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Gardener's Advice: Old Sayings and Folklore That Gardeners Can Still Learn From Today

Updated on June 12, 2020
Imogen French profile image

Imogen is from West Dorset, UK. Her favourite subjects are the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.

The vegetable plot
The vegetable plot | Source

Gardening knowledge is often passed down through generations, and people find their own ways of remembering when is the best time to sow tomatoes, plant out their peas or dig up their potatoes. There are many old sayings, rhymes and proverbs relating to the weather, changes of the seasons, lunar cycles and other aspects of gardening that can still be applied today. This ancient folklore has been shared between country folk since time immemorial, since before a lot of people could read and write, before they had clocks and calendars. Knowledge was spoken and passed from parents and grandparents to children, as they grew up and helped with the garden. These days it's easy enough to look up growing tips and advice in a book or on a computer, but some of the old sayings still ring true, and they are part of our cultural heritage, so it would be a shame to lose them.

In this hub I'd like to share some of the sayings that my grandparents shared with me, and some other helpful proverbs and advice that I've collected along the way. (Disclaimer: As I live in the UK, some proverbs will of course relate to my local climate, and may need to be seasonally adjusted for other parts of the world!)

Traditional advice for gardeners

Sowing and planting

  • Sow by the moon

Gardeners of old often planned their vegetable growing around the phases of the moon. Sowing seeds during the first quarter phase of the moon, i.e. between the new moon and half moon, was thought by some to be the best time - as the moon grows, it draws up the seeds, this is known as 'sowing by the moon'. There are however many variations of this advice. Some gardeners believe you should plant seed 48 hours before the full moon, and apparently some scientific tests have shown this to be beneficial. I think this warrants further research! Generally, when the moon is waxing (i.e. growing) this is the best time for growth, so sowing and planting out seedlings, and when it is waning (i.e. getting smaller) this is the best time for other jobs such as pruning, cropping and weeding.

  • Good Friday is a traditional time for planting out potatoes - especially if it coincides with a full moon!
  • Twelfth of May, Stow Fair Day, Sow your kidney beans today.
  • Plant a cucumber on 6th July, you'll have cucumbers, wet or dry.

(Apparently, before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, May Day was celebrated around 12th May, and was the traditional time for sowing beans. 6th July was regarded as Midsummer's Day. These dates crop up a lot in old gardening advice.)

Companion planting

Companion planting is basically growing particular plants together that are beneficial to each other, making use of plants that have a symbiotic relationship. This is a very wide-reaching subject, and is still popular today amongst organic growers, so I would recommend some further reading if you are interested. Below are some of the common pairings that I have been told about.

  • Grow carrots next to onions or leeks - the strong smelling onions repel carrot fly.
  • Marigolds planted around the vegetable plot repel blackfly
  • Peas and potatoes grow well with each other
  • Most herbs such as mint, sage, rosemary and marjoram are beneficial in repelling flies and aphids when planted amongst the vegetables.
  • There are also many plants that do not like each other - for instance onions shouldn't be grown near peas and beans.

Weeding

  • Who weeds in May throws all away.
  • Cut a weed on 22nd June, in the afternoon and at a full moon
  • Cut a thistle in May and it'll be there next day. Cut a thistle in June, it'll come again soon. Cut it in July and it's sure to die

Most of this advice seems to imply that weeding of perennial weeds is more effective after midsummer. I still pull out the annual weeds before this though, otherwise my garden would be overrun!

Weather

There are many old sayings that try to predict what the weather is going to do - an important aspect of gardening:

  • If it rains on St Swithin's Day (July 15th) it will rain every day for the next forty days (conversely, if the weather is fine the following 40 days will also be fine).
  • A red sky at night is a shepherd's delight, a red sky in the morning is a shepherd's warning. (Or sometimes a sailor, rather than a shepherd).
  • If there's enough blue in the sky to make a pair of sailor's trousers, the day will be fine.
  • Rain before seven, clear by eleven.
  • A halo around the sun or moon means rain or snow is coming soon.
  • When dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass.

Herbs growing around the vegetable plot.
Herbs growing around the vegetable plot.

Do you have any other sayings that you remember when tending your garden? If so I would love to hear them - please share in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Imogen French

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    • Imogen French profile imageAUTHOR

      Imogen French 

      7 weeks ago from Southwest England

      Thanks for your comments Marie, and for the additional advice.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      7 weeks ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      I am familiar with waxing and waning moon, a little of companion planting, red sky, and halos. I don't follow these too much, however, as I listen to my inner clock. Weeding is done routinely, and mulching is so very useful.

      I can't add to much, except I've read that foxglove (digitalis) is helpful everywhere in the garden. I always try to have a wildflower bed to attract pollinators.

      Rainwater is better than watering with a hose, from my experience.

      Thank you for sharing, I think English gardeners are the best; maybe, it's because they have the help of the wee folk.

      Blessings!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      8 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      Very interesting information and gardener' s advice, shared by you. I have heard some of these.

      I agree with you that the knowledge of gardening, the seeds, the soil, the weather etc. is passed on to the future generations.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      I had heard that old saying about a red sky at night...and learned about companion gardening from my grandfather who was an avid gardener.

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