Ahhh, the cornflowers. I can never have enough of them. No matter how down and out we find ourselves, one look at these soothingly blue flowers will make us smile right out loud. Here is another story straight from my childhood, all about blue cornflowers. By the way, have you started your seeds yet?
I should have known when he was two and had to have green shoelaces. I really should have paid more attention when he wanted a green gardening hat and insisted on sleeping in it. The dreaded green gardening bug had taken a bite out of my little grandson. Now what could I possibly do about it?
I spent half my life looking for shamrocks. Not four leafed clovers, mind you, but shamrocks. I was taught they were lucky, they would keep snakes away, and they were the plant of my Irish/Celt ancestors. Of course everything I ever did was blamed on ancestors, but I am sure if the truth be known, my genetic structure is linked to every tribe and clan that ever existed.
Most of my winter was spent trying to stay warm, until one day an unexpected gift arrived in the mail. No more winter shivers for me! For the first time since those long, hot days of August, I'm cozy and warm.
Vervain was considered a miracle cure for nearly every ailment known to mankind. I must have gathered enough of it to treat every family in the southern Appalachians with some leftover to use as a love potion.
It wasn't the foot of snow that bothered me, it was the fact that I was craving strawberries in the dead of winter. I thought I'd help the strawberries grow sooner if I could rid them of their blanket of snow. This story is for the child who lurks within all of us.
I had a taste of a memory last night, and it has lingered all day long. There was something about it that brought to mind long ago Christmases and church youth choirs and riding in the back of a flat bed truck, singing Christmas carols up and down the hollows of southeast Kentucky.
It was the subtle scent of nutmeg that pulled me in like quicksand and made my mouth drool just like a hungry puppy. If I had lived a few hundred years before, I could have grated my own nutmeg and sprinkled it on every cake and donut that my mother made.
I had only asked for an angel for Christmas. Not a real angel, I knew better than that, but I really wanted an angel of my own. I had seen pictures of angels, I had read stories of angels, and I really needed an angel. Sometimes angels come in strange packages.
In the early winter on the way home from school, I would often stop by Aunt Bett's house at the mouth of the holler. Sometimes when I walked in I could smell the sweet aroma of baking gingerbread, and I knew Christmas was on the way! Aunt Bett and my Granny Ninna could bake the very best gingerbread, and I always got to make my own gingerbread man from the last pieces of the dough.
I liked the scent of spices that flavored the air during winter holidays. I thought it would be nice to have those scents around all the time. The easiest way to do that, I decided, was to sprinkle all those spices in the dresser drawer that held my undies and my socks.
When Aunt Bett helped me cut some branches of Witch Hazel to place in water on my bedside table, she didn't tell me the seed pods would explode and shower my bed with tiny black seeds. There is nothing like a loud POP! to bring you out of a dead sleep. Since my room was upstairs and the window was right beside my bed, I consider myself fortunate to have lived to tell the tale.
Psychiatrists were unheard of, no one went to marriage counseling, and very few people were ever divorced in my little area of the mountains. I had heard the word and knew what it meant, but I was never more surprised than when a middle aged man knocked on Aunt Bett's door and asked for a cure for divorce.
The vining wild yam tripped me every time I tried to take a shortcut through my mother's flower bed. I thought I had fallen for the last time when I grew up and moved away. Little did I know that it would follow me wherever I went.
Survival of the fittest, that's what it was. Anybody who could chew on as many plants and twigs as I did and live to tell the tale should be included in the Medical Miracle Hall of Fame. Here is another such tale.
My neighbor has a sweet gum tree in her back yard. My house sits on a diagonal downhill slope from hers, and I have the most glorious view of the tree in the fall. Of course, that means I get her sweet gum balls that roll downhill into my yard, too. And yes, it is truly worth it.
I gathered all the acorns I could find and put them in my pockets. I talked my dad into drilling tiny holes through them, then I strung them all together on a long piece of crochet thread, put them around my neck, and wore them to town.
The barberry is anything but common. In the fall of the year, I can spot one a mile away dressed in shades of reds and browns with clusters of oval orange/red/scarlet berries hanging together like so many red hatted little old ladies gathered round a picnic table, telling secrets of their youth.
There is nothing worse than being a little kid and knowing the adults are talking about something and don't want you to hear. It's like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I hated all the whispers that went on at Christmastime. And whoever heard of bunnies laying eggs, for goodness' sakes! It truly aggravated me when Aunt Bett started whispering and leaving me out.
The hackberry tree does not stand a chance with a name like this. In fact its wood is not worth much, it makes an annoying mess if it stands over a vehicle or on a pathway. But it does have incredible value in the great scheme of things.
I never heard the word "boring" when I was a child. The word didn't exist for me. I followed the ants on their trails to see where they built their homes. I chased lightning bugs. I built leaf boats and with a ladybug at the helm, I sailed them down the creek to unknown destinations. And I fixed all the flowers in my mother's garden so that the birds could drink from them.
Morning glories gaze down upon the faces of children and bring smiles of beauty. They also glare at us from their choking hold around the neck of our prized daylily and bring frowns of despair. And there is another even uglier hidden side to this pretty flower. Let me tell you about it.
It creeps upon us when we least expect it. One week we are weeding and deadheading from morning till night, then suddenly we are gasping and sweat is pouring down our faces. What happened, seemingly overnight? This is not an article about our weather changes, but what we can do about August.
Recently my friend Melody Rose wrote an article for Dave's Garden and its subject was indigo dye. When I read the article, I had one of those deja vu moments. Sometime in the past I had made an indigo blue dye from a plant in southeast Kentucky where I grew up. I knew it was not indigo, but it took an evening of searching through Aunt Bett's notes before I found it: Baptisia. She of course had a different name for it as well as a different use, but her Horsefly Weed sure did produce a fine blue dye for me!
About twenty years ago a friend gave me a twig with roots. She said to me, "I don't know what this is, but I don't want anymore bushes in my yard!" Now, many growing years later, this little twiggy bush has grown into a wonderful 40 foot tall River Birch Tree. It is the crowning glory in my front yard, and it still gives me pleasure as it stands leafless and peeling in the winter sun.
Aunt Bett had a subtle way of talking me into those early morning treks up the mountain. She peppered her words with enticing lures like diamonds, glittering jewels and flying emeralds. I was never disappointed when I arrived at wherever we were going, but sometimes her descriptions fell a little short of reality. Take her diamonds for example....
I have always dreamed of having my gardens in bloom from early spring through the end of fall with no lapse in between. It hasn't happened yet, but I came upon a way of making sure it happens in the very near future. Here is a method you might want to start now, so that when the first days of spring arrive in 2009, you will be ready for Showtime in your gardens.
Nature and I got along very well. I was taught to have a great deal of respect for all the freely given things of nature, and I did. My mother was a different story. I didn't think she would mind at all if I used her newly blooming sweet violets for my princess crown, but I was so wrong.
They were small strange blooms, looking very much like ballet shoes to me. We didn't gather many of them, and never the flower. We waited until it had bloomed and the plant was dying down before we gathered the root. It was to be made into a liquid that would ease the pain of a toothache.
Aunt Bett liked flowers and plants that served a purpose. That didn't allow much room for a plant to simply be a plant. Trees were for shade, vegetables were for food, and flowers were for medicine. It had been that way for a long time until I buried a twig of the flowering Japanese quince in her yard. Little did I know that it would grow and grow and grow.
"Is it for sure going to bloom, Nana? Can it breathe with all that dirt over it? Do you think it will bloom red? How long do I have to wait? Is that a magic seed?" When my little four year old grandson planted his first seeds, he had no doubt they would grow and bloom. I don't think big gardeners have doubts either.
It was years before I knew the plant was called Bearberry. I always though it was named for a bird chirping: ka-nik ka-nik, ka-nik ka-nik, and went through half my life spelling it in just that way. It was another of my southeast Kentucky mountain language barriers that brings a smile to me now.
My Great Aunt Bett was known as the Medicine Woman in the mountains of eastern Kentucky where I grew up. She was indeed a formidable woman, even to me, since she could drape that stinking asphidity bag around my neck and get by with it. This is the story of our trek up the mountains on our search for the new shoots of poke, and of all the magic held secretly within the pokeweed plant.
There were very few plants that I disliked. Wormseed was one of them. It offered no real beauty with its blooms, and the worst thing about it was its terrible smell. I guess that's why my family called it Stinking Weed. That wasn't the only reason I hated it, you must read the rest of the story to understand.
A field of sweet clover is one of the prettiest sights and scents you will ever find. But don't ever walk through one, because the honey bees swirl crazily in the air and land happily on every blossom. They would land on you, too, but neither of you would be very happy about that..
Among the plants most endowed with nature's gifts are the cherry and plum trees. We didn't have plum trees where I grew up, but the lovely wild cherry tree could be found in several places in the mountains. I also called it the chokeberry tree.