Tag Archives: bedstraw

The forest adorns itself and me.

black locust

In the middle of Saturday’s graduation party, Pippin and I wandered through a gate into the vegetable garden and soon found ourselves sitting in two chairs that seemed to have been set there just for us introverts, who were perhaps unconsciously following the advice given to introverts as to strategies for party-going.

After the weekend was over and we were both in our separate towns and homes again, in “recovery mode,” it was amusing how we found ourselves still together, after a fashion.

I was sifting through my pictures and notes on my phone and looking through my Weeds of the West, the book Pippin had mentioned when I asked her about a weed growing in her own vegetable garden. I was only a few pages away from finding it when on my computer a message popped up from her with a photograph of that very page.

Great Hound’s Tongue

It is Common Hound’s Tongue, Cynoglossum officinale, or “gypsyflower,” which she said she always pulls out before it makes its terrible stickery burrs — and this very minute, when I looked for photos of them online, I realized that these are the burrs which one September I noticed looked like Mrs. Tiggy Winkle! It’s also the same genus as beautiful wildflowers like the Great Hound’s Tongue I saw in Oregon eight years ago.

There is also another photo of hound’s tongue in my files that I think might be Pippin’s work, because it comes from her neck of the woods and I don’t remember taking it:

If that weed in Pippin’s garden looks strangely familiar to those of you who have been reading my last several blog posts…. That’s because hound’s tongue is in the Boraginaceae Family! Yep, it’s closely related to borage. Well, well.

The first full day I spent at Pippin’s, we took a picnic to the lake before working in the garden. There we also found some plants to look into further. There was a white flowering bush my daughter told me was a ceanothus called Mountain Whitethorn, though its flowers can be blue or pink.  We saw a recumbent berry that Pippin identified yesterday as a Dewberry, a name that echoes in my mind from the distant past.

And we all stopped to look at a lovely wild rose,
until Scout in his bare feet ran into some red ants, and from then on we didn’t linger.

wild ginger
merely mud

Back when we’d arrived for our picnic, before we had even got fully out of the parking lot above the lake path, we were hit by the scent of black locust trees in bloom — so delicious. And because a couple of my readers have told me that the flower petals are edible, we all tried them. They were a little dry and bland compared to pineapple guava petals, in case anyone is interested. 🙂

Right under the boughs of those trees Scout spied what he called “Botany Brooch,” and which I knew as the annoying sticky weed or catchweed, Galium aparine. But if you need a very temporary natural-looking piece of adornment, it lives up to its other nickname of “velcro plant,” and requires no difficult clasp to attach it, even after it  has wilted, which happens fast.

From this time forward, I will be less grumpy about this plant with a dozen nicknames, and who knows, you might even see me wearing a bit of it at my garden (work) parties.

When we returned to the garden that afternoon it was to plant Indian corn that Mr. and Mrs. Bread had given from their bounty. Pippin has never tried to raise corn before but she knows people who do, up there where the growing season is not long. It needed to be planted inside the garden fence so the deer won’t eat it; we decided to dig some “hills” here and there where there weren’t too many rocks to extract.

In the course of the afternoon the Professor brought us bags of compost and contributed to the dinner that was simultaneously in process. The children played all over the place, and helped to push the seeds into the earth, and discovered worms to feed to a toad that Pippin had found hiding behind a box. A salamander was unearthed and rinsed off and admired, and eventually let go in a wet area of the yard. I tried to take pictures of the striped bumblebees that are so pretty, compared to the fat black ones that I get down here.

blueberry flowers

High in an oak tree Ivy has hung a little basket of nest-making supplies for the birds. A flesh-colored button of a fungus was decorating the old stump, evidently the immature stage of what will become a dry and brown puffball type of growth; after I took my picture the children showed me how the little brown balls above would release their powder if broken with sticks.

On the other side of the stump, a splash of brightness — is this also a fungus?

Around the homestead of Pippin’s family, the forest is always sharing its life and beauty. I suppose there will never be an end of things for me to explore when I spend time there. But for now, my own garden realm is waiting for me so I will send in my report and say good-bye for now!


Unusual Monastery Visit

This time when I drove to the women’s monastery about an hour from here, it was not for a lecture or a service or for contemplative time; it was for a stint of strenuous gardening. The nuns had put out a call for helpers to get the woodsy place under control after the rainy winter and spring have brought out tall weeds of many sorts.

When I came through the open gate I didn’t see anyone around, so I wandered a bit in the direction of some hammering noise. It was Sister Xenia repairing a rabbit hutch. She took me to find Sister Mary, whose day it was for gardening, and she in turn led me to the area I’d be working in.


“We got the weeds whacked down the other day, and now they need to be raked….This plant that is falling across the path needs to be trimmed back….Ivy is growing all over the quince tree and we want to get it out so the tree will have a better chance of bearing more than the three quinces it did last year.”

I put on my gloves, apron, and bandana to keep hair out of my face, and trimmed the blooming borage, leaving some branches so that the sisters could put the flowers in their salads.

Then the raking – whew! A giant eucalyptus tree stands above the monastery grounds and constantly drops pieces of bark, which combined with oak leaves and various other organic material have made a thick and tangled layer of debris that is turning into duff. On top of that were the strewn grassy weeds.

I pulled and yanked with my rake, and piles of scraped-up stuff grew tall in no time. “Someone” with a truck is now looked for both to haul all these piles away, and bring in some topsoil for the vegetable garden. I didn’t see the vegetable garden, but Sister Xenia said she works in it Wednesdays and Thursdays and maybe I would like to join her once a month or something like that? I always do think I can do anything, once a month. Maybe.

The poor quince tree took a long time. I hope he feels better and more fruitful. The sprucing-up was a challenge because on one side of the tree yard waste has been thrown down for many years, as we were led to understand (I had been joined by Tatiana and her son), creating a sort of man-made terrace. The ground level on that side is a several feet higher than on the other side, so that the tree is sort of growing out of a bank.

When I was below, I scrabbled up the “bank” that was mostly eucalyptus rubble, and stretched my tallest to pull as much ivy as I could from the branches. Sometimes three strands of ivy would be twisted round-and-round a thin branch, but at least this kind of ivy was tender and with care could be torn away.

Rescued quince

Then I walked back up the path to the other side and leaned way out, trying not to fall through the mulch, to pull at the ivy from that direction. After the ivy was gone, the many dead limbs were revealed, so I began pruning them out as well as I could with loppers. Several of them are so big they need to be sawed off, but I didn’t try doing it by myself in a precarious spot like that.

Galium aparine

Sticky weed is one plant that I went to war with at the monastery. Sister Mary called it that; I had never heard a name for it before, maybe because I never even saw it before a couple of years ago. Its usual common name is bedstraw or catchweed; it is Galium aparine. I pulled lots of this icky-sticky vine out of shrubs and flowers and everywhere, and it fought for its survival by depositing sticky little seeds all over my hair, gloves, socks….trying to come home and thrive here, no doubt.

Gardening is always a workout for me these days, given my age and the way the work always seems to have multiplied by the time I get there. A weed is easier to pull when it is small, to give a small example of what I’m talking about. Today was no different in that way, but the tasks I did made me use some different muscles, so I feel well exercised, shall we say.

It was lovely being at the monastery, and I’m glad I could be of use. I might have had some contemplative time while gardening if my mind hadn’t been so engrossed in solving garden problems and keeping my two feet under me. So if I go again, I’ll plan to spend the day and take breaks with the sisters in the church.