Life is a vocation of learning.

 Margaret Lear, tells me that the plant that I could not name was if fact wild Comfrey, (check out her gardening and countryside blogs, I’m sure you will find it very interesting.) I have heard of Comfrey but I never knew just how valuable a plant it was in the garden. But after a bit of research on the internet, I discovered that Comfrey is a bit of a superhero.

The leaves of the comfrey plant it would seem are full of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, many gardeners I am told make up a liquid feed from water and the leaves of the Comfrey plant, so you will never need to buy expensive fertiliser ever again.

Herbs have played a part in man’s life down through the centuries, in love, religion, health and superstitions. I do not know much about herbs only what I learned from my mother, who had a herb garden, her herbs mostly grown in old chimney pots or clay drainage pipes set into her small garden so that the herbs would not take over the place and appropriately enough, for drainage. Mum learned from her mother, a woman dad (I’m sure without malice) called the old ‘spey wife’.

In grans days of course there was no NHS, and even in my mother’s time she once had to save up for an operation that she needed, you had to pay upfront it those days, practicality I suppose, well you might die on the operating table and who would pay then? Hard to believe now but true. So herbs were widely used in herbal medicines. I was too young to remember mum’s herb garden by she told me that Comfrey was the best medicine for migraine, I am not sure how or why it came into our conversation, then again in later life mums conversations would wander from one totally unrelated subject to another in the same sentence.

In the film “The Great Caruso” the late, great Mario Lanza, playing the part of Caruso comes off stage and wishes to go and see Dorothy. You can’t, he was told, you promised to sing at midnight mass.

“It is a funny thing a voice,” he said “A man believes he has a voice, but in truth, the voice has the man, when I want to be someplace the voice needs to be someplace else, funny thing a voice,” he tells us.

Life for all of us is like that, we may plan ahead but life has a different path for us. As I neared my retirement, the plan was to take off in my old folk boat, sail over the horizon. It was at this time that my mother went into the hospital with extremely high blood pressure. She spent the next five weeks strapped to a machine that thinned her blood. Now due for discharge, she could not leave unless she had somewhere to take care of her until she got back on her feet. I, at that time, was the only one with a spare room and no real commitments, mum came to stay with me for what would be a few months until well enough to go home. A few weeks later mum suffered one of many, small stroke over the next ten years of her life. Mum lived until only a few months off her 100th birthday. I by default became my mother’s carer over those 10 years.

Carers are the unsung heroes of this country, for me, the hardest job I have ever taken on, both physically and mentally, yet paradoxically one of the most rewarding. During those quality times with mum, she would tell me of her young life, getting married to a man who spent most of his life at sea. The hardships of single-handedly raising her ever-growing family in times of war, and depression.

Maggie gave up her life for Jimmy and the kids,

There were times, I know,

She was sorry that she did.

Quickly I came to understand, I needed a sanctuary, somewhere I could go and be free from the cares of this world, even if it were only for a few hours each day. I needed a safety valve too, for mum could be contrary when she wished and I at first felt that I had lost all control over my life. Even when mum went into rest care each and every Wednesday, the job never left me. My sanctuary arrived when I joined a local allotment society.

Allotments are not only gardens, they are a laboratory where you get to experiment and never stop learning new skills and never stop being amazed either at new birth and growth. I built a small tool shed, bought a second had a greenhouse and erected that on sight. I grew all the usual everyday vegetables, then came fruit bushes, black and red currant, a couple of rows of raspberry canes. And since mum liked flowers in the house, I had a flower bed, Chrysanthemums were always my favourite. I even won a small cup at the local show for my Chrysanthemums, (it was a very small local show).

You learn to utilise if you have an allotment – re-cycling has been the way of gardeners since the days of Adam. A new manhole was being built, not far from my home, the men were using concrete rings in its construction. A small ring had been surplus to requirement, so I persuaded, by the crossing of palms with silver, for the ring to be delivered up to my allotment. This was the start of shared interest between mum and I, our herb bed.

Growing up in the 1950 mum was always at home, looking after the families needs, not until later did she go out to work herself, this was the normal, women did not have the choice of being a career mum. Mum used herbs for seasoning in her cooking, she would always garnish with a few sprigs of parsley or mint over the potatoes in the big terrine. Sage with pork and a few leaves of basil would be found in the bottom of the stew pot.

Some of the plants she used I would recognise today, many still grown in gardens, not so much as a herb but purely as decoration such as catnip. The underside of its leaves grey in colour whilst the tops were green, with a very pretty purple flower.

Caraway seed,  had a strong aromatic odour and used a lot in mum’s dishes, they looked a lot like carrots until the flat white flowers appear.

Chives mum would use in almost everything she made, you pick up an onion, mum picked up a handful of chives.

Coriander seeds went into the baking – very perfumed taste and again a strong odour.

Fennel with the vegetables and some of their seeds would find their way into mum’s cheese.

Open any one of my sisters draws and the smell of lavender, escaped into the atmosphere. Little handmade bags stuffed with lavender went into every drawer and hung in every wardrobe.

I’m sure there are hundreds of herbs out there in our hedgerows, that I have never heard of and would not recognise even if I tripped over them. Maybe it is time to introduce a few pots of herbs around the patio here at City Park.

Stay safe.                

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