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The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene

July 2, 2014

From the Garden: Of Spiderwort and Beebalm

The flax has been harvested and is now tied into bundles and laid against a fence to dry.

This is one of the most useful plants known to man; the stems give us linen thread and the seeds are pressed to yield linseed oil.  If the weather remains dry the flax will in proper condition to process within two weeks’ time.

Flax laid out to dry

Flax laid out to dry

The first step will be to pull the stems through a ripple to remove the seed heads and it will then be put into a tub to ret which will rot the core of the stem and release the outer fibers.

Virginia Spiderwort

Virginia Spiderwort

The herbaceous border is now filled with an exuberance of native flora. The Virginia Spiderwort, so named for its arching leaves that have been compared to spider legs, opens a new group of bright blue flowers every morning and then closes them all at noon.

Known to the botanists as Tradescantia virginiana it was named in honor of John Tradescant, the elder, gardener to Charles I and Keeper of his Majesty’s Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms at Oatlands Palace.

His son, John the Younger, traveled to Virginia between 1628 and 1637 to make discoveries and collections of North American curiosities. Their collection was housed at ‘The Ark’ in Lambeth, London and has since become Musaeum Tradescantianum, the first English museum open to the public.

The scarlet Beebalm has also thrust its carmine flowers over the garden.

Scarlet Beebalm

Scarlet Beebalm

The Oswego Indians of New York have taught the English to make a tea from this plant that is not only agreeable in flavor but useful in the treatment of digestive disorders and women’s complaints. It will, perhaps, serve as a substitute for the East India Tea now so universally rejected.

Known in Latin as Monarda didyma this plant was named for the Spaniard, Dr. Nicolás Monardes who’s Historia medicinal (1574) was the first published herbal of North American plants. It has now been translated to English under the optimistic title of Joyfull News out of the New Found World.

Both plants must be cut to the ground after they have finished blooming.

The spiderwort will re-bloom and the mildew will be less severe on the Beebalm foliage.

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