May Bank Holiday weekend; perfect for a spot of gardening!
My garden is probably what some may call unconventional; weeds are widespread and have been happily allowed to colonise all four corners of the garden. There are plants that have crept in from next door’s –
and there are numerous troughs and containers showcasing bones and stones – and other pot-bound specimens but rarely intentionally cultivated plants or flowers! In a particularly green corner beneath an ear-less rabbit – there are some bones ‘cooking’ – left undisturbed for Nature to work her magic. They are three ‘Shamanic Massagers’ in the making – I found the deer leg at the side of the road while babysitting the ‘Whippets’.The jointed part will be ‘unrecognisable’ – once cured, separated and whitened later in the year – and because the deer was killed accidentally rather than by intent – they’ll feel better.
At this time of year – there are so many fascinating ‘weeds’ to marvel and one of my all time favourites is ‘Jack in the Pulpit’…
and common or garden varieties like nasturtiums and petunias.
I bought this ‘Black Beauty’ last year; when opened – the flowers look like floppy upturned velvet hats. I was attracted by its darkly good looks – although not poisonous it was certainly powerful enough to make me unusually buy a number of them! Other than long established shrubs and trees – most of the spring flowers in my garden have naturalised themselves; they’re just windblown weeds – like Celandine, Herb Robert and a carpet of pretty Daisies! The Hellebores are past their best now but their faded, bespeckled blooms still add coolness to my unruly beds.
I like withered flowers and leaves because there is something rather beautiful about the slow process of decay; although it’s a conviction I fail to see in myself when I catch my own moldering reflection these days!
Ever since discovering the descriptive genius of L.P. Hartley’s novel – ‘The Go-Between’ – when Leo discovers Deadly Nightshade growing in a roofless outhouse at Brandham Hall – I too have been beguiled by this potentially baleful beauty – longing to grow a specimen of my own.
As the best and most powerful description of Deadly Nightshade ever written – the passage reads –
“It wasn’t a plant, in my sense of the word, it was a shrub, almost a tree, and as tall as I was. It looked the picture of evil and also the picture of health, it was so glossy and strong and juicy-looking: I could almost see the sap rising to nourish it. It seemed to have found the place in all the world that suited it best.
I knew that every part of it was poisonous, I knew too that it was beautiful, for did not my mother’s botany book say so?
I stood on the threshold not daring to go in, staring at the button-bright berries and the dull, purplish, hairy bell-shaped flowers reaching out towards me. I felt that the plant could poison me, even if I didn’t touch it, and that if I didn’t eat it, it would eat me, it looked so hungry, in spite of all the nourishment it was getting.
As if I had been caught out looking at something I wasn’t meant to see I tiptoed away, wondering whether Mrs. Maudsley would think me interfering if I told her about it. But I didn’t tell her, I couldn’t bear to think of those lusty limbs withering on a rubbish heap or crackling in a fire; all that beauty destroyed. Besides I wanted to look at it again.
Like the young Leo wanting to look at the Deadly Nightshade again – I have repeatedly returned to the book, the original film and soundtrack throughout my life – and recently thoroughly enjoyed the remake too. When I first saw the original film in the seventies as an adolescent – the Go-Between sparked a life-long impression – an obsession – an inspiration!
Somewhat in defiance of Leo at the end of ‘The Go-Between’ – when he chants “Delenda est belladonna” (destroy the beautiful woman) as he rips the Deadly Nightshade from the ground – I want to bring one to life. I have finally reached a time – when I feel safe to plant a Deadly Nightshade of my own in my enclosed garden; my boys are full-grown now – so it can do no harm.
To this end – I bought some seeds on Ebay – and followed the advisory note about immersing the black seeds in water and placing in a fridge to fool them into thinking that the winter thaw has taken place. Everyday I changed the water and carefully placed them back in the fridge in a sealed container – until finally they were ready to plant. Belladonna is notoriously difficult to germinate – and it is my opinion that you can’t fool this ‘beautiful lady’ by such trickery. Out of all the seeds soaked – and planted – only one precious seed has taken root. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I first noticed its tiny green shoots. Everyday I reach for my magnifier – to marvel at its tiny hairy leaves – first a pair – and now four and counting! I have noticed she has taken a small bedfellow into her pot right beside her. It’s a spiky, minute plant – whether it is the beginnings of another Belladonna – I’m not sure? I suspect though that it is an impostor – because the soil was taken from a mole hill rather than using compost. I shall keep my watchful eye on both seedlings!
I water my ‘Belladonna Babe’ with saved rain water only – and bring her in at night – perversely slugs are very partial to Deadly Nightshade! For now – while she is so small and vulnerable – she sits at our oak table while we eat are evening meals – and she’s party to all our conversations – and every night I reach for my magnifier to check on progress. She is getting ‘noticeably’ bigger by about a millimeter a week! And it will be a whole year – before she is ready to bear her “button-bright berries” and “dull purplish, hairy bell-shaped flowers”.
Every day I bend over her and whisper “Grow grow.” – I’m literally willing her to grow tall and strong and “lusty” – and I can’t wait to behold her when she is full-grown. You may think I’m a bit of a dark angel for actively encouraging such a wickedly, beautiful plant into my garden but it’s just harmless fascination I assure you. Gloves are required at all times when handling Atropa belladonna.
Here she is today 28th May 2016 on a thundery, atmospheric Go-Between-ish afternoon – and she’s listening to the 1971 masterpiece through the open french doors as we speak. The clouds are towering, the music is climaxing – and all the while my ‘Belladonna Babe’ is quietly growing stronger – more powerful.