Gardeners Wisdom

GARLIC and roses help each other. A single clove planted beside each rose will keep the greenfly away (Boland & Boland) and will enhance the scent. It is also said to contribute to keeping fruit trees healthy. They say, too, LILIES-OF-THE-VALLEY will only thrive with SOLOMON'S SEAL ("their husbands") growing nearby (M Baker. 1974). FOXGLOVES, too, will stimulate growth on plants growing near them, and help keep them disease free. So does PARSLEY, which often used to be grown as an aid to other cultivation. If it was planted all round the onion bed, for instance, it would keep onion fly away (Rohde). It is grown among roses, too, both to improve the scent and to help repel greenfly. It helps tomatoes and asparagus, too, and it encourages bees into the garden. There are many superstitions about planting or sowing parsley - see PARSLEY. NASTURTIUM. too, will keep greenfly at bay. Grow them up the trunks of fruit trees, and plant them in the greenhouse against woolly aphis. And plant them on St Patrick's Day, if you want them to grow fast (Boland & Boland). They say that STRAWBERRIES grow best when planted near nettles (Notes & Queries. 4th series. vol 19; 1872).

WALLFLOWERS can be companion plants for an apple tree; they say it encourages the tree's fruiting (M Baker. 1980). A dead tomato plant hung on the boughs of an apple tree through the winter, will preserve it from blight. Or the plant can be burnt under the tree, so that the smoke can ascend among the branches (Quelch). Sow TURNIP seed thickly in a part of the garden infested by couch, and the latter will disappear (Boland & Boland).

Plant turnips on the 25 July,

And you'll have turnips, wet or dry is one of the gardening adages from Kentucky, but they also tell one to plant them on 10 August (and certainly not on the 7 August). To have good luck with them, say as you throw out a handful of seed: "One for the fly, one for the devil, and one for I" (Thomas & Thomas).

Getting rid of NETTLES has always exercised the minds of gardeners. In Herefordshire they used to say that if nettles were well beaten with sticks on the day of the first new moon in May, they would wither and not come up again. The advice given in the old rhyme:

Cut nettles in June, They come up again soon.

Cut them in July They're sure to die (Udal), seems to be more practical. But gardeners are quite keen on the plant, within reason, for it is said to stimulate the growth of all plants around them while actually growing, as well as being the best thing to hasten the decomposing of a compost heap. Growing controlled clumps of them between currant bushes will help them fruit better (Boland & Boland). SPEAR PLUME THISTLE:

Cut thistles in May, they'll grow again some day, Cut thistles in June, that will be too soon. Cut thistles in July, they'll lay down and die (Leather).

COUCHGRASS presents problems, too. The answer, so it is claimed, is to sow turnip seed thickly in the part of the garden that is infested; the couch will disappear (Boland & Boland). Bury a stick of RHUBARB here and there in a bed when planting cabbages, against club-root (Boland & Boland).

If a ROSE is pruned on St John's Eve, it will bloom again in the autumn (Napier), a superstition only in the insistence on St John's Eve. And there is another, common in the Wessex area, that is not strictly folklore at all, but an observation of companion planting -people grow onions at the foot of a rose, with the object of making the flowers healthy and improving their perfume (Udal) (cf GARLIC above). MARIGOLDS are good to have in the garden, for they will keep fly pests away from a vegetable patch (M Baker. 1977). So will AFRICAN MARIGOLDS, which will kill eelworms at three feet distance (M Baker. 1977). Grow them, too, near potatoes and tomatoes (Boland & Boland), as well as carrots and onions (Vickery. 1995), to keep pests away. CAMOMILE is looked on as a "plant physician", restoring to health any sickly plant near which it grows (Bardswell). Of course, one has to be judicious in its use. It should only be planted near the ailing plant for a short time; if the camomile clump grows too big, it has to be moved, otherwise the other plant will weaken again, "as though the patient had become over-dependent on the doctor and tiresomely hypochondriac" (Leyel. 1937).

There were proper times for planting BROAD BEANS, though they seem to have varied rather widely. The favourite seems to have been St Thomas's Day (21 December), but equally well known is the Somerset rule that they should be set in the Candlemas Waddle, that is, the waning of the February moon, or on the February new moon, as some say (Watson), other wise they would not flourish. Elsewhere a date a little later than this is preferred, according to the rhyme:

Sow beans or peas on David or Chad Be the weather good or bad;

Then comes Benedict, If you ain't sown your beans -

Warwickshire custom required bean-planting to start on St Valentine's Day, and they agree it must be finished by St Benedict. St Valentine's Day is 14 February, St David's Day 1 March, and Chad the day after. St Benedict is celebrated in 21 March. The leafing of the ELM was a guide to planting:

When elm leaves are as big as a shilling, Plant kidney beans, if to plant 'em you're willing. When elm leaves are as big as a penny, You must plant kidney beans, if you mean to have any (Dyer. 1889).

That was from Warwickshire, as is the following:

When the elmen leaf is as big as a mouse's ear Then to sow barley never fear. When the elmen leaf is as big as an ox's eye, Then I say, "Hie, boys, hie" (Palmer. 1976).

The Cotswold variation has "as large as a farthing", or farden, to rhyme with 'garden'.

POTATOES have to be planted on a special day, but there is much debate as to the actual day. The Pennsylvania Germans say it should be St Patrick's Day if you wanted a big crop (Dorson), but the general feeling is that the planting should be on Good Friday, an odd choice horticulturally, for there could be as much as a month's variation in the timing. But of course the choice of day has nothing to do with reason - Good Friday is the one day on which the devil has no power to blight the crop. Gardeners have it that SHALLOTS should be sown on the shortest day of the year, and pulled on the longest, with a slight variation in Cheshire, where they say they should be planted on Christmas Day. Opinions differ as to when ONIONS should be set. In Lancashire, they say it should always be on St Gregory's Day (12 March) to ensure a good crop (M Baker. 1980). Sometimes, as in Buckinghamshire, you hear that St Patrick's Day (17 March) is the proper day; in Shropshire, it is Ash Wednesday, though in France it is much later, surprisingly, for Palm Sunday is the proper day there (M Baker. 1977). St Benedict's Day is more reasonable - that is 21 March, and the day the Pennsylvania Germans chose (Fogel). The state of the moon is important, too. Thomas Hill, in the 16th century, gave this advice: "If the Gardner commit seeds to the earth in the wane or decrease of the Moon, he shall possesse small and sowrer ones, if the seeds are sown in the increase of the Moon, then strong and big, and of a moister tast, with the sowrenesss maistred". This is sympathetic magic, of course; as the moon increases so will the size of your plants, but there is no magic about further advice from the Pennsylvania Germans, who say you should bend over the tops of onions on the day of the Seven Sleepers (27 June) to make them grow big (Fogel). Gardeners' advice to set a row of onions between each row of carrots is equally sound -doing so will keep away the carrot pests (M Baker. 1977). CABBAGES should be sown on St Gertrude's Day, which is 17 March, for the best results, say the Germans, and their counterparts in America (Fogel), but in Kentucky, the favoured day is 9 May, and scatter elder leaves over them to keep insects away. Another piece of American wisdom advises sprinkling flour over the plants while the dew is on them, to drive away the worms. Similarly, PENNYROYAL leaves can be used to the same effect (H M Hyatt).

MYRTLE will only take root if planted on Good Friday, they say (Sebillot). Received wisdom in Somerset used to be that when planting it, one should spread out the tail of one's gown, and look proud, or it would not flourish (Tongue). In that same county, it is said to be one of the luckiest plants to have in a window box, although it will not grow there unless planted by a good woman (M Baker. 1980). Again, one has to be proud of it, and water it each morning (Notes and Queries; 1853). THYME is different; certainly, when moving house you should take it with you (Whitney & Bullock). But, according to the Pennsylvania Germans, unless you sit on it after planting, it will not grow (Fogel).

There are some pieces of advice about planting WATER MELONS from the southern states of America. They should be set on the 1st May, before sunrise, for good luck (R B Browne), and by poking the seed in the ground with the fingers (Puckett), or, according to Kentucky wisdom, in your night clothes, before sunrise; then the insects will never attack them. And carry the seed out in a wash tub. Then the melons will grow as large as the tub (Thomas & Thomas). CUCUMBERS need special treatment. They are, of course, phallic emblems, and a man should plant them. To get the largest cucumbers, planting them on the longest day (Fogel), is an example of homeopathic magic at work. Similar ideas are quite widespread in America. The seed should be sown before daylight, but also it should be done by a man, perferably naked, and in the prime of life. The size of the cucumbers depends on the "visible virility of the sower". Sown by women or old men they will never amount to much (M Baker. 1977). In Maryland, they say that if you plant them with your mouth open, the bugs will not bother them (Whitney & Bullock). Much superstition unerlays the actual time of sowing. The longest day, as we have seen, is significant, but in Kentucky they prefer a later date, the 4th or 6th of July (Thomas &

Thomas). Again, in Alabama, received wisdom has it that they should be planted on the first of May (R B Browne). There is a Guernsey rhyme that translates:

Sow your cucumbers in March, you will need neither bag nor sack,

Sow them in April, and you will have few.

But I will sow mine in May, and I will pick more than you (Garis).

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