Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween and Samhain

The weather has broken most state records, resembling mid-summer more than Fall, however Sunday was the epitome perfection. Basking in the glow of windless warm sunshine, enjoying the exquisite feel of the day, it is understandable why this is a favorite season for many... cherished all the more for its fleeting passage.

As Halloween arrives it is interesting to review the origins of one of our most treasured and anticipated holidays. As with most of our holidays, its origins are deeply rooted within the pagan beliefs of our ancestors, with their celebrations altered to adapt to Christian faith. The Celtics, a once powerful people of central and northern Europe, gathered for their New Years celebrations at end of harvest and their beliefs are included in Halloween as we know it. The celebration of their New Year, called Samhain (Irish-Gaelic for 'the Summer's end’) took place on October 31st, which is coincidentally our Halloween.

It was believed border between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest on this night, allowing the souls of the deceased to enter the land of the living. So for this one night hearth fires were extinguished so their light could not be seen to either guide or frighten the returning souls. Gathered in celebratory groups, these tribal people lit huge bonfires of sacred oak branches to drive away evil spirits and warm the living. Costumes were worn so the Lord of Death could not recognize and then come claim one in the coming year. Often animals were sacrificed, fortunes were told, and at the end of the night with the safety of dawn, hearth fires were relit from the bonfire to ensure happiness and prosperity as the New Year began.

The Roman Church decided to make All Saint’s Day on November 1st to coincide with the Celtic festival. All Saints' Day was instituted as a holiday in the year 609 and it was moved from May to November in 834 after the Church discovered the importance of the Celtic rituals. On All Souls Day poor people went ‘a-souling’ (or begging) for ‘soulcakes’ in exchange for the promise they pray for the dead in purgatory and from this came our custom of ‘trick or treating’.

These beliefs arrived in Mexico directly from the Roman Church and are still celebrated with ‘The Day of the Dead’ as family members welcome deceased relatives home for the night. Their grave is surrounded by welcoming candles and a place at the table is set for them as their favorite foods are prepared. Generations gather and complimentary stories about the deceased are told as they are welcomed home for an evening with loved ones.

Any way it is viewed historically, the customs surrounding the death of summer also honor the dead, complete with the belief that mortal souls return to wander the earth. Autumn leaves, Jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, costumes, black cats, and fortune-telling all evolved from these pagan customs. It is amazing that these ancient Celtic rituals, which have become our Halloween, continue to be embraced and still flourish today.
Thousands upon thousands of birds arrived to bathe in the pond before the festivities began...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tips for Planting Tulips and Storing Seeds

 With the arrival of Fall it is time to perform a number of important garden tasks and the weather is perfect! Bulbs planted now will settle in over the winter and arrive early next Spring and there is one important tip to assure their survival from any number of pests who would enjoy eating or moving them about. As you plant your bulbs, sprinkle the hole you dug with scented baby powder and coat the bulbs by placing them in a plastic bag half full of talc and tossing them about. I have done this successfully for many years and considered the information released this month about talc being a cancer causing carcinogen… perhaps the critters intuitively sensed this before our scientific community recognized it and have purposefully avoided it. 

 Dig a hole that is twice as deep as your bulb and place it firmly before covering it and mashing the soil around it. It is wise to place a small stake (or stick) above each bulb to prevent accidentally digging one up as you continue to plant. In fact it is also wise to gently dig several inches down and feel about for previously planted bulbs to avoid disturbing them… it is always distressing to dig and sever a resting bulb as you plant new ones. Water your garden after planting and remember to water on fine days during the winter.

The joyful tulip will arrive at the garden party with the first blush of Spring, promising the garden season has indeed arrived. Tulip bulbs are readily available and easily affordable and the color and scale is breathtaking. There are tulips that resemble Peonies, scented tulips, multicolored tulips and variation in size from demitasse to luncheon plate. One may choose common or frilly, parrot or scented, and all are delightful. Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. They are well worth the effort to plant… if only for one season.

Prior to the inevitable freeze collect seeds for those that have adapted to the garden will have a memory of conditions within it and fare better. Make sure all dew has dried and allow the seeds to continue drying on paper plate in the house before storing them. Plastic bags are good for storage and a valuable tip is to place one of those silica packets that seem to be in every item purchased in the bag with the seeds. These packets will absorb any moisture possibly left in the seeds, keeping them fresh until time to plant in the spring. Remember to label them!

*Photo from my first bed of Tulips, planted 20 years ago... I was delighted by them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Dazzling Dahlias

The mornings of late have the serene peaceful feel of Autumn… crisp and subtle, ideal and idyllic. Fall is a delightful season to enjoy being outside whether taking a walk or working the garden.

To the utter delight of the gardener, the late arrivals at the flower show have begun to bloom…the dazzling Dahlia is finally producing a fabulous show. Among the most stunning flowers available, her ability to tolerate summer heat is a testament to her Mexican origin since hot and dry is her favorite climate condition. To honor her tenacity and beauty, the Dahlia has been the National Flower of Mexico since 1963.

The first dahlia tubers were discovered by invading Conquistadors in the 1500’s, who erroneously thought the tubers to be potatoes…. until of course they sprouted and bloomed on the voyage home. Following their first introduction to Court, many unsuccessful attempts were undertaken to obtain and cultivate the Dahlia and from 1660 until 1751 all efforts were unsuccessful. However viable seeds sent from a botanical garden in Mexico reached Madrid in 1791 and the first flowering dahlias began to appear in Spain. The following year seeds were sent to England but were lost, as were those sent to the Netherlands in 1804. After much effort, cultivation was finally assured in 1813 and the results are the ancestors of the astounding flowers we see today.

The color spectrum is as variable as the size of the blooms, assuring there is a dahlia for every garden, large or small. From the tiny pastel Humpty Dumpty to the huge Dinner Plate varieties, the diversity of the Dahlia is endless. They make lasting flower arrangements which appear professional regardless of the growers talents. The flowers must be cut in early morning at the leaf junction. Place the stems in a glass of warm water for a few minutes then recut the stems at a right angle. Arrange the flowers after removing all below water foliage to prevent water contamination. The resulting arrangement will last a week or more if the water is refreshed and stems recut after three or four days.

The bulbs, all of which will have reproduced nicely over the season, must be dug before a freeze. Dry and store them and over the winter, then plant once the ground has thawed. The Dahlia is well worth the effort.

Photo Credit: Michael Weishan