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Secret #15

Floriography: Exploring the Victorian Meaning of Flowers

Have you seen the movie Alona Holmes? The main character is left a secret message by her mother-using the language of flowers. This was a common practice in the Victorian era. I thought it would be fun to learn a few meanings and try out a message or two. Just another secret from my garden!

Single flowers have specific meaning, and certain colors of the flower goes deeper into the meaning of the flower. Combinations of flowers will have other meanings. Some flowers will even have conflicting meanings, which could cause serious misunderstanding.

Lets try a set of flowers and see if we can come up with a simple message. Although the messages were after used for love messages, they could also be used for more sinister messages.

Snap Dragon; deception

Zinnia; thoughts of an absent friend

Yarrow; healing

These three flowers could be the message of “healing from a deception from and absent friend.”

These messages could be a proglamation of love, healing, friendship or a threat!

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Secret #14

Night Blooming Jasmine

I have to admit, this one surprised me!

Down here in Florida, Night Blooming Jasmine is a coveted plant. To have it in your garden is like having a wonderful treasure.

It’s not because it’s a beautiful plant, It is large and can overwhelm if not trimmed regularly. You might even overlook it during your daytime walk. It seems to blend in with the other plants in the landscape.

But if you have one, you will know the scent away where. It blooms release its heavenly scent, starting at dusk, getting stronger as the night progresses.

But the Night Blooming Jasmine is toxic to humans and mammals, especially dogs and horses. All parts of the plant are toxic. Vomiting, lethargy, increased heart rate. Death can occur if they do not pump the stomach in time.

The plant can bloom 4 times in one year, producing tiny white berries. Oddly enough, the flowers or berries do not affect the birds and butterflies. In fact, it is a great plant for attracting these animals.

Having a Night Blooming Jasmine in your yard can add much pleasure, but please be careful to keep pets and children away from the plant.

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Secret #12

Hibiscus

Hibiscus flowers where I live are as common as the northern dandelion! The large flowers attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Used in the landscape, they can be a tree or a shrub. But they also have health benefits. Something my squirrels seem to know instinctively, because they are constantly eating the flowers!

The hibiscus flowers are used in tea, powders and tablets. This plant contains powerful antioxidants offering many health benefits. It is not recommended for anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, has diabetes, low blood pressure or about to have surgery. As will any subelement talk to your doctor before taking.

Some of the benefits the Hibiscus can provide are;

  1. boosting your immune system
  2. improving your skin tone
  3. reducing tiredness and fatigue
  4. a source of calcium
  5. a source of plant protein
  6. boost energy levels
  7. cognitive health
  8. heathy bones and teeth
  9. quicken wound healing
  10. protect against skin cancer
  11. improve hair growth
  12. lowers cholesterol
  13. lowers blood pressure
  14. lowers blood sugar

That is a lot of benefits from such a beautiful flower!

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Secret #13

Monkshood

Manchurian monkshood
Manchurian Monkshood

Called the plant arsenic by roman naturalist, Plinius, they used it as an aid in taking down the kill when hunting. The plants contain the poison aconitine.

They cultivate some species as ornamental plants, and a trained professional uses a few in traditional medicine. All species are extremely poisonous.

But the first time I heard about it was when I was a teenager reading 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. To me, Dame Christie is the Queen of Poison. Did you know it was one of her most common methods of murder? Over 30 victims in her books (not to mention the survivors of attempted poisonings!) “fell foul” to poison. To say she knew about poison is an understatement, much of it learned from her war work as a nurse and pharmacy dispenser. Now that’s putting your knowledge to work. Here are a few of the poisons she used;

Strychnine (Mysterious Affair at Styles)

Cyanide (The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, And Then There Were None, A Pocketful of Rye, and Sparkling Cyanide)

Arsenic (4.50 From Paddington)

Thallium (the Pale Horse)

Coniie – from Hemlock (Five Little Pigs)

Bacillus anthracis (Cards on the Table)

Belladonna – The Deadly Nightshade (The Caribbean Mystery, The Big Four)

Physostigmine (Crooked House)

Morphine (Sade Cypress, Death Comes As The End)

And then all those sleeping tablets (Lord Edgware Dies)

I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but you get what I mean- the Dame loved her poison!

Such a beautiful plant, but one to be careful around. And now, I’m in the mood for a classic Agatha Christie murder. 4.50 From Paddington sounds perfect!

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Secret #11

The Angel Trumpet

See the source image

Angel Trumpets are not as heavenly as they sound.

This beautiful plant is common in the south and makes a stunning show piece. It gives off a wonderful scent in the evening and attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It is commonly used in the landscape as an ornamental tree or large shrub.

My mother has several, in yellow and dark purple, and I’m always amazed at the number of butterflies that circle the plants. The flowers are huge! 5-6″ long with a deep throat which holds pollen in a protected area for the hummingbirds to access.

All parts of the Angel Trumpet are poisonous. Ingesting the plants and the alkaloids they contain can cause hallucinations, paralysis, tachycardia and memory loss. It can even be fatal. Gloves are a must when working with this plant and be sure to shower after you finish. Hose off those tools, too.

This is one of those plants that are best left along to admire without touching. Leave it to the birds, bees and butterflies.

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Secret #10

It’s almost Valentines day, and our thoughts turn to love and romance. And one of the most common flowers used to express these deep sediments; ROSES.

Each rose color has a special meaning, but the red rose is the ultimate symbol of love.

Yet, roses have other uses than expressing our feelings for a loved one. Did you know that the fruit of the rose, the Rose Hip, has a high content of Vitamin C? They can be used in soup, tea, jam, jelly and marmalade.

Compounds extracted from the rose are being used to fight against depression, Alzheimer’s, heart problems and HIV.

Rose Oil is used in antioxidants, skin care, and with other compounds can treat nausea, ulcers. dehydration and some infections and sore throats.

Rose Water can help with constipation and was used to treat measles.

Rose Tea is made from the petals, leaves and hips helps relieve congestion.

Rose Jam (a mixture of rose petals, honey and seeds) calms the nerves and helps with stress.

So, when you give your loved one a bouquet of Roses for Valentines you are giving so much more!

To me there is nothing sweeter than the smell of walking through the gate of a rose garden. However you celebrate Valentines day, I wish you a happy one.

Cindy and Bob Ellis’ pink painted cottage in Redlands, California • photo: Cindy Ellis, from Pinterest

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Secret #9

This plant has so much going for it, it’s hard to limit the words. We use it in our life every day with our sense of smell and taste.

Mint

This wonderful plant is used to freshen our breath, add flavor to our drinks and food, add a pleasing scent to a room, settle an upset stomach, ease the stress of a headache, and even to entertain (think catnip!).

Mints Type
Catnip

There are many varieties of mints used in gardens, your window sills and even in the landscape. One of the easiest ways to identify a plant as to being part of the mint family is the unique “square” stem. When you roll the stem in your fingers, you can feel the stem is not a smooth round shape. Did you know that Lemon Balm is in the mint family?

Egyptian Mint
Egyptian mint used in teas

Mints varieties go beyond the types that might immediately come to mint such as spearmint and peppermint. Here are just a few, and a hint: they are named because there is a hint of the same taste in their name as in their flavor.
Banana Mint, Chocolate Mint, Strawberry Mint, Grapefruit Mint, Mojito Mint, Orange Mint, Ginger Mint and the list goes on.

One suggestion for growing mint is to remember that it is an aggressive grower and you might be better off growing it in a pot where it will be easier to control.

Mint also come in a wide range of growth sizes. Horse mint can grow up to 3′ tall, while Penny Royal Mint is more of a ground cover. Leaf sizes vary as well. One of the smallest is the Corsican Mint.

Corsican Mint

Here is something funny that happened to me; one of those “I should have known better” moments. I had a beautiful, full lush pot of Catnip that I had grown for my two kitties. (interesting to note; not all cats like catnip! I have one who loves it and the other turns her nose up at it and walks away).
One day I decided they had had enough and it was time to settle down, so I set it outside the front door until the next day. Well, when morning came and I went outside, I found several of the neighborhood cats laying on my front porch while others were chasing the squirrels. When I looked at my beautiful pot of cat nip, there was little left of it! The neighborhood cats must have thought it was a treat, and they ate it down to the soil line! Thankfully mint grows quickly, so my cats didn’t have to go without for too long, he-he.

What are some of the ways you use mint? Any favorite varieties?

Victoria LK Williams

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Secret #8

Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac is a highly toxic plant that causes skin rashes and blisters. The rashes can become infected as you scratch. The entire plant is toxic and spreads by the oils within it’s leaves and stems. A high fever may develop in a more sensitive induvial. Those with allergies may react faster and with more urgent reactions.

It is vital to remove the oils from your skin and keep it from spreading. Dont forget to use soap and cool water and really get under your fingernails. If the oil is still there, when you scratch, you are spreading! Clean the clothing you were wearing right away, washing several times in cold water to insure the oils are removed.

Some of the common methods to use are calamine lotion, hydrocortisone creams, local and oral anesthetics.

Even if you burn it in the attempt to get rid of the plant, the oils can be inhaled, leading to a dangerous lung irritation with symptoms of coughing, difficulty breathing and wheezing. It can be fatal.

The big problem with Sumac is it is found in swamps, wetlands, pinewoods and hardwood forest from zones 3-8. It is abundant along the Mississippi River and swampy areas of the south east.

The plant itself is beautiful. In the fall it is bright red and has red stems. In the summer it looks lush and lacy with it’s unique leaf structure. There is a non-toxic variety that is used in the landscape, but take care to be sure to buy the right kind!

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Secret #7

Ahhhh…the scents of the season! It can bring nostalgic memories of past Christmas celebrations. Some smells are of baking cookies and treats, others are fresh greens and a beautiful fir tree. But what ever brings those sweet scents, they also bring a bit of the holiday into your home.

I grew up in the North; the Buffalo area to be exact. And the things I remember most from the holidays are my mother baking TONS of cookies, the wood fire place, the Christmas tree and citrus! Yes, that’s right citrus. Indian River Navel Oranges to be exact. I was in the chorus at school and we sold these tasty treats for fund raisers and they arrived in time for the holidays. There was always a big, sweet juicy orange in the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning.

But there are other scents, that as a child, I would not have been able to put a name to it. Ready? Here we go…

Paper Whites. You must remember placing these bulbs in rocks and then adding water to start their root growth? When these cousins of the Daffodil open, their white blooms have a strong scent, enough to add fragrance to a large room.

Rosemary. It’s not just for cooking. The tightness of this plant makes it a perfect choice to shape into a small pyramid or Christmas tree shape. Lights and ornaments can easily be added for a festive touch. You can even find them in wreath or heart shapes.

Lavender, fresh and potted in a pretty pot it will add a sweet scent to any room. Bright light is needed to keep it blooming. Don’t be afraid to snip off a piece to use.

Herb Wreaths made of Rosemary, Lavender, Bay Leaves, Eucalyptus will welcome any guest that arrives at your front door for a holiday visit.

Remember I said I loved the smell of citrus? Why not add a small Lemon or Orange citrus tree to your décor. Bright light and proper moisture are a must, and then the plant can be moved outside when the holidays are over. Or when the weather warms up if you live up north.

Love the idea of a live Pine or Spruce tree to decorate, but hate the idea of cutting a tree down? There is a wonderful alternative. You can buy a potted conifer and decorate it for the holidays. Then afterwards, plant it outside in a pot or in your yard.

There is nothing as sweet or tropical as the scent of a Gardenia blossom. This is a popular plant that is forced into bloom for the holidays. So are many of your seasonal bulbs, (especially Hyacinths) and Roses.

These are just a few of the plants you can add to your home for the holidays. With their scents and the cinnamon and spices from your baking, your home will smell heavenly. Enjoy all the scents of the season and Merry Christmas!

Victoria LK Williams

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Garden Secrets # 6

Happy Holidays!

We’re all ready for some holiday cheer, but before you add that final live touch to your decorating you may want to consider; Pretty or Poison? Who will suffer from ingesting this plant-people or pets? Lets take a look at a few of the most common live plants that we bring into our homes for the holidays.

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

Here’s the biggy- your live Christmas tree! Although not really poisonous, if it is eaten, the needles can do some serious damage to your gastrointestinal track. The sap can cause skin irritation. The real danger comes from any fire retardants sprayed on the tree.

Photo by kstankss on Pexels.com

The Poinsettia gets a bad rap. Eating a few leaves will make you ill, but not kill you. The sap will make you itch and stain your tablecloth. It is best to keep away from your cat if she has a habit of eating plants to keep her from getting sick and ruining your rug.

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Holly is a poisonous plant, both the leaves and the berries. Because of it’s brightly colored berries, it is an attraction for children and pets. Keep this holiday decoration up high and out of reach of the wee ones.

There is something wondrously fun about getting a bulb and watching the plants grow and flower from it. But beware; the bulbs of the Amaryllis and Daffodil are poisonous if eaten. Keep this away from your dog, it’s not a toy. Pot the bulb as soon as you can to keep temptation at bay and to start the growth progress.

Photo by BiZay Sunuwar on Pexels.com

This flowering plant is one of my favorites. You will start to see them around Christmas through Easter. They are most popular at Valentines Day. The plant should be kept away from your pets; if they chew on the stems and leaves it will cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions and, if enough is eaten, paralysis.

Another holiday favorite is the Christmas Cactus. Not poisonous to us, but it will make your cat sick!

Not as common as some of the other holiday plants, the Jerusalem Cherry is a nice addition to the decorations with it’s bright red fruit. For humans the fruit will cause vomiting, but for cats, dogs and some birds, the fruit is toxic.

And finally that one plant we all want hanging in the door way so a kiss can be stolen, is the favorite Mistletoe. All parts of the mistletoe plant are poisonous, not just the berries. Eating this plant can cause blurred vision, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, blood pressure changes and even death. So, lets only kiss under the Mistletoe, and don’t nibble on the plant.

We all want to have our homes beautifully decorated for the holidays, but remember to be safe too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Victoria LK Williams