Originally created 07/13/01

The superstitious gardener



Aiken master gardener Mary Ann Harley never thanks another gardener for a plant gift.

She's not being rude. It's just a superstition: According to gardening folklore, a thank you will guarantee the death of the plant.

"That doesn't sound very polite," said Mrs. Harley. "I always explain why I'm not thanking them."

Mrs. Harley, a master gardener trained in modern horticulture techniques, read about the superstition in a gardening magazine. She observed many gardening superstitions growing up with her father and grandmother.

The folklore may be just a little added insurance to help the plant grow.

"It's not anything scientifically based," she said. "We rely on science and folklore. We do both. A lot of times the folklore, even though it makes no sense, it works. There's no rhyme or reason why it should, but it does."

Rosemary is planted beside the steps at Greenbrier Nursery and Gifts in Evans because it is thought to keep away witchcraft and evil, said owner Chris Harchick. Ivy growing up the walls of a house has the same effect, he said.

Most gardeners are hobbyists now, but at one time gardening was a vital source of food for most families. In those times, when the science of gardening was not as advanced, people needed an explanation or prescription for the success or failure of the plant or crop, said Charlie Case, associate professor of sociology at Augusta State University. So superstitions were born.

"Gardening is fraught with danger with drought, pests and diseases," Dr. Case said. "You never can come up with a logical or rational explanation of why it worked or why it didn't. Just because we can't we will try to.

"Superstitions are a very common response to threatening and fearful unknowns. It's an attempt to deal with unknowns. We try to impose some sort of understandable superstitious procedure to control the things that are fraught with danger."

Most superstitions have been passed orally through generations, making it difficult to trace their beginnings.

Daisies are a popular plant in garden folklore. One saying insists that it's spring when you can put your foot on 12 daisies. Another claims that it's summer when you can step on seven, according to plantlore.com.

Daisies are a recurring theme in gardening folklore. It's said, for example, that stomping on the first daisy of the season safeguards loved ones. Otherwise, someone will be pushing up daisies by the end of the year.

Just don't uproot the first daisy: Plantlore.com says that will keep children of the household from thriving.

Other plants have a bad reputation, too. Tuberoses, which grow underground, are said to be unlucky. They supposedly have the odor and the waxy appearance of death. If you are closed in a room with them, their perfume will kill you, according to the compilation list at california-books.com.

The moon has always played a large part in everything mystical and superstitious. Planting by the light of the moon is supposed to make plants thrive. Whether planting should be done under a full moon is subject to debate: Some say planting by the full moon will cause plants not to grow, while others say it will make them thrive, according to californiabooks.com, where a list of gardening superstitions has been compiled from gardeners.

Full moon or not, planting on the 31st of any month is considered bad luck, according to the list.

There is a scientific explanation for some superstitions. For example, a well-known superstition states that planting vegetables on or after Good Friday will lead to good luck and flourishing plants.

But the success of a Good Friday planting has nothing to do with luck. The danger of a late frost has generally passed by Good Friday, so plants sewn then will be safe from frost but have a long growing season ahead, said Sid Mullis, director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County.

Mr. Harchick and Gerald Stephens, co-owner of Nurseries Caroliniana in North Augusta, admit to having a rush of older customers the week of Good Friday.

"That is our biggest weekday of the year," Mr. Stephens said.

Reach Valerie Rowell at (803) 279-6895 or valmac007@hotmail.com.