Some witches are naturally gifted with herbs and plants. They know how to grow and cultivate both native and exotic plants and flowers and they finish the growing season with an impressive collection of neatly bagged herbs for use over the coming winter.
Unfortunately I am not one of those witches. I’ve got an enthusiastic rather than a green thumb, I’ll try to grow anything but my success rarely matches my ambition. Usually at the end of the growing season all I have to show for a summer’s hard work is a few half dead indefinable (though suspiciously weedy looking) pot plants and grubby nails.
Take last year for example. I was passionate to the point of giddiness about my elaborate plans for using my two new greenhouse for my herbs. I planted, I watered, I tended them religiously - I even sang to them a bit when nobody was watching – and the results? I think I ended up with two pots of Chamomile, a half dead pot of Rue, a slug eaten Datura stick and a load of random saplings that I couldn’t identify.
When I say ended up with… I made two monumentally stupid mistakes last year. The first being that I labelled the plants with stickers rather than those little plastic things you stick in the pots. The consequence of course being that with all my meticulous watering the labels fell off and I couldn’t identify anything. Knowing I had some pretty strong poisons growing among them I had to get rid of anything I couldn’t safely identify. Pretty heartbreaking - poor plants…. I’m not entirely sure if I am legally culpable if I end up accidentally killing people with my badly labelled herbs but I thought perhaps better safe than sorry!
(Actually now I think about it I remember that I did have one mistaken identification issue where I made a stew and confused Wormwood for something else - Oregano possibly- and shoved a load of it into the dinner. If that had been Castor Oil plants I’d have killed the lot of us.)
My other massive mistake was even stupider. I didn’t realise that perennial meant the plants would come back the next year. I got it confused with the word annual so I chucked a load of perennials away before finally clicking when I came to Lavender, googling the word and realising I’d killed half my plants for nothing. Unbelievably I have a degree in English. Just goes to show nobody gets it right all the time.
The ups and downs of the growing season frazzled me last year. I got extremely excited that my Hemlock was growing until my husband kindly and patiently pointed out that I was actually nurturing a rogue dandelion. Daft thing is that they look absolutely nothing alike. A sad case of wishful thinking, I really did want that Hemlock.
The plant I have always really, really wanted to grow is Datura. I must have planted over 40 individual Datura seeds last year. Bloody slugs had a field day. They ate the heads off my shoots as soon as they peeped through the soil. Mind they got their comeuppance, Datura is not a plant to interact with lightly. Every one of the stealing little slimies exploded after eating the Datura stalks. Small comfort though, I still ended up with nothing but a greenhouse full of dead slugs. Useful enough in their own way I suppose but not exactly the end result I had planned for. Datura remains my key focus this year – you’ll notice most witches with a plant ambition usually focus on Mandrake but Mandrake is so far out of my league and any weak claim I might make to Herbalism that I’m not getting any hopes up at all. I have bought some seeds – you’ve got to have a go haven’t you - but the chances of me sprouting anything more complicated than a dandelion are odds not worth betting on. Which is funny really as the dandelion has a similar root system to the Mandrake plant. It’s a good magical substitute for it. Only a hell of a lot easier to grow - I’ve managed a lawn full!
So this year - March 2014 – the start of the growing season. I’m armed with permanent markers, plastic plant sticks and an excel spreadsheet of instructions a mile long. I’ve read up on herbs this winter, I’ve turned my old snake vivarium over to seed sprouting and I’ve planted up my first batches. The seeds that need stratifying are in the fridge (stratification still confuses me – do I put them in soil? Water? Leave them in the packet – what??) and I’m ready to go. I’m so confident I’ve even nicked my husband’s electric coffee grinder to grind up all the herbs I’m going to produce. I’m ready, I’m prepared and I’m going to succeed this year…
Of course realistically it won’t work out like that. I’m damn good at using herbs to work magic but my relationship with the growing stage will never be what I want it to be. I just don’t have that certain something that my green fingered friends do. I’ll be updating you gloomily in a few months with pictures of my scrappy barely alive creations and begging random people on the internet to tell me what they are. I suppose it’s good for my soul to be humbled by my own inadequacy sometimes - there’s the silver lining to this particular cloud, lol. I will however take some comfort from the fact that I’m going to learn from last year’s mistakes, I’ve done the research, I’ve put the work in – even if I never get great I’m going to get better and that has to be worth something...
Oh and I absolutely love doing it – I’m in my element out there in the greenhouse. And
doing something you love, that has to be worth any amount of mistakes. Doesn’t it?
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