A few more wildflowers, grasses and shrubs are showing up: Cut leaf and Missouri Primroses, Rusty Blackhaws, Scrambled Eggs, Wild Onions and Tall Fescue. Some salamanders were washed away during the last heavy rains.
April 30th is Hexannacht (Witches Night) in Germany, followed by May Day. May Day is an ancient celebration in honor of spring. Read about its history and why Saint Walpurga is involved, even though she died around 778.

Sage Gardening Advice from the Multi-County Master Gardeners

April 28 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Ready for more wildflowers appearing on the scene?  Cut leaf Evening Primrose (Oenothera laciniata) is beginning to bloom.  Close to the Japanese Garden the shorter, but more impressive large flowered Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) is in flower along the newly installed airport boundary fence. 

The tall shrubby Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) is rubbing elbows with the oaks just now leafing out.  It is decorated with white groups of flowers and makes quite a show within trees still very bare and leafless.  Along the road grows Scrambled Eggs (Corydalis crystallina), a wildflower that looks as if someone carelessly slung eggs around its main axis. 

Wild onion (Allium canadense) is popping up, looking every bit like chives.  Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is now shooting up and heading.  This is not a native grass, as it was introduced from Europe the late 19th century as a forage crop, but is now very invasive in areas it finds suitable.

I hate to report that after our rains, at least 4 small-mouthed salamanders (Ambystoma texanum) were found stranded and dead on the road.  They were probably washed out of the ditches they inhabit during the high waters.  For any pictures of the afore-mentioned flowers, shrubs, grasses or salamanders, just copy the common or scientific name and Google images.  Now let’s switch gears.

May Day is nearly here.  In the northern hemisphere May Day has been celebrated since ancient times.  In Rome, the Floralia, a festival honoring the goddess Flora, was first held 240 B.C.E.  It was all about the cycle of life, drinking and flowers.  The Latin word “flos” means flower.  In today’s world, flora is a list of plants in a certain place or time.

Hexennacht (Witches Night) comes the night of April 30th in Germany, directly opposite our Halloween on the 12 month calendar. This day comes with bonfires with celebration of new life and spring, while our Halloween comes with bonfires with life slowing up and preparing for winter. The witches and demons come out at night in honor of their Sabbath, flying from the Brocken Mountain, tallest mountain in the Harz Mountain range in north central Germany.  They try to prevent the “Queen of Spring” from entering the country.  In earlier times, broomsticks were hidden away, sacred salt was scattered over the house threshold and pentagrams were placed over entrances.  

Now-a-days, in the early evening of April 30th, the children make their rounds, looking for empty flower pots or umbrellas to hide.  They ring doorbells, put mustard on door handles and decorate with toilet paper.  Far into the night after the young ones have gone to bed, the older tricksters emerge.  They are far more creative.  One year all our patio furniture was reassembled on top of our garage, complete with a few flower pots and our heavy swing suspended from a frame on chains.  That took some time to retrieve. 

Young Germans in many villages erect the Maypole the last day of April, usually a fir tree with all the bottom branches stripped off.  The pole is decorated with ribbons and craftsmen’s trade ornaments like pretzels for bakers or sausages for butchers.  The youth bring their sleeping bags and spend the night protecting the Maypole as well as stoke the bonfire that burns through the night. 

Spring is welcomed the morning of the 1st of May (May Day). The festival is celebrated also in Sweden, Finland and Bavaria.  Present day May Day is a day of fun, with elaborate picnics laid out as families observe the first day of spring in the Northern latitudes and look forward to the approaching summer.  My mother remembers May Baskets, a tradition in which a handkerchief or small paper basket or cone is filled with sweets or spring flowers and hung on a neighbor’s doorknob.  A quick knock on the door or ring of the bell, and the deliverer runs off quickly.  A great way to say “Welcome Spring”!   

Another name for the night of April 30th is “Walpurgisnacht”.  Who is this Walpurgis?  Walpurgis is another name for Saint Walpurga, born in Devon, England in 710.  She was the daughter of a Saxon prince who lived and studied at the convent of Heidenheim from the time she was 11 years old.  Heidenheim had a reputation for both discipline and holiness. Years of training gave Walpurga great literary skills, and she has been called the first female author in both Germany and England. At this time Walpurga’s uncle, Saint Boniface, was traveling about, establishing monasteries throughout pagan Germany.  A group of nuns, including Walpurga, were on one boat in route to a site when a terrible storm came up.  Walpurga kneeled on deck and prayed.  The seas calmed.  The sailors proclaimed it a miracle. 

Walpurga was known for her kindness, virtue and prudence. She was later appointed abbess of Heidenheim.  She died in February about 777 to 779, and was interred at Heidenheim.  Heidenheim fell into ruin after many years, and in the 880’s her remains were moved to Eichstatt in Bavaria (after she appeared in a vision to the bishop.  Workers had desecrated her grave).    

Her bones were put inside a rocky cave, but soon began to drip oil, said to have healing properties.  Pilgrims began to visit her shrine, and to this day oil continues to flow.  After canonization, she became known as the patroness for hydrophobia (rabies), storms and sailors.  May 1st was set to commemorate Saint Walpurga.  Her day was to purposely replace Beltane, the time European pagans celebrated the start of the spring/summer season.  

Anyway, get out your paper, scissors, glue, and create a cone.  Go pick some flowers, stuff them in the cone, and sneak over to your neighbor’s house to leave your Spring greeting.  Depending on your neighbor, you better run faster than light.