Putting the 'guardians' into the garden

By Lynette L. Walther | Oct 20, 2017
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Like little clusters of Halloween jack o’ lanterns, the pendulous orange berries of the native mountain ash are a wintertime favorite of birds. Even monarch butterflies cannot resist their charms. This colorful tree has long been planted at homesteads to ward of evil spirits, vampires and werewolves.

Come the end of this month, there could be more than little goblins and princesses and Ninja Turtles wandering about. We know that All Hallows Eve is the time when werewolves and vampires cavort, a time when neither Snickers bars nor candy corn can keep them at bay. For eons, “muggles” have turned to their gardens to thwart these scary creatures.

If I were to plant a garden to ward off vampires and werewolves, I’d start with a mountain ash tree. The Sorbus americana is a deciduous tree native to eastern part of this country. Commonly known as the American mountain ash, it is also known as Rowan, rowan berry, roundwood, mountain sumac, winetree, dogberry, service tree, wild ash, quickbeam, life-of-man, Indian mozemize, missey-moosey and mose-misse. Folklore has it that the shade of a mountain ash is a guard against werewolves and other evil beings. Planting one near a house protects the occupants within. And come autumn these trees certainly do stand out in the landscape, heavy with clusters of little orange “pumpkins.”

Reports of cultivation of mountain ash trees date to the early 1800s, and the bark of the tree was used as an anti-malarial medicine because the tree itself resembled the quinine tree. However, the only reference I could find to substantiate this use was one for the European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), a tree similar in appearance, but a different variety which is in the Oleaceae family. (http://findmeacure.com/2015/10/03/fraxinus-excelsior/)

And this time of year the mountain ash trees here are resplendent with those drooping clusters of orange-to-red berries, which many types of birds relish. The colorful fruits are perfect complements to other elements in the landscape. The bitter berries of native varieties are not recommended for eating; however, there are cultivars with edible fruits. Springtime showy clusters of attractive tiny white flowers grace the trees, which are described as being small, and somewhat short-lived because of diseases that frequently infect the tree. Fall foliage is attractive.

Trees grow rapidly from the berries. I know this because one “voluteered” itself next to my driveway and in just a couple of years was a sizable little tree. On a recent camping trip north to Cap Breton, we couldn’t help but notice the mountain ash trees with their colorful berries all the way north to the tip of that peninsula. The hardy trees stood out like sentinels of fall among all the firs and spruces. Colorful and attractive, it provides food for wildlife and keeps werewolves at bay! What more could anyone ask of a native tree?

The next thing my anti-mythical beast garden would contain — and indeed it already does — is garlic. And if you have not planted your anti-vampire bed of garlic, it’s time to get cracking! Every year I set aside the largest bulbs of my harvest for the “seeds” of next year’s crop. Split up the multifaceted bulbs into seedlets, and plant about three to six inches deep in rich soil that has been amended with plenty of compost. I dig a planting trench, spread a line of crushed eggshells along the bottom, place my garlic seeds about five inches apart and cover with soil. On top of that goes a thick dressing of hay, at least three inches thick. This blanket of hay will keep the soil temps below fairly stable, prevent weeds and preserve moisture until the garlic is harvested the next summer.

(For a world of garlic choices, visit Harvesting History’s website at: https://harvesting-history.com/?s=garlic&post_type=product&type_aws=true). There is still time to order and plant garlic for harvest next summer.

More items my garden would contain to ward off those evil creatures would be rye, which makes a good winter cover crop for vegetable gardens. Another weapon is the wolf’s bane — an herb with a name that pretty much explains itself. A member of the Ranunculaceae family, commonly known as aconite, monkshood, wolf's bane, leopard's bane, mousebane, women's bane, devil's helmet, queen of poisons, or blue rocket, is a genus of more than 250 species of flowering plants. Mine blooms in late summer with spikes of deep blue. This shade-loving plant is a long-lived perennial that grows to about three feet tall, in addition to keeping werewolves at bay. It would also be one of those plants to add to a garden of decidedly poisonous plants.

So, with the garden “defense system” up and growing, I will be ready for all comers. Well, yeah, I’ll have to stock up on Snickers and candy corn for those other goblins, too.

Lynette L. Walther received the 2017 Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, the second time she’s received this award for her newspaper garden columns. She gardens in Camden.

A tree for all seasons and a native species, in the spring the mountain ash tree adorns itself with frilly panicles of white blooms. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Wolfsbane, a poisonous plant, is one of those celebrated in myth as a protection against werewolves. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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