At the beginning of this year I’d decided to build a pond to boost the biodiversity of wildlife in my back garden. With the use of the low nutrient soil that was dug out during the making of said pond I also decided to create a ‘wildflower patch’. Thus, for a few weeks in high summer, a 4 x 7 ft patch of earth was turned into a vibrant, buzzing, tangled jungle of snaking poppies, yellow sun-disks, peeping flashes of blue cornflowers, bright eyed daisies, purple pentangles, delicate musk mallows and silvery grasses.
The seeds I used were partly from the Kew seed bank, provided by my generous Uncle for Christmas, and partly from a native wildflower mix kindly provided for free by Suffolk Butterfly Conservation at the beginning of the year. I’d just like to note here that you don’t necessarily need a space as big as 4 x 7 ft to grow wildflowers. I once grew some in pots made out of recycled car tyres. Once the seeds had started to show shoots I set out, equipped with a copy of Herbcraft and my own intuition, to discover more about the new nature sprites that were now inhabiting my garden.
Corn Marigold (Glebionis segetum)
With their bright yellow petals and florets it’s easy to associate these flowers with the sun and with solar gods such as Lugh. Lugh is an ancient Irish solar god and it’s from him that we inherited the festival of Lughnasadh or ‘Lammas’ as it’s more commonly known. (Basically the beginning of the harvest.) In mythology Lugh decreed the 1st of August to be a festival day, in honour of his foster mother Tailtiu, who worked so hard to make the plains of Ireland fertile for crops that she died as a result. It’s easy to see the work of Tailtiu in Corn Marigolds as they do indeed seem to be very attractive sources of nectar and pollen, especially for flies, bees and the occasional butterfly.
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
The specific name of this flower, ‘cyanus’, comes from the distinctive colour of this flower, meaning blue. A common inhabitant of corn fields as it’s common name suggests, it’s been the bane of farmers since ancient times due to its capacity to deplete the soil of valuable moisture which the corn requires. In the days of hand-reaping it would also blunt the sickles and stain them blue. Its flowers can be used to make a strong blue ink or dye.
Corn Cockle (Agrostemma githago)
With its purple flowers and blade-like sepals forming the shape of a pentagram (five pointed star), this flower gives the fierce impression of being a witches flower, at least to me! An ancient inhabitant of corn fields, it is now become increasingly scarce due to modern agricultural practices.
Musk Mallow (Malva maschata)
With its delicate perfume and pale pink petals, this flower is very reminiscent of Venus and of love. Indeed, it is used in folk magic to attract love. In reality this flower is particularly good at attracting the bees!
Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
In the language of flowers this flower can be given to represent an obstacle and is a symbol of patience – something any gardener who’s had to deal with daisies can probably empathise with!
With its faintly silvery appearance it’s easy to see this flowers lunar qualities. It’s also particularly associated with women. It’s been used for a variety of women’s complaints in country medicine and is particularly useful for women going through the menopause. It can be taken in the form of a tea, bathing herb or incense.
Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
This flower is a well known symbol of remembrance due to its capacity to easily colonise recently disturbed ground including battle fields. It’s seeds can germinate within twenty four hours. During and just after the First World War, the battle fields were apparently thick with them. On the commemoration of the Armistice day fake poppies are still sold to raise money for those in the armed services.
With its three distinctive flowering stages this flower also reminds me of the triple goddess. The snaking bud as maiden; the flaring red flower as mother; and the rattling seed head as crone. This association of the poppy with the triple goddess can also be found in Ancient Greek myth. The myth features Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest. Demeter’s daughter Persephone is abducted by the Greek god, Hades, to his realm of the underworld. Demeter then roams the land, overcome with grief at the loss of her daughter, and eventually the land around her begins to wither and die. At last Demeter ceased her roaming and sat down for nine days and nights. During this time the deities caused poppies to spring up around her feet. Breathing in their soporific scent she falls asleep. Meanwhile Persephone’s father Zeus, concerned by the withering of the land, sends his messenger, Hermes, to visit Hades to ask for his daughter back to console Demeter. Hades agrees so long as Persephone hasn’t eaten anything during her time in the underworld. Unfortunately, however, Persephone has eaten some pomegranate seeds. Therefore, from then on, it’s agreed upon for Persephone to spend part of the year in the world above with Demeter but Persephone is also forced to spend part of the year in the underworld.
Robert Graves later expanded on the character of Demeter, stipulating that she is in fact composed of three goddesses: Kore, the maiden, symbolised as the green wheat seed; Persephone as mother, the ripened wheat; and, finally, Hecate as crone, the harvested wheat.
For more information on gardening for butterflies visit the Butterfly Conservation Society’s gardening blog
Please note: these flowers are native to Britain. If you’re living outside Britain, your native flora will likely be very different. A huge amount of damage can be done to native flora by invasive species from other parts of the world. Why don’t you try discovering what your own nature sprites are by planting some native seeds of your own? Even if it’s just a window box!
Acknowledgements to Herbcraft: A guide to the shamanic and ritual use of herbs by Anna Franklin and Susan Lavender, 1996, Capall Bann publishing.
Butterflies and daisies was first published in the Autumn 2020 issue of the Suffolk Argus, the journal of the Suffolk Butterfly Conservation Society.