09 May 2012

9 May - 1st Day of Summer; Mary's Herbs

Sumer is icumen in…

For farmers and gardeners, today is the first day of summer, which will continue until the 9th of August, when autumn and the harvest season begin.

Which is why we can refer to June 24 as Midsummer, even though all the world knows that summer starts on June 21 or 22.   The agricultural year runs on a different schedule from the solar year.

[Well, our first day of summer in the Smallest State is overcast and rainy.  Sigh.  Okay, so it’s good for the garden…]

And speaking of which, how does your garden grow?

And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat:
Genesis 1:29 (Douay-Rheims)

The perfect statue for my garden
If you are like me, you have found that herbs are not merely a nice addition to the garden, but necessary to its good growth.  Most of my herbs are culinary, and so take their places among the vegetables, but this year I have cleared a small corner for a combination pleasure and culinary garden, which will include the traditional ‘manger herbs’ for my Christmas crèche (not that I want to think about Christmas yet):

  • Our Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), with its beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers.
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), and Woodruff, (galium oderatum) more herbs for Mary’s bed as well as the manger, whose refreshing scent is a natural pest repellent [although it doesn’t always work on nosey neighbors].
  • Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) and Basil (Ocimum basilicum) as air purifiers.  Basil, the king of herbs, is also associated with the Cross.  To be useful as cooking herbs, they should not be allowed to flower, but some of them jump the gun when I’m not looking, so this year I will pinch off the beautiful blue flower heads and dry them.  And perhaps have a bit of color for my crèche.

Then there are some other favorite herbs associated with Our Lady:

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), said to have received its fragrance when Mary laid her baby Son’s clothes on the bush to dry.  For protection, hang a cross made of lavender in your house.  If nothing else, it might exorcise the grumpies.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis), whose flowers were originally white, but when Mary threw her mantle over them, they turned blue.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis), said to have sheltered the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt, for which it was rewarded with curative powers.
  • Spearmint (mentha spicata), in French Menthe de Notre Dame.  

(and we haven’t even started on the lesser known herbs and plants…)

For more on the background of plants suitable for gardens based on religious themes, see Mary Gardens: Flowers for Our Lady and Mary's Gardens.  The latter has extensive information for both the experienced and the new gardener (click on the "Gardening" box on the left of the page to get to a list of applicable pages). Very young gardeners might be interested in putting together an indoor dish garden.  On a day like today, that may be the best way to pass the time away, since we won't be writing love letters in the sand...

Artwork: Virgin and Child from Cologne Cathedral, swiped from Wikipedia.