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June 7, 2011 > Pat Kite's Garden: Junipers

Pat Kite's Garden: Junipers

By Pat Kite

Today I finally bought a juniper. This is not one of my favorite plants. Favored plants must have an occupation, such as fruit or flowers. While junipers may produce little dark berries, you can hardly see them. And they are home free to various bugs, especially the web masters. But Juniper Prince of Wales was purchased for its concealment value.

Some years ago I planted Chasmanthe corms, giving attractive red-orange flowers in very early spring. However these corms multiply like coat hangers and from three I got 30, then 50. Associating with this embedded nuisance are the Calla lilies, which spring up like pox in the same area. So I decided to smother their offspring. Thus I finally bought a juniper.

It will grow a thick eight inches high and eight feet wide. It theoretically will tolerate local clay soil, semi-sun, and won't run up my ever-increasing water bill. Gardener hope springs eternal. There are about 50 different juniper types, from squidgy ground cover types to towering 60-foot trees the birds like. Most varieties are shades of green, but some are blue-green and some have cute yellow tips. While I didn't know some juniper berries have been used to flavor gin, I also didn't know some people shouldn't flavor anything with junipers due to severe allergies.

This may account for some of the juniper legends. For example there was a juniper goblin called Frau Wachholder. Her job was to make thieves give up their loot. If, having been robbed, you naturally want your trinkets back. So, the story tells, you go to a juniper bush and bend one of its branches to the ground. You hold this down with a big stone. Now you must say, "Juniper, I bend and squeeze you till the thief [name thief here] returns what he has taken to its place." At this point the crook feels a strong current through his little pea-brain regarding returning your property, and must do so right away. After you have gotten your trinkets back, you can kindly let go of the juniper branch. This may sound a bit silly these modern days, but then getting stolen property returned is always a magical proposition.

Along the same legend line, in long-ago Italy, juniper was placed at the entrance as protection against witches. If a witch came to a door, all the juniper leaves had to be counted before entering. Since junipers have ample leaves, this task was quite hopeless, so the witch usually gave up and went away. On a more positive note, junipers are said to give shelter to the weak and hunted. In a hunt, hares find safety from hounds in a junipers shadow, and juniper aroma overshadows any scent for the hounds to follow.

Admittedly I like stories better than junipers, but they are competent plants for many different uses. Meanwhile roses are blooming mightily and everything is so pretty this season. Doesn't that make you happy?

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