Conversely, grass or other lawn plants become weeds when they get into the flower or fruit areas.

In the vegetable beds most of the weeds are plants that I enjoy elsewhere in the garden, but don’t want competing for nutrients with crops I want to eat. Valeriana officinalis, or Yarrow or violets are the most common invaders; interestingly all three are useful plants medicinally, and that to me says something else about weeds. Just like an illness comes because we need it for some reason, so do the plants we need to heal ourselves come and surround us. I am going to suggest that:

Weeds are the plants most suited to the growing conditions, and to what you need personally.

I have been wondering if there is a general dislike of weeds because they are trying to tell us something we don’t want to know…

First, weeds being suited to the growing conditions. This may seem fairly obvious, because that is why they are successful. However, you can use the weeds as markers to tell you what kind of conditions you are providing. I have had an explosion of creeping buttercup in one area of my garden – the soil has become acid and compacted there. Nettles grow along the hedge – fertility is good there and the acidity in balance. Violets spreading across the front garden – there are several ants nests.

Second, weeds being what we need personally. Spiritually, I believe very strongly that all is connected, and we have everything we need even if that is not necessarily what we want. I don’t know what draws the weeds we need to us, but either like attracts like; they are successful under the same conditions in which we are trying to live; or because they are our spiritual allies. Whichever, we have the choice over whether or not to take notice of them.

So this week I have taken this a step further, listed all the plants which are currently doing incredibly well by themselves, needing constant keeping within bounds (whether or not I planted them originally), and then investigated what they offer medicinally. This was my list, minus buttercup (ranunculus) and columbine (aquilegia) for which I couldn’t find any medicinal value, both being toxic to humans when eaten fresh.

  • Betony (Stachys) – coughs and lungs, also a relaxant for de-stressing and related complaints.
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum) – said to contain the spirit of fairies; digestion, infections, cleansing, also nutritious. They are so common that it may be we as British people have great need for dandelion at this time.
  • Yarrow (Achillea) – said to improve alertness and psychic ability; healing wounds, PMS or other blood-related complaints, immune stimulant for colds and flu.
  • Stickyweed (Galium) – cleansing lymph system; see earlier post, Joys of Spring – Stickyweed.
  • Valeriana – relaxant, for muscles or stress; probably not me who needs this one!
  • Wild Strawberry (Fragaria) – wonderful tonic for women. (Fruits contain iron, folic acid, vitamin C)
  • Avens (Geum) – catarrh, or as clove substitute; chew the root for teeth troubles. Not me, again…
  • Holly (Ilex) – said to protect against evil spirits; catarrh, pleurisy, coughs, colds, flu.
  • Mallow (Malva) – expectorant, all sorts of lung conditions.

Hmm, you’d never guess I suffer from lung troubles looking at this list! And I can see the problems of the rest of my family reflected as well. While there are many herbs I do use that are not included here (because they do not spread by themselves) some of the above list were unfamiliar to me before writing this post. I intend to get to know them better over the coming months, and will let you know how I get on.