Sandy’s Garden ... The Superstitious Gardener

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I am not superstitious.

It’s just that I don’t like to walk under ladders for fear the man … or men … working overhead may let something fall. And there’s something about the number ‘thirteen’ that I’m not too keen on; I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a … you know … a something. Then, unlike most people who look forward to Friday and the end of the working week, I tend to regard Friday as something of a day of chores, when shopping must be done for the weekend, the house needs to be comprehensively cleaned for the same reason and tasks which I had promised myself would be undertaken during the week cannot be put off any longer and must be tackled, no matter how unpleasant. Put together my phobias about the number ‘thirteen’ and about Fridays and you will readily understand why I don’t care for Friday 13th. But I am not superstitious.

If 2013 were a Leap Year … which it’s not, of course … then Friday this week would be the 29th, the day when, traditionally, girls are permitted to ask boys to marry them and when, if the boy refuses, he must give the girl a handsome gift. (Did you know this, ladies?) But there is a condition; the girl who pops the question must, according to Scots folklore, be wearing a red petticoat which must be partly visible. (And did you know that, gentlemen?) And there’s another old superstition once widely held by gardeners which decrees that neither crops nor seeds should be sown on a Leap Day; to do so would undoubtedly lead to a failure of the crop. Since it is rather difficult to believe that seeds or seedlings can differentiate between March 1 in three years in four and February 29 in a Leap Year, I can understand why this idea has fallen into disuse.

But some gardeners still do have a wealth of superstitious beliefs. One rather curious one is that a gardener should never thank a fellow-enthusiast for the gift of a plant; to do so will guarantee the death of the plant in question. Conversely, there are many superstitions about the plants one should grow to ensure protection from the forces of evil for oneself, one’s family, one’s animals and one’s crops. One of the simplest is the belief that a branch of ash … the most common tree in the United Kingdom … will ward off all evil influences if it is positioned above the doorway giving access to the home. Then some householders may prefer to sprinkle a mixture of basil and salt around the perimeter of their property to deny the forces of evil access to their premises. The mixture should, according to tradition, be half basil and half salt: but it does seem likely that, in our predominantly wet climate, the superstitious householder would need to renew the process at least once every week.

An ancient Scots belief is that hawthorn is a wonderfully protective plant. Certainly the thorns in a hawthorn hedge will deter the most determined paperboy from taking a short cut through the hedge owner’s garden: but more generally, hawthorn will deny access to all evil spirits and will actually attract friendly fairies. And as if that were not enough, hawthorn will offer protection against harmful natural forces like gales and thunderstorms. But even hawthorn can be outdone by holly, which protects the gardener and his or her family from all poisons as well as protecting their property from evil spirits and from lightning-strike. In addition, the male gardener should always have a sprig of holly about him for luck. And how about this as a recipe for foretelling the future? “After midnight on a Friday, in silence, gather nine holly leaves (the smooth kind) and wrap these in white cloth using nine knots to tie the ends together. Place this under your pillow and you will have prophetic dreams that night.” But, since I am not superstitious I don’t believe any of that … do I?

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society