Garden folklore involves everything related even remotely to the garden. From the pollinator bees and the herbaceous perennials, you grow to the invasive plants that sprout uninvited and even some trees. It doesn’t hurt to know about these myths, where the superstitions come from, and what, if anything, you can do about them.
The Truth Behind Garden Superstitions
Garden gnomes have always been an integral part of Irish folklore. Mythical as they are, there’s always this assumption that they bring good luck. It’s no wonder that people keep these sprightly figures in their gardens maybe to lure the temperamental gnomes into the garden.
But not all garden superstitions are about mythical figures. As garden lore will have it, some plants tend to bring good luck, while others are the exact opposite. I wouldn’t say they’re evil plants, but some people would go out of their way not to step on a fairy ring. It’s not a character flaw or a quirkiness when some people have superstitions.
Even if you’ll laugh at someone who grows rosemary to ward off evil spirits, chances are you have unconsciously knocked on wood before to invite good luck. Even without knowing the pagan roots of this Germaniac practice, you still do it today without thinking twice about it.
Common Garden Superstitions and Plant Myths
Since gardening is our main focus here, then let’s take a look at some common garden superstitions that have passed down from one generation to the next.
The Bee Talk
While this superstition originated in England, it was widely practiced in the USA around the time Mark Twain wrote about it. In his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain stressed the importance of always talking to one’s bees. It’s not clear who started this tradition but we’re guessing it must have been some beekeeper who was feeling really lonely.
But according to this myth, you need to tell your bees about everything that’s going on in the house. Every evening, stand by your beehive and talk to your bees. It is believed that this encourages the bees to be more productive. The happier the bees, the sweeter their honey, or so the myth goes. Furthermore, if someone in the household passes away, the bees need to know about it within a week or they too will die. Some beekeepers went as far as draping the beehives with a black cloth in case the bees weren’t paying attention when told about the death in the family. Unlike other myths on this list, this one seems to strengthen your bond with your bees and might even save you money on therapy.
Scarecrows serve a practical purpose. They scare away birds that will eat your crops and damage your fields. So what kind of superstition got itself attached to scarecrows? Well, apparently, if you don’t treat your scarecrows with the respect and dignity they deserve, your plants would wither away and die. So how do you show your scarecrow respect?
Well, according to the most reliable sources, you have to provide your scary pal a hat. Standing there in the sun for hours on end could stir the fellow’s evil inclinations. A hat will keep it cool in the summer and happy as a clam. It also provides dignity so that the birds will fear it properly.
As for the clothes you clad the spindly figure of the scarecrow with, they can be hand-me-downs but you should never wear them yourself afterward. Once you give the scarecrow an item of clothing, you’re not allowed to take it off and give it to another human. That’s just a recipe for disaster, and you could pay a heavy price for it.
Some mushrooms grow in circles. For the unsuspecting eye, that could just be a coincidence. But a brain steeped in myth and folklore has a very good explanation for that. According to these all-knowing people, mushroom circles sprout out where fairies have previously formed a circle and danced. As we all know, it’s never a good thing to step into a fairy ring. That’s just asking for bad luck and only an ignorant person would do such a foolish thing.
But what would happen? For one thing, the fairies which are invisible to us mortals would then trap that person who stepped into the fairy ring and keep them imprisoned with their unnatural enchantments. However, there’s a solution to this predicament. In order to confuse the fairies, you should sprinkle an aromatic herb such as rosemary on the ground. The smell will intoxicate the fairies allowing you time to escape their entrapment unscathed.
If you’re familiar with alchemy, it’s that field of “science” where you try to turn base metal into gold. Before you raise your eyebrows with an amused smile, you should know that Isaac Newton had dappled into it and even drank some of his potions. But what has that got to do with lady’s mantle? The answer is in the scientific name of this magical plant.
Alchemilla mollis or, the little alchemist, is the name “scientists” used for this plant. The name has to do with the myth surrounding it. According to legend, the leaves of the plant collect dew n the morning. That dew was considered an important ingredient of the secret recipe to turn lead into gold.
Now since few people still believe in alchemy, the magical properties of the dew that the lady’s mantel collects have faded over time. These days, gardeners grow this plant for its ornamental values alone.
If stepping in a fairy circle is asking for trouble, coming across a four-leave clover is the exact opposite. It’s a sign that good things will come your way and you might be on your way to winning the lottery. And you have to thank Eve, yes that Eve, for that stroke of good luck.
Biblical sources maintain that when Eve was kicked out of Heaven, she “borrowed” a four-leaf clover as a souvenir. This might explain why these clovers are so rare. They’re relics from happier times when one didn’t have to work to earn a living. In some circles, St. Patrick is the patron saint of four-leaf clovers.
Potatoes And Good Friday
This myth has to do with picking the right time to plant your potatoes. According to tradition, you should always plant your potatoes on Good Friday. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there might be a relationship between this myth and the Irish Famine. The futility of the myth is only apparent when you consider that Good Friday is a shifting target that sometimes falls smack dab in the middle of the frost.
So if you plant potatoes in your garden, that’s one myth you should always ignore. The best time to grow potatoes is in the spring after the last frost. As Yoda would say, “Good Friday might be anything but a good time to plant your potatoes it is not!”
Being airborne has been one of humanity’s oldest dreams. At some point between Icarus and the Wright Brothers, witches took center stage as adept aviators. And their secret was the humble foxglove. According to trustworthy folklore and stories retold by the Grim Brothers, witches prepared a concoction of animal fat and foxglove. They rubbed this magical potion all over themselves and their brooms. That’s how they could soar above the smoking chimneys and cackle maniacally at the full moon.
To this day, science hasn’t been able to extract that secret ingredient in foxglove and save the airlines a fortune in jet fuel. This explains why air travel is still expensive even when fewer people are willing to venture on board a plane.
Fennel is an aromatic herb with many health benefits. As I write this, I’m drinking a cup of fennel tea. It settles the stomach and helps with digestion, or so I have been told. But back in the day, the versatile fennel had more potent powers than just to calm an upset stomach. When evil entered homes uninvited and dark magic was ubiquitous, fennel was your best weapon against these dark forces.
All you had to do was fill a pouch with fennel seeds and hang it outside your front door. If the sneaky witch tried to slither through the keyhole into your house, you’d block her entry by filling the keyhole with some more fennel seeds. It might make it tricky to lock or unlock your door, but that’s a small price to pay to keep evil, broom-mounted witches off your property.
Herbs have been a staple in the kitchen and medicine chest in different cultures throughout the ages. But have you ever thought about the rituals involved in gathering those innocuous seeds and leaves that you throw nonchalantly in your pot? Here we encounter different legends. In some cultures, you had to thank your herb plants as you gathered their leaves and seeds. Other no-nonsense cultures insisted that you should cuss your herbs to encourage them to grow and be more productive. We don’t like to judge, but if cursing a plant is the only way some people know how to make it grow, maybe gardening is not for them.
Plants and human morality have a complicated relationship at best. This is why if you want to make the most out of your Chinese money plant, you should steal it. You read that right. The more morally ambiguous the source of your plant, the more prolific it will grow. That’s just gardening lore.
For that reason, you should never say “thank you” to someone who gifts you a plant. That will just prevent the plant from growing. The explanation is simple. The plant’s growth is a symbol of your guilt. As it grows and prospers it should remind you of the bad act of stealing. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about it. Myths and superstitions were never good buddies with reason or common sense.
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