Sandy’s Garden ... the age of Aquarius and Gorse

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

If you were born under the sign of Aquarius, you’ll already know that this covers the period between January 21 and February 20, give or take a day or two.

And you’ll probably know that Aquarius is the Water-Bearer, which is strange, for the weeks of his astrological reign are usually among the driest in the gardening year.

You’ll know, too, that there really is no such thing as a typical Aquarian. But there are a few general traits that most Aquarians possess; they tend to be happy to work alone and, while usually friendly, are sensitive to other people’s feelings.

They tend to be helpful and they sometimes find it difficult to form close friendships, preferring company and companionship to close personal ties.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Aquarian, as were Thomas Alva Edison and Charles Darwin, for Aquarians often possess intellectual talents that propel them to the forefront in their chosen careers.

This independence of thought is often allied to independence of action and of lifestyle, characteristics that sometimes make Aquarians seem like loners.

But the proof that there is no such thing as a typical Aquarian lies in the fact that Robert Burns was one, and no-one would describe him as a loner! Indeed, Burns denied another Aquarian trait, for one of the plants closely connected with this Astrological period is Gorse, which flowers for most of the year except during the time of Aquarius.

“When Gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of season,” runs an old saying … and if Burns knew that saying he certainly seems not to have believed it.

There’s another story about Gorse which links it to the Royal House of Plantagenet, who ruled England between about 1150 and 1400.

It is said that Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, lost the plume of yellow feathers from his helmet in the heat of battle, the plume of feathers that allowed his allies to identify him and to follow and support him through the vicious hand-to-hand combat of mediaeval battles.

He bent down, so the story goes, plucked a branch of Gorse and stuck that in his helmet, shouting, “Planta Genista! Planta Genista!” which, to be pedantic, is actually the Latin name for Broom rather than Gorse. Still, it’s a good story to explain how the Royal House of Plantagenet came by its surname.

Gorse, Whin or Furze, to give it its three common names, boasts the botanical name Ulex, Ulex Europaeus being the proper name for a plant which would surely never be seen in the upmarket area of any town, for Ulex Europaeus is Common Gorse.

Another reason why Common Gorse wouldn’t be seen in any upmarket area is that Common Gorse actually needs poor soil and doesn’t thrive in a rich environment. This is, of course, one of the main reasons why it does so well in many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, where it was once so common that the Gaels don’t have a proper name for it at all. Conasg, they called it, ‘Prickly’. Not ‘Prickly Anything’ … just ‘Prickly’. But Gorse was a valuable animal food for horses and cattle. The leaves can only be eaten when they are tender and soft in the spring, but the mature plant can be cut and crushed as winter fodder for the beasts.

Today, Gorse is, like all wild plants, protected by law and it is unlawful to dig up a wild root to plant in your garden. If you want to grow Gorse … and it’s a great plant for stopping the paper-boy from stepping on a flower bed when he’s cutting corners … you’ll need, sandy, stony, poor quality soil which gets plenty of sun. Ulex Europaeus ‘Plenus’ is the variety you’ll find in most garden centres, and it will reward you with plenty of attractive yellow flowers for much of the year.