Thursday, March 19, 2009

Linum and some old folklore about gardening

Tuesday's 75-degree temperature broke records in northern Illinois. What a fabulous early spring day! I was able to spend a little time outside in the late afternoon. Pulling back leaf mulch on the sunny side of my stone wall I found daffodil bulbs already emerging. Also did some surveying for two spots to move a couple heirloom Gallica roses that aren't happy in their old location. Not looking forward to moving these.

I'm really enjoying doing the research on new additions to my garden this spring. This has become my year for experimenting with new plants. I ordered a package of Linum perenne or blue flax shown below from Swallowtail Seeds. Here is what I learned mostly from Tracy DiSabato-Aust's (aka the Queen of Deadheading;) and author of The Well Tended Perennial Garden.

(Texas A & M photo)

Three gardeners have highly recommended linum to me going so far as to say it's one of their favorites. Saphyr is 12-20 inches tall and blooms for several weeks in late spring/early summer then again in September. It is tolerant of heat and drought so it should be a good fit in my garden. It will probably be a short lived perennial but a good reseeder. I like an informal, cottagy style garden so this will be perfect adding a dash of cool blue here and there without adding a lot of bulk.

Tracy says cut cut back by about half in May to create bushier, studier plants. After bloom sheer off half to two thirds. Keep watered as they reestablish new foliage.

If you've grown linum, please let me know the pros and cons you found with it.

It looks like my plans to grow Tithonia Fiesta Del Sol may not work out. TC informs me that the Japanese beetles love the blooms and leaves. I'll try one or two but no point in feeding the darn beetles.

(Swallowtail Seeds Photo)

On to a completely unrelated topic. My Harbin and Cowden ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland and settled in the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas. Most settlers brought with them some ideas about farming and growing things that today we consider somewhat odd. I can understand their desperate desire for crops to grow well, after all their very lives depended on it. What I can't understand is what made them think these particular methods of witchcraft and tough love might work.

According to Appalachian folklore here are some remedies for common garden problems. (By the way, these were not passed to me from my family but are just folk lore I researched. If all else fails in your garden, try them;)


Eat sugar before planting fruit trees to make the fruit sweeter.

Apples with red spots inside means that the tree's root grew into the body of a murdered person. (This one creeps me out.)

Drive a rusty nail on the north side of the fruit tree for better yields.

The number of seeds in an apple will be your lucky number.

Whip a poor yielding tree and it will bear better the next year. (This one is pretty creepy too.)


Don't thank a person who gives you seeds or roots, or the plants will never grow. (I heard this from my Grandmother. )

Plant potatoes at night so the eyes don't see light.

Planting peppers when you are mad makes the peppers grow hotter.

For a good crop of watermelons, crawl to the patch backwards on the first day of May.

Since Good Friday is the only day when the devil has no power, plant as much as possible on that day. When planting on other days, plant two seeds for the devil and one for yourself.

Avoiding Bad Luck

To turn away negative forces of human, spectral or animal nature, toss nine broom straws, one at a time, on a hearth fire at sunset. ( I wonder if this would get rid of squirrels, moles, rabbits or bad neighbors;)

Dried basil hung over the doorways, windows, & fireplaces will keep unwelcome visitors (human or spirits) from entering. Rue or Purslane planted near the house discourages unwelcome visitors.

Placing a fern or ivy on the porch will protect against bad luck.

Geranium petals will protect you from lighting strikes and snakebites.

Geraniums on the southwest edge of your land can also provide protection against storms.

And last but not least, if you refuse to heed the weatherman and garden during thunderstorms, carry pieces of wood from a lightening-struck tree to protect yourself.

All kidding aside, I've met a few modern day rose growers that practice a similar blend of witchcraft and high tech chemistry. But that's a story for another blog.

Have a great weekend.


Meems said...

Hey Marnie,
You have been busy figuring out your spring garden. Can't help you with your choices but I like the photos of what you're thinking about so far. Always get a kick out of the perfectly profuse flowering photos provided by the sellers. Who wouldn't want flowers like that of any color?

That folk lore is comical too.
Spring is on its way to you!
Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

joey said...

Delightful post, Marnie. Warmth and sunshine does wonders for the soul :) I'm suffering from a bad case of spring fever after the past few glorous days. Loved the folk lore :)

A Wild Thing said...

The Gerson Institute is the one that sent me the email about the two bills going to senate and the house, bill HR.875 and S.425, trying to get them to take control of monitoring food safety of farmer's market foods and home-grown foods...don't know about you, but my homegrowns have never given me salmonella, nor has any of the organics I've consumed...what next...

We definitly need more awareness by the people of the benefits of organics and of bills trying to be passed by the Monsantos and pharmaceuticals of the world, to stop this planet poisoning.

Have a sunny day.

tina said...

Good morning Marnie. I tried flax once. It died:( No more. I think it likes a sandier soil than what I have, and also not as much acidity. Good luck with it. I think it does better up north.

The folklore. Now that is all interesting. Some I've heard before, some not. The one that really gets me is crawling backwards to the watermelon patch. Can you say tough work? No thanks. You too have a great weekend.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Meems, it used to be easy to see the doctored photos in catalogs. With PhotoShop it's getting harder;)

Joey, I feel the same way. It's been a long winter.

Hi Tina, thanks for the info on the flax. One of the people that recommended flax to me was in Canada. It may like the cooler climates better. We'll see.


Anonymous said...

Good morning Marnie! Bummer about the Japanese beetles liking Tithonia. Darn them. I hope they'll leave a couple flowers alone for you and the butterflies to enjoy but they are a greedy lot. I haven't ever grown linum/blue flax but I like free seeders too. They fill in all the holes and make the beds look full. I'll have to watch your experience with the seeds. I enjoyed reading the remedies and folklore but I haven't followed any ~ does that explain a few things?!!!

Kim said...

Hi Marnie, I love the Folklore and witchy elements of this post. Some things sound downright barmy, but the suggestion to whip a poor yielding tree is actually a sound one. We don't whip our trees, but a hard prune does as well. The tree panics and sends out more buds. Of course, you have to be careful, otherwise you would soon have an exhausted tree! As for throwing the broom straws on the fire - well, it might be more effective to chuck the unwanted visitors on instead :)

Sorry to hear about your cat, it really is a terrible thing to deal with :(

Take care

Kim x

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Kathleen, I've grown the same old tried and true perennials for so long. Every year adding two or three but seldom growing from seed or trying different annuals. This year I'm ready for change;)

Hi Kim, damaging the tree often produces more fruit in the short term but damage to the bark is likely to kill the tree.


Gail said...

Hi Marnie, I haven't any luck with Linum either...our soil is too heavy and slow my guess, but that is really only a guess. Like you I am trying new perennials. But also like you want to be realistic about what I plant...New this year are lots more grasses, more amsonias, new baptisias ...all happy to grow here. Good luck with the is a lovely blue.

The folklore et al was fascinating to read...some were creepy!


Anonymous said...

I have grown the flax in my south central garden with good luck. It is a short lived perennial for me but it does reseed. I have not cut it back in mid May before so I may give that a try.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Gail, I know what you mean, it is always best to select plants that are native or that prefer the conditions in your own garden.

Sue Ellen, thanks for the info. My soil is heavy clay but we never have wet summers here so I'm hoping...


flydragon said...

Hi Marnie,
Loved the folk lore stuff. I can attest to the truth of the geranium petals. I plant geraniums every year and I've never been bitten by a snake yet:))

BeadedTail said...

We haven't got above 60 degrees yet this year but the smell of fresh cut grass and the daffodils blooming has me so ready to get in the garden! Those flower photos are beautuiful and I enjoyed reading the folk lore!

Rose said...

These folklore beliefs are too funny. However, my grandfather swore by planting potatoes on Good Friday. I never figured that one out, since Good Friday varies by more than a month from year to year.

Sorry to hear about the Fiesta del Sol; I was all set to try some, but I really don't want anything else to attract Japanese beetles! But now you've enticed me with another plant, the linium--I'm always looking for more blue in my garden. I may just wait, though, until I see how yours does.

Pat said...

That's some crazy stuff but fun.
I have dried basil...maybe I should give it a in the wreath that hangs on the door.

bg_garden said...

WOnderful color show going on this spring in your garden. Thanks for sharing!

F Cameron said...


Folklore is so interesting to me. Great read!

I want to try linum, too. I "think" it is supposed to be deer resistant, but can't say for sure.


walk2write said...

Can't wait to see your Linum blooming, and I enjoyed your collection of folksy gardening tips, Marnie. Some of them might even have some merit. Like the one about driving a rusty nail in (more iron?). Seems a bit sadistic to the tree, though. In S. Illinois, the preferred date for potato planting was St. Patrick's Day, but here in NW FL, the old-timers say Valentine's Day is best. Gotta love those tators in the land of gators!

Kerri said...

The linum sure is a pretty color and the blooms are dainty. Hope it does well for you.
It does make me smile and wonder where those folks of old came up with such weird and wonderful remedies and beliefs :)

Susie said...

The linum looks really nice. I look forward to seeing it's blooms. The folklore sayings were funny. My grandmother use to tell us not to thank anyone for plants if they were given to you. She always seemed so serious about it too.

Cordwood Cabin said...

I love old folklore and superstitions--thanks for sharing those lovely garden tidbits! It will give me something to think about while weeding the herb beds. Mouse says hello, along with the cabin crows.

ChrisND said...

Some interesting folklore....I wonder if the purslane has to be "planted" -- no unwelcome visitors should come to our back door!

Maybe I would try the watermelon long as the neighbors aren't looking (although May 1 is early here).

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

Hmmmmm...I have both Ivy and Ferns on my front far it hasn't done it's job in the good luck department! Ha! Very interesting fokelore. You wonder how they came up with these.

I am trying Blue Flax this summer too. I've heard it is an easy grower. Thanks for the info on cutting it back in May--will try it.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend out in the garden.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Meems said it best, the catalogs always have mature plants to entice you to grow their plants. Spring is on its way...

Dog_geek said...

Fascinating folklore - the red spot in the apple is definitely creepy, but so is the one about potato eyes being able to see the light - ugh! My Italian grandmother had all sorts of bizarre superstitions - not particularly about gardening, but just in general.

Unknown said...

This is a great post. Okay how do I explain crawling backwards to my garden to my neighbors? They already think I have a sickness when it comes to plants. I believe the beating of a fruit tree will produce more fruit. Why? Because it took our grapefruit tree seemed like forever to produce. One day I saw my husband beating the limbs around, I asked, What in the world are you doing? He said, this damn tree isn't ever going to do anything! The next year we had grapefruit!!

sweetbay said...

I love the color of Linum but haven't tried it in my garden. I believe it would melt down in our summer heat and humidity.

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Marnie, I love blue flax, but it is (wait for it) NOT something I've grown from seed! ;-) Though obviously I should, as I haven't had much luck with it when purchased as a plant. I'm not sure why; a client of mine had it and it was lovely. I also haven't had the best luck with delphinium (until the last few years). Everyone has a plant that doesn't do well for them, though it's not really hard to grow! :)

Roses and Lilacs said...

Flydragon, you've convinced me. Geraniums everywhere;)

Hi BeadedTail, spring fever, we all have it.

Hi Rose, you can never have too much blue. I'll let you know.

Hey Patsi, it can't hurt, right;)


Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Bren, thanks.

Cameron, I read it is deer resistant. Aggie makes everything deer resistant in my garden;)

Walk2Write, these dates must apply to the Appalachian Mts area.

Hi Kerri, some of it is kind of black-magicy.


Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Susie, my Grandma said the same thing.

Hi Cordwood and Mouse. Perhaps we should invent our own magic garden rituals and potions;)

Hi Chris, if people see you crawling backwards into a melon patch, you won't have many visitors--welcome or not.

Hi MorningGlories, we will both be experimenting this year.


Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Lisa, and it works;)

Hi DogGeek, my Mom has tons of Irish superstitions. She's pretty careful about them too.

OK, Darla, I'm going to start beating up my trees. I wouldn't worry about the crawling backward, after the neighbors watch your husband punch out the tree they are gonna know you're an interesting family;)


Roses and Lilacs said...

Monica thanks. This probably is a plant that wants sandy loam like my dad has. Never the less, because it's drought tolerant, I'm determined to find a place for it.

Hi SweetBay, you may be right.

Naturegirl said...

Hurrah Spring has come to your world!! Happy Spring!!
Some interesting folklore facts!!

TC said...

Loved the folklore gardening tips. And I hope the beetles don't find your Mexican sunflowers or the blue Linum, it seems they'll eat most anything if infestation occurs. But I'm using an old folklore remedy to keep them away from your garden so don't worry. :~)

marmee said...

yeah we are in spring now if the temps would just cooperate, it's 36 degrees this morning. we did have a few nice days and the sun is shining which makes all the difference to me. it is fun to experiment with new things. hope you have wonderful success.
the things some of our ancestors did, is so strange. how interesting it must have been to see some of these practises being done.

Anonymous said...

I grow the Linum perenne 'Blue Sapphire', and really like it. It is very easy care, and looks after itself. The sky blue colour is wonderful. Mine bloom for about 6 to 8 weeks, and then have a few sporadic blooms after that. If there is bare soil around, they will self seed, but not in an annoying way, and the seedlings are easy to uproot or move if you want. Now I have a heavier mulch around them, so they don't really self seed much. The feathery type foliage makes a nice background for shorter plants after the blooms are finished.

Balisha said...

Hi Marnie,
I just want to know when you are planting watermelon? We want a picture of that. :)

Anonymous said...

I always say a prayer for my plants as I am planting them. I figure if talking to them is suppose to help, praying for them surely will!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie!
I bet you were up to the same stuff we were this weekend... getting out and cleaning up the beds! We got the entire front boulder bed almost cleared out and it looks so much better ... and made lots of discoveries of bulbs coming up. I can't wait for everyone to get into the show...

Your garden lore was tons of fun! Some of those we had hears but others were new. BTW on that "whipping the tree" one, did it specify that it was supposed to be done with willow switches? Fernymoss said he had heard that one, but that it involved willow.

We used to have Linum before the rabbits ate it all ... we should try again. I'm going to replant Larkspur again and hope that they don't devour the seedlings like the last time I planted it. Maybe I should post Hanna out there as a guard? LOL, unless we stayed with her, she'd get unhappy fast ... she really has to be with one or both of us all the time. But ... she's starting to like her crate and hangs out in there when we eat, just curls up and snoozes ... we consider that a great sign that she accepts it!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I love flax, but it doesn't overwinter well for me. The kind you have looks like its blooms are larger than the kind I've grown.

I think I grew a Mexican sunflower in a tub with some other orange flowers, but don't remember how well it did. After seeing them in pics on the cottage garden forum in ivillage, I decided to try some in my new bed. I don't remember what kind they are, but I have a few coming up inside, and may plant some by seed in my garden at the neighbor's across the street. I have some Russian Mammoth sunflower seeds to plant there, too. I think I am going to have that filled up!

I hope all you new to you plants do well. What fun!

Anonymous said...