Low-input, low-maintenance, low-cost solutions to managing Seven Trees Farm are always under development, and security is on the list. While we’ve ticked off the more obvious measures, such as cameras, fences and lighting, it never hurts to have extra layers of protection when times get tough.
The hedgerows we started back in 2006 are maturing nicely, providing shade for pets and livestock, food for wildlife, and summer privacy for people. Now we’re extending the project to include deterring 2 and 4 legged varmints from the house yard, while adding bee/hummingbird food, medicinal plants and lovely, fragrant flowers.
Our robust rugosa rose inspired the first pick for the new hedge – Marie Bugnet. High Country Roses describes it as “A lovely rose with elegant pointed buds that open to fragrant, snow-white double blooms. One of the earliest to bloom in spring, repeating well into fall. The shrub is compact, reaching 3 feet tall and wide. Canes are a rich red in winter.”
Rugosa roses are generally hardier and require less fussing than ‘fancy’ roses, and the smaller size hopefully means less pruning too. We like this variety for a variety of reasons – fragrance, manageable size, long bloom time, and wicked thorns.
There are some good lists and articles on defensive plantings, like this one, but each home and microclimate are unique, so not all plants listed work for everyone. We’ll add some evergreen shrubs for winter privacy (this hedgerow will screen the house from road view) and encourage previously planted herbs, like lemon balm, field mint, and catnip, to fill in the gaps. One top contender for evergreen addition is California lilac (genus Ceanothus) as it draws pollinators like bees to honey 🙂 It may not be hardy in our Fraser-outflow impacted microclimate, but it’s too pretty not to try.
“Leaders grasp nettles” ~ David Ogilvy, (Scottish born British military intelligence officer and later top advertising executive, 1911-1999)
While leaders sometimes must metaphorically grasp nettles, the humans of Seven Trees Farm look forward to a brief frenzy of literal nettle-grasping this time of year. We’ve written a lot about the medicinal, culinary, recreational and agricultural uses for nettles, but not so much about the magickal and metaphorical meanings our ancestors attributed to this prickly plant.In 1838, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story about a girl who saved her brothers from their fate of being turned into swans by weaving them shirts made from nettles. She had to gather the nettles with her bare hands, process the fibers with her bare feet, weave the fabric and sew the shirts without speaking.
‘Unspoken nettles’ seem to be a standard requirement in getting the most efficacy from the plant, whether for magic or medicine. The Folklore Journal of January 1884 recounts this tale: Nettles also figure in many proverbs: “If they would drink nettles in March and eat mugwort in May, so many fine maidens wouldn’t go to the clay.”
“Tender-handed, grasp the nettle, and it stings you for your pains. Grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remains.”
Old Norse/Germanic belief was that nettles were important to Thor/Thunor, and throwing nettles on the fire during a thunderstorm would protect you from his lightning bolts.
Nettles gathered before sunrise will drive evil spirits away from cattle, according to German folklore, ans a pot of nettle under a sick person’s bed indicated recovery if they stayed green, but death if they wilted.
This old Scottish rhyme needs a little translating, but advises harvesting nettles early in the day, cutting them low to the ground, in shady places, and substituting them for ‘kail’ or greens:
“Gin ye be for lang kail coo the nettle, stoo the nettle
Gin ye be for lang kail coo the nettle early
Coo it laich, coo it sune, coo it in the month o’ June
Stoo it ere it’s in the bloom, coo the nettle early
Coo it by the auld wa’s, coo it where the sun ne’er fa’s
Stoo it when the day daws, coo the nettle early.”
(Old Wives Lore for Gardeners, M & B Boland)
Wikipedia says: Coo, cow, and stoo are all Scottish for cut back or crop (although, curiously, another meaning of “stoo” is to throb or ache), while “laich” means short or low to the ground. Given the repetition of “early,” presumably this is advice to harvest nettles first thing in the morning and to cut them back hard [which seems to contradict the advice of the Royal Horticultural Society].
Nicholas Culpepper, in his classic work Complete Herbal and English Physician says that Mars governs nettles. ” You know Mars is hot and dry, and you know as well that winter is cold and moist; then you may know as well the reason nettle-tops, eaten in the spring, consumeth the phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man, that the coldness and moistness that winter hath left behind.”
Danes believed nettle patches marked the graves of elves, and Scottish Highlanders thought they marked human graves. Archaeologists know that nettles can mean ground that was disturbed by settlements, and where to start digging.
One last quote to keep in mind when you’re out harvesting your own nettles: “He who is afraid of every nettle should not piss in the grass” ~Thomas Fuller (British Clergyman and Writer, one of the most prolific authors of the 17th century. 1608-1661)
Since the weather turned rainy this week, our outdoor projects took a back seat to the long-neglected shop clean-out. Many things were condensed, discarded, prepared for donation…but amongst all the debris of farm living was a plastic tote full of dried catnip. Last summer we sheared vast quantities from this herbal hedge (catnip on the right, motherwort on the left) and some was stashed in the shop for later processing. With so much abundance, we never did get around to storing it properly (we have bundles of catnip hanging behind the woodstove that kitties revel in all winter). As the wiki says – the nepetalactone contained in some Nepeta species binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, typically resulting in temporary euphoria.
So we set this tote on the porch, after declaring it too old and spent to be worth saving, to await a dry day for burning in our firepit. The cats thought otherwise…
The cat-butt prints in this vat of party didn’t translate well on film, but just about every time we stepped out to the back porch, we found a feline taking advantage of the party favors. Even our cranky paranoid old man cat, Crichton, got in on the fun.
Like it or not, catnip now grows everywhere on Seven Trees Farm. Not what you want in the middle of the carrot row, but rather nice to have as a bee-attracting, shade-producing, kitty-intoxicating hedge in other parts of the yard. If you’re in our neck of the woods, we’d be happy to pot up some party weed for you to take home to your kitties 😀