I like several varieties of plants in the large mallow (malvaceae) family, most particularly the older common varieties rather than the showy hollyhocks and hibiscus which are really too big for my garden. There are musk mallows and malva sylvestris at the front of one border, but in the back is my very favorite: marsh mallow, or althaea officinalis. This is an old, fabled plant which is tall and velvety, with soft pink flowers, appearing just about now. Like all plants which officinalis status, marsh mallow was an important medicinal plant in the ancient, medieval, and early modern eras, the basis of soothing syrups and balms for throats, stomachs, skin–even teeth. The marsh mallow plant had edible uses in the past too: its sap was extracted and mixed with nuts and honey (and later sugar and corn syrup) to make a confection, and its root was boiled for use in both sweets and “sallets”. Modern marshmallows have no marsh mallow in them, but several “organic” skin creams do. I looked in vain through my sixteenth-sources for a sweet marsh mallow recipe, but found it as a principal ingredient in one of the recipes to cure lovesickness in Jacques Ferrand’s classic seventeenth-century treatise. So there you are: a plant that is both utilitarian and beautiful.
Above: my marsh mallows. Below, hollyhocks in the Ropes Mansion Garden–I’m showing you close-ups rather than the entire plants because they seem to be stricken with some sort of rusty disease. My other mallows have this too–not very attractive–but the marsh mallows seem immune!
Salem-born Fidelia Bridges’ Marsh Mallows, produced for Prang in the 1880s, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
My garden is peaking now: next week I will shear off flowers and get another full-flowering in late August or early September. In between a few flowers will light up the back but it will mostly be a sea of green. This is fine with me; I have chosen plants as much for their leaves as their flowers. In my little garden, Midsummer is signaled by the flowering of meadowsweet, one of my very favorite perennials. I have a double-blooming variety (Filipendula vulgaris ‘Flore Plena’) which I purchased from Perennial Pleasures up in northern Vermont long ago: it is very dependable and very showy, and probably much too big for my small garden. Meadowsweet is commonly referred to as the “Queen of the Meadow” (in its native Europe) or the “Queen of the Prairie” (in the U.S.) but I think of it as the Queen of my garden! Like most of my plants, it is more of an ancient wild flower than a proper “Garden Flower” (determined, like most things, by the Victorians I believe): if a plant does not have a proper medieval “wort” name and quasi-mythological medicinal heritage, it doesn’t find its way into my garden. Meadowsweet was alternatively known as dropwort, bridewort, and meadwort in the pre-modern past, and was used as a strewing and flavoring herb, as well as a painkiller and digestive. In the nineteenth century, salicylic acid was isolated from meadowsweet, a key event in the development of aspirin, which was named after the plant’s previous Latin name, Spiraea ulmaria. Though not named as one of the nine sacred herbs in the Anglo-Saxon Lacnuga (“Remedies”) manuscript, this particular Queen has ruled for quite some time.
July 2016 garden: I’ll let my cat Trinity lead us to the Meadowsweet in a meandering way.
I love my lungworts–another important medieval plant that looks lovely from May through September. Trinity wasn’t really interested in the meadowsweet, but here they are, for several different angles: I would love to see a prairie/meadow full!
I have been paying very little attention to my garden as I’ve been busy, and we are getting a new roof, which involves flying shingles, tarps and ladders and the trampling of plants. I don’t want to look! After the roofers are gone I will assess the damage and dig in, but for now I just gaze out the window or walk quickly through the garden, as if I have blinders on. Then it suddenly occurred to me the other day that I had not seen my lady’s slippers, which are fortunately in the back, out of harm’s way. It’s always a guessing game as to how many slippers this one plant (now about 15 years old) will produce: generally there is an increase of one slipper per year, but last year (perhaps because of our historic winter) their number actually decreased, to thirteen. So with some trepidation, I walked slowly to the back of the garden, behind the ferns, and there they were in full bloom and glory: seventeen lady’s slippers, four more than last year. Amazing! Glorious! Wondrous! And above all, inspiring: now I must get out there to tend to the rest of my (less spectacular) plants.
Lady’s Slippers on the first of June, 2016.
We’ve got a deluge of rain on the way, which we desperately need, but I imagine that the garden will be beaten down after it subsides so I thought I’d take some of the last pictures of the season. I also had a rare afternoon in the Back Bay of Boston so I took some window-box pictures as well: some in the full flourish of summer, others harbingers of fall. I’m always melancholy in late September, more because Salem’s witching season begins assertively on October 1 than because it marks the onset of autumn and colder weather. Prepare for that prolonged rant over the next few weeks–or stay away! I am working on a few interesting (at least to me) Witch City posts for October, but no doubt I’ll also retreat and focus on the more distant past as well. Or leave town.
Still-flowering Boston, September 28:
And then Home: lots of lavender and catmint and a very fluffy rose, anemones, perennial agertum (a great fall plant, and much more blue than it appears in this photograph); Trinity in the garden, like a ghost of our dearly-departed Moneypenny.
There is so much going on in Salem this summer that I’m a bit overwhelmed, and have taken to hiding in my garden! This was my strategy this past weekend, which was hot and sunny and jam-packed with things to do: sadly I inadvertently missed PEM Curator Dean Lahikainen’s lecture on the recent renovation of the Ropes House and the Salem Garden Club’s seaside garden tour, along with the “Paddle for Plummer” fundraiser for the Plummer Home, though I deliberately missed the Salem Willows Seafood Festival, which is not a community “festival” at all but a corporate event held in a (roped-off) public park. There’s still plenty of time to see the Thomas Hart Benton exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and the exhibit on the alchemical activities of John Winthrop at the Witch House is just opening today. In a metaphor for this “close to home” summer, I also missed this weekend’s pop-up installation of giant inflatable rabbits down in Boston (Intrude by Australian artist Amanda Parer), but spent Saturday weeding with (three? four? rabbits) hopping (and napping) right in my backyard! On Sunday however, I could not avoid another event which happened right in my (de facto) front yard: Salem’s 4th annual Diner En Blanc pop-up picnic, which was held in the Chestnut Street park. You may be familiar with this……movement? (this sounds like too strong a word) in which people dressed in white “spontaneously” set up a picnic (with more white stuff, including food) in some secretive (right up to the afternoon of the event) location and dine together in pristine magnificence–it started in Paris nearly 30 years ago and now has spread to over 40 cities around the world, probably more, including Salem. As elsewhere, the dinner gets bigger every year as friends invite friends who invite friends….I wasn’t going to post on this happening (better word) as I thought it might seem a bit exclusive, almost as if we’re in Marblehead or Manchester-by-the Sea, but then I thought: what’s exclusive about this? Anyone can come, and they don’t have to pay for the privilege, like the Salem Willows Seafood “Festival”. Plus there was a great hat in attendance, which you simply have to see, and I am proud of my own blanc arrangement, made up exclusively from flowers from my garden.
Mid-July Weekend in Salem (and Boston–“Intrude” Rabbits courtesy of Mark Favermann):
All that’s left is my ghost-like chair this morning.
We are sticking very close to home this July Fourth weekend as we have welcomed a new cat only two weeks after losing Moneypenny and there are lots of adjustments to be made on the part of said new cat (Trinity), our older resident cat (Darcy), and ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready for a new cat, but I am a sucker for a calico and this one almost magically appeared at our local shelter after a rough start in life. So I find myself cleaning out closets and other mundane house chores in between hissing standoffs and prepping my upholstered furniture for the coming attack by a new young cat. Yesterday was actually a much more beautiful day than today, which is cloudy with incoming rain. I hope it holds off until after the fireworks tonight, because Salem‘s are always spectacular: bigger and better every year. So I did leave the separated cats for a long walk, a long bike ride on my (also new) bike, the adorable Spokes and Stripes parade sponsored by Parents United and dinner at the Willows–under a bright red full moon which I couldn’t capture on camera. It looked briefly like Mars before disappearing behind a cloud bank. Most of the pictures below are from this sunny July 3rd: home, Chestnut Street, some sights and scenes around Salem including the Willows–all prepped for the big Horribles Parade this morning (which I missed, but I am sure there will be some great photographs at the Creative Salem site soon). My closet cleaning has uncovered lots of discoveries, including my favorite vintage dress which I purchased DECADES ago in Saratoga Springs, NY (and it was vintage then): I’m going to put in on in a few hours and go out to a fireworks barbecue on the water, mindless of clashing cats and impending rain. A happy, safe, carefree Fourth (and Fifth) to all.
Salem on July 3 and 4: Trinity (who did not come in a bag or a box but seldom leaves the latter), the house and garden (with daneberry–the only red on display), and a shadow silhouette against Hamilton Hall, the Hall and Chestnut Street, a patriotically-painted house on Essex, the Spokes and Stripes parade on Salem Common, the Willows, my newly-rediscovered old dress.
That’s what late June and early July are all about in essence: flowers (mostly roses) and flags. This particular year, even more so regarding the latter. I worked on my garden quite a bit during this mostly sunny week, and I was so happy to wake up to hard-driving rain this morning because it meant I could have a Sunday day of rest–or laundry. Much of the garden is in full flower, but as I’ve been going for interesting leaves rather than short-lived flowers over the past few years green dominates. I think I went a bit too far in this direction so I introduced some interspersed old-fashioned mallows in the central garden this year, and I think they provide a nice pop of color. But mostly it’s about roses, which I have yet to master and probably never will–but even a fool can grow roses in June (July and August are quite another matter). Now for the flags: we usually have a full range of flags flying on Chestnut–from standard and more unique versions of the stars and stripes to the Hawaiian flag at the Phillips House to the rainbow flag, flying for last week’s North Shore Pride Parade but obviously bearing even more resonance now. I like to display my great-great-grandfather’s 45-star memorial flag on the side of the house, but it’s “flying” in the front parlor until the weather clears up. If anyone knows a good source for (cotton) reproductions of historic flags, please let me know: I’d like to buy a 24-star flag, the official version when our house was built in 1827. There was a more jarring display of flags last week, fortunately only digital, when The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore used a photograph of Hamilton Hall (just next door!) to create a “Confederate Flag Museum”: I’m including it here because it’s always good to remember that not everything is beautiful.
Late June garden with roses, roses, roses (only the yellow ones are mine: the rest are from the Ropes Garden and Flint and Becket Streets). Flags–real and fortunately NOT–on Chestnut Street.
Appendix: and even worse, someone hung a real Confederate flag on the Robert Gould Shaw/ Massachusetts 54th Memorial in Boston yesterday, and it remained there for several hours before a Lowell woman pulled it off: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/06/28/confederate-flag-hung-from-regiment-memorial/bLFrtGsKCLAEpFFDBsX0DK/story.html.