The Garden as Trickster


Haha! The garden continues to teach me, this time about my powers of observation, and how not all is at it might first appear! Bet you’ve had that experience, too, right? In my last post I wrote about the concept of the seed bank, and, particularly, about the “discovery” that I unexpectedly had lambs ear growing in my garden! Well, guess what? It’s Giant Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). It’s quite a joke on me, as I’d written–extensively–about mullein three years ago. Yet, there were enough differences this time that I convinced myself I was looking at a different plant entirely. I’m letting this soak in as I need to remember that it’s not uncommon to mistake one plant for another and that it’s actually critical to be fully aware of that fact. This is especially true for herbalists gathering plants in the wild. Or mushroom hunters! How did I get misled? In reflecting, I see there are several reasons, all worth noting for future.

“Mistake not one plant for another.” ~ Kathryn Hall, Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden

For starters, it was a different color. It was soft grey, not green. Note the difference. Here was the mullein I’d originally written about:


And here is the leaf of the new ones:


Totally different. Even softer!

Secondly, this year’s mullein stayed close to the ground in flowerettes for a long time before any spike emerged. That was the point at which I’d concluded it was lambs ear.


Once I’d convinced myself it was lambs ear, there was no going back. Even the eventual emergence of the flowers did not trigger my old memory of the mullein that had originally visited me! I’m guessing because it was the only time I’d ever seen it anywhere. Once was not enough! It had been three years since I’d seen any growing here. I’d assumed it no longer was on this property, concluding the two or three I had in 2012 were a one-off.

Also, my perception was that this plant grew as a family, which charmed me no end. They have stood like sentinels this summer, just in front of the butterfly bush. As I compare this stand with the single one above it seems that the one above has leaves that grow more separately and more sparsely. Can the weather make a difference? Or the soil?


Imagine my delight when I read the original post today and found I’d written of a “smallish mullein” obscurely hiding under the butterfly bush! Apparently it was doing more than that! It was leaving its seeds behind to emerge as a virtual Giant Mullein forest three years later! Surprise!

So now I’m referring you to the original post, if you are interested in reading more, which was quite thorough in its practical coverage. And I offer thanks to Mary Ann Newcomer, Nancy McDonald Wallace and my cousin, Julie Rice, who all helped guide me in the right direction. I don’t think I will forget this lovely plant again! And I certainly hope it has established itself and makes an annual appearance! I have enjoyed it immensely, and so have the bees!


Love and summer gardening blessings!
Kathryn xoxo

Footnote: I’ve just looked up Giant Mullein one last time and discovered there are some who call it lambs’ tongues! So, tongues, not ears, then! I find this very funny. 😉

Book Notes: I thoroughly enjoyed running the Goodreads Book Giveaway for ten copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, and that resulted in this lovely review being posted by one of the winners, which cheered my author heart no end.

“Not knowing what to expect from this book and then reading it was a truly wonderful surprise. Plant Whatever Brings You Joy made me take deep breaths and relax as I read each page. Each of the chapters is a surprise from Kathryn Hall’s life. After I read a chapter, I reviewed the title of it and thought how it translated to my life. What a great experience. Thanks to Goodreads First Reads for a copy of this great read, and for Kathryn Hall in having the wisdom to share it with us.” ~B.W.

And, btw, if you are on Goodreads, please friend me there, and if you’ve read my book I would be most grateful if you rated it on Goodreads–or Amazon! Thank you so much! It makes such a difference to authors when you do this.

6 Responses to “The Garden as Trickster”

  1. How funny. I think our perceptions can often be challenged- as always I love how you bring these life metaphors through garden lessons. Lovely.


  2. Hi, Antonia, Yes, it’s cautionary. The odd thing is when it first emerged I *did* think it was mullein, and then routinely talked myself out of it, as it did not fit my pictures. I don’t think I was aware that a wild plant like that can change its spots! 🙂 Love, Mom xoxo

  3. Dear Kathryn,

    I’ve just read your post about mullein. It’s a favorite plant of mine, as I grew up with it and used it as a tea for colds.

    I absolutely love your header and background images. They create such a rich experience visually. I really feel like I’m in your garden.

    Thank you so much for sharing!


  4. Hi, Marilyn, and welcome! I love that you grew up with this! And you used it medicinally! How wonderful! And thank you for your kind words about the blog! Appreciated. Kathryn xoxo

  5. Hi Kathryn, thanks for the post. What do you mean by this plant grew as a family? They need to have others around, or that they grow in similar size altogether?

  6. Hi, Max, and welcome. I’m sure, technically, the mother plant spread her seeds in this general area, and the sibling seeds sprouted together. But there are some plants (have you noticed?) that grow side by side and actually FEEL like a family. Redwoods are like that. But so are the mulleins. With the advent of commercial nurseries where we buy individual plants out of context, we are less apt to experience this. Kathryn

© 2008 - 2024 Kathryn Hall. All rights reserved.
For optimal viewing Mac users using IE should access via Safari.
Pixel Surgery by Site Mechanix