Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Digging the scullcap bed

Digging should be easy. You push in the fork, pick it up, shake it, remove all the weeds and move on to the next patch. It wasn’t like that in the skullcap bed. I can’t remember how many plants I ordered from Pyntzfield Herb Nursery back in 2004 – probably three. I can’t even recall where they were originally planted. All I can remember is that there used to be a line of Echinacea augustifolia all the way down the short end of the bed which have now completely disappeared.

For the past two spring digging sessions, my father has efficiently dug a three foot width of the herb patch, removing all nettles, dandelions, wild parsnips, red campion and other unwanted visitors from the soil and the skullcap have returned more vigorously each summer along with a display of self-seeded calendula. This year, the digging was left to me.

I didn’t dare let Chris loose on this patch. He is also an efficient digger, just as long as you don’t expect him to leave any plants actually growing. (I am doing him a disservice; he now recognises goats rue and motherwort as long as they are large enough!)

So, it was down to me. Every plant I picked up to discard seemed to have a familiar white tendril entwined within the ball of roots and soil which had to be carefully pried loose and replanted. It took nearly two hours to clear from the bottom of the bed by the peony to the top of the bed where the thymes are growing.

It was worth it. The entire bed is now relatively clear of all unwanted plants. The black cohosh is comfortably nestled beneath the remaining angelica plant, the calendula seedlings are sprouting and the ladies mantle is flowering. The dyers woodruff is spreading happily and the bergamot looks as if it is feeling quite at home.

My only worry is the absence of any signs of the Joe Pye weed and the boneset. The former (also known as gravelwort) is not a herb I use, but the bees and butterflies love it. Boneset is a necessity, being the herb which reduces the bone wrenching aches of influenza. I’ve only had to use it once on Chris, but he said it worked. The plant was not happy last year being overshadowed by angelica and decided to wither. Maybe it has given up the struggle for sunlight, not knowing it would have a clear view of the sky this year, since all the angelica nearby have been removed to “another place”.

I shall have to search again next weekend for any signs of life.

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