Turning Year: Try the age-old practice of moon gardening

Every garden needs comfrey.

Every garden needs comfrey.

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Spring has been rather coy so far, but if temperatures should manage to stay above 6C for a few days there’ll be no stopping the green tide.

Unless they’ve drowned like some crops in the fields, our well-watered garden plants are taking off. With the ground so sodden we’ve all put tasks back, but if we don’t tackle them now we’ll soon regret it.

Gardening is a national obsession. Experts make it look easy, and garden centres fulfil our dreams with furniture, water features and pot-grown plants ready to pop straight in.

In olden times — before the 1960s — gardeners thrived on hard labour. They knew how to double-dig a trench, mix their own compost and prune with a knife. Today we’ve got it easy. Double digging is out; mulching, and letting earthworms do the hard work, is very much in. But perhaps there are some things to be learned from those old gardeners. Noting the phases of the moon, for instance.

Basically, a waxing moon encourages growth, while things stand still, or wither away, under a waning moon. Water in the ground responds to the moon’s pull in a similar way to the oceans; when the water table rises so does the sap, stimulating growth. These are the basic principles of moon gardening, a centuries-old practice that never really died out.

Why not try it? Seeds of plants that develop root stores, such as carrots, should be sown at the new moon. The best time to sow other seeds, or put in new plants, is just before the moon’s first quarter. Harvest fruit, veg and plant trees when the moon’s full. Pruning, making hay and cutting timber are best left to the waning moon.

Comfrey

Old-time gardeners would always find room for comfrey. Bees love the plant, and its blue, bell-shaped flowers teem with them in summer. Comfrey also makes an excellent feed — its deep roots bring up minerals from far down in the soil.

Start off a patch by buying five potted plantlets. Plant in spring or early summer at the start of the moon’s first quarter — this year that’ll be today, May 13, or June 12. Comfrey likes damp ground and plenty of sun; if it finds the spot to its liking, it will still be there in twenty-odd years.

When grown it’ll give you free plant food, rich in nitrogen and potash. In summer, comfrey plants may be cut three times, preferably at the full moon when they’re full of sap. Break up the hairy leaves and stems, put them in a plastic bucket, and top up with cold water. Cover the bucket and leave it for a month, stirring occasionally. To feed garden plants, add a teacup of the brew to thirty teacups of water. For regular watering, just add a splash. Any brew that’s left can be kept for next year — if you can stand the smell.

Comfrey was one of the native plants grown for folk medicine. Grated, its white taproot made a poultice that sped the healing of fractured bones. Comfrey leaves treated sprains, wounds, ulcers, and boils. They even soothed gout.

Small wonder it was said, “Nobody knows the value of comfrey, it is so great.” But don’t try that comfrey brew, because its alkaloids are harmful to the liver.