Centaurea 'Black Sprite'
A gardening column I wrote 8 years ago; this year I updated some of the plants.At the edge of the woods not far from where I live sits an old and crumbling abandoned house. But the gardens around it are well kept as though someone wants them to thrive forever. A peculiar old woman used to live here all alone, never a visitor, they say she was a witch. She died many years ago but under a full moon you can still see her ghost tending the gardens.
If you’re not afraid to go there in daylight you will be amazed to see the different types of plants growing. The colour black is sacred to witches and there you will find many plants that are true to this belief.
Look at the front of the garden with the strange shape; there are ‘Black Prince’ pansies with their large purple-black petals and gold centers, Sweet William ‘Sooty’ the biennial with its deep black-maroon petals that blooms in early summer in the sun or in part shade. Towards the back is cimicifuga ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ with ‘Black Sorbet’ violas under the leaves. The velvety black blooms of the violas will flower from spring until snowfall if they are deadheaded regularly ………….and someone has been doing this.
Black hollyhocks have self seeded everywhere, their deep purple-black flowers on eight foot high stalks are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. The black variety is an heirloom plant over 200 years old so I guess it has been in this garden for many, many years.
There is the new centaurea (perennial cornflower) called ‘Black Sprite’ growing freely and reaching 30 cm tall with its spidery black flower petals.
And the coleus ‘Black Ruffles’ has been planted at all those pointy edges of this garden.
Walk around to the side of the house and an herbal medicine wheel is as healthy as any you’ll see. Look closely and you can see where stems and leaves have been broken off to be used in ……potions?
Foxglove is abundant here because it is a source of digitalis and hemlock (the herb) which is a member of the carrot family is poisonous. Monkshood contains the poison aconitine which slows the heart rate and wolf’s bane; I shudder to think what it does. The mandrake root has a narcotic effect and vervain is for love potions while the opium poppies are used for sleep and dreams. Yarrow, known as the Devil’s nettle and a witch indicator plant is used for a wound poultice along with plantain leaves. All of these herbs that are used for black magic are only gathered during certain phases of the moon.
The moonflower against the building had me puzzled at first because it is a white flower that blooms at dusk and throughout the night. Ah, but it is fragrant and would attract many moths and other bugs that would in turn attract many black bats.
I wouldn’t go near this place at night if I were you. Footsteps have been heard shuffling through the thick layer of autumn leaves decomposing on the floor of the woods which will eventually become rich humus and... the perfect place to bury things.