Calendula and the Lily of the Valley

Calendula and the Lily of the Valley

I’d forgotten about calendula. I used to grow it years ago. I buried grandmother crow under its roots and it flourished into a massive bush of fuzzy green leaves covered in the brightest orange flowers. I put it in my salves and magical oils. The flowers reminded me of gold coins so I used it to draw money in spells of folk magic. But then I lost my garden and I forgot about this plant many herbalists consider an essential medicine. And then, there it was again, growing by the door of my new house. It’s hardiness impresses me. We’ve had many frosts and snow three times now, but it still blooms.

Soothing Skin Salve Dehydrating food and medicine

I decided to do something with it before the old winter hag finally kills it off with her icy touch. I plucked the flowers along with those of toadflax and evening primrose and combined it with sweet violet leaves in jojoba oil. Like many people, I get itchy dry skin in the winter and the plants who are supposed to help all happened to be growing in my yard. After a couple weeks the flowers and violet leaves are strained out and a little vitamin e oil and a few drops of rosemary essential oil are added to preserve it. Now it’s ready to massage into dry, cracked skin or to add to a lotion recipe.

The raspberry patch has been incredibly hardy, still producing flowers and fruit after hard frosts. The berries still sweet and lovely. I dug up so many ash tree saplings from the untended patch that I am convinced it contained more baby ash trees than it does raspberry canes! I am hoping that with more sunlight and root space, the patch will be productive next year with lots of new growth. I planted garlic cloves from my mother’s garden next to the patch because garlic and raspberries are supposed to look out for each other.

The hardy raspberry patch Planting garlic in the fall

I am sweet on a friend of my mother’s. She is a gardener like me and thinks herbalism is fascinating. Her name is Lily and she is ninety years old with a thick German accent. She lives alone in the woods. Her husband passed away ten years ago and her kids are long gone, busy with their own grandchildren now. She invited the whole family over for lunch last Sunday and I couldn’t very well say no. I was excited to get to know her better. My mother winced when I told her the news.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you eat at Lily’s, it could be squirrel or worse!”

“I don’t mind, I’m hoping for venison!”

So we dressed up the wee man in the coat his great grandma made him and all of us hopped in the car and off we drove down the beautiful country roads past the colourful poplars and maples, farmer’s fields, and marshes full of dead trees and bushy native willows. We drove up a very long dirt drive, half wet from a marsh, and came up a hill to a beautiful view of silver lake and there was Lily’s home, an old converted cabin with a green sun room lush with plants.

Lily's House

The wee man was completely in love with her birds. She has fat chickens, a regal goose named Georgina, and a family of peacocks. He chased them all over, but wasn’t fast enough to even get close. The goose was the most tolerant of him. I asked Lily if I could take pictures and she told me to take as many as I wanted as long as they weren’t of her. She told me she didn’t think she was pretty enough. Despite her killer cheekbones and beautiful smile, I couldn’t talk her into a portrait. She is small and spry with short cropped grey hair and a hooked nose, very funny and full of mischief. She was frying onion dumplings when we came in and the house smelled amazing.

Lily's sun room

There was no squirrel, but there was melt-in-your-mouth slow cooked venison and delicious candied black bear ribs served with endless vegetables and salads from her garden; raw kale salad, red cabbage, fresh herbed carrots, boiled potatoes, tomato and garlic brushcetta, and of course the onion dumplings (which were amazing with the bruschetta). For dessert Lily had made an apple crisp with apples from her trees. We ate the fruits of her harvest and we ate well!

A shared feast Lily's kitchen

I am glad to have a found a friend who also walks the green path and has many decades of wisdom and practical gardening advice to share. When I am ninety and wrinkled and grey, I hope I am as full of energy and wit as Lily with all my marbles and a massive jungle of a garden.

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Michelle says:

    Dear Sarah Anne,
    Thank you for this amazing post and the photos that went with it.
    I live vicariously through you and your post(s). A blessing indeed that I happenchanced on you.
    My dream would be to harvest a sustainable garden to withhold me through my crone years. Inspired or not, my work life gets in the way but you egg me on.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    M

  • I never forget about calendula: it won’t let me. It’s having its second spring around here, where summer is too hot and dry for many plants. It’s beautiful, and cheery and a great ally.
    Cheers,
    Lucía

  • Oh, that stove. Oh, that flower-filled utility room. Oh, that cabin…and black bear ribs?! Never tried bear before! Lily seems like an awesome person to know!

  • maureen says:

    There is nothing like calendula! I make some calendula syrup every year to add to tea or drizzle over pancakes and toast. I even use it as the liquid in frosting for cake.

  • Dawn Link says:

    Oh….what a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it with us…

  • Soli says:

    Wow, did you indeed get the best house possible for your family. Lily also sounds like a trip and I am ogling that oven.

  • Afshin says:

    Lovely post Sarah! :)

  • Owl and Stag says:

    Hi! Saw your blog and it seems wonderful, but I can’t reply your older entries? Is it normal or did something gone wrong?

    • Sarah says:

      Comments close on blog posts after 30 days to prevent the spam from getting out of control. WordPress blogs get spammed a lot!

  • Miriam says:

    What a magical woman. I hope I’m living that way in my nineties (perhaps with more littles running around my house, though it sounds like Lily stays socially active!). Your blog is beautiful and full of inspiration!

  • Shawn Peters says:

    What a great blog! I currently live in Texas but I was born and raised in Niagara Falls NY which is on the border of Canada. Not far from Ontario where you moved. This blog makes me miss the country side of NY and Canada. Reading it made me remember the good side of home.
    Im really inspired to make the oil! But can you use dries flowers for that? Its very dry and hot here so unfortunately flowers such as those don’t grow here.
    And since you live so near to my area, if you haven’t already you should make the venture to Lily Dale NY! It so amazing there! I think you would enjoy it!
    Thanks for your time and wonder art!
    -Shawn