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Column: Maidenhair ferns and Finnish gardening superstitions

By: Anne Boulton – Greenboots in the Garden

 | Jun 30, 2014 - 11:43 AM |
Maidenhair fern. Photo by Anne Boulton.

Maidenhair fern. Photo by Anne Boulton.

There’s nothing I cherish more in a fellow gardener than their willingness to share a good story. Like a gardenful of hardy perennials, these stories offer scope for your imagination and reveries for years to come.

In the past few weeks, I have had many garden adventures, or “good calm fun,” the kind my friend Ms. Mel likes to have.

Together, we drove out to Commanda Country Gardens in Powassan, for a visit to a perfectly delicious board and batten cottage, wherein the gracious hosts, Jim and Judy Merrick, reside.

Jim’s grandfather settled the estate in the 1880s and the family has been there since.

A big weathered barn fills the skyline and looks down on the humble greenhouses that house unique and hard-to-find perennials. Beehives dot the periphery and offer visitors a steady, meditative hum.

I was immediately smitten with Judy, her perfect grey bob and her friendly ways.

She pointed out just what I was after: the delicate maidenhair fern. There were plenty, just like there were plenty of interesting varieties of herbaceous perennials and lilies.

Gardeners from all over Ontario make the yearly trip to the greenhouses.

Maidenhair fern, Judy tells me, happens to be a favourite of hers as well.

This past week, I had the pleasure of working for a client named Martha, who lives down in Long Lake and has a delightful sandstone pond that needed a good tending.

After two days of weeding and chatting, Martha and I became friends. This gardening friendship was marked — as it usually is — with the sharing of clippings and divisions. As I packed my car with pieces of lilies and yarrow, Martha reminded me to remember the “foxies” — foxgloves started from seed.

I thanked her for all of the plants and she winced.

“Now they won’t grow,” she said in all seriousness. “It’s a Finnish custom to never thank a friend for a seed, cutting or division.”

It’s better to say nothing. Even better still? Steal the plants when you can.

I took Martha in: a kind, honest woman, mother of two, wife and friend Plant thief? Really?

Had this blonde woman in curlers really populated with garden by ill-gotten gains? Hardly. However, her unusual advice, whilst being unconventional in our society, goes a long way with me. Who are we really to claim ownership?

Martha? She can come steal from my garden any old day. There’s something special about shared gardening wisdom, whether it’s an anecdote or advice. To me, it’s the last of a kind of oral tradition, where neighbours talk about yields, damages, or successes over their coffee mugs, after their day’s labours, under their worn sunhats.

It’s my favourite kind of interaction. For those old-time gardeners, whether in age or in wisdom, are few. If you know one, keep an eye on them. Not for fear that they’ll steal a mondara cutting, but to watch how they do it. 

Anne Boulton is an avid gardener who lives in Sudbury. Visit her blog at greenbootsgardens.tumblr.com or contact her at [email protected]. 

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