January can be a hard month to love. A cold, dark, post-celebratory descent where the first hint of spring feels far too far away. But in times of scarcity even the smallest signs of life punctuate the gloom, creating little moments of January delight. Over the past couple of weeks, writing, design work and an inflamed hip have kept me mostly inside. But from my work space (the kitchen table) I can see the redwings eating next door’s cotoneaster berries and there’s just the merest hint of acid yellow – could it be the primroses in the lawn starting to emerge?
My Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ are flowering and I’m pleased I planted them near enough to the window to be able to see the swaying bells – some creamy white, the others cream above and splotched with purple beneath. Flocks of long-tailed tits have been passing through, voleries of cheerful pompoms on sticks, bouncing in the birch canopy outside my daughter’s bedroom. Today the wren was watching me quizzically from the fence, head on one side, perhaps wondering why I wasn’t out working in the garden.
The buds on the Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ are beginning to break and as it’s in a pot I’ve brought it right up close to the window – flowers in January are to be treasured. Not to be outdone by the viburnum, my witch hazels (Hamamellis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ and ‘Diane’) have been flowering for several weeks with their vibrant copper and red curled petals like delicately zested orange peel, their warmth defrosting any sombre winter moods.
But the natural world isn’t deterred by a mere sheet of glass – it seeps into the house and surrounds us, even in the coldest months. In our bedrooms, chillies, lemongrass, physalis, coffee, tea, Vietnamese coriander, cucamelon and yacon are all overwintering. So many chillies have ripened this winter that we’ve been making chilli jam – in January. Our oyster mushrooms have proved their worth by growing a second crop. We made them into a spicy broth with frozen stock and meat from our Christmas turkey and, of course, a couple of chillies for good measure.
We’ve been planting indoor bulbs to bring us colour and fragrance before the end of winter and in the propagator, chilli and sweet pea seeds are slowly waking up. Whether I look outwards or inwards, I can feel life stirring. Winter, darkness and even thundersnow might be upon us, but bowls of warming broth, trays and propagators full of plants in waiting and the ebullient winter flowers and birds outside my window provide a series of January delights to help us hang on until spring.
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The winter garden is waiting, the new raised beds watching me through the windows, daring me to step out into the frost, the drizzle, the sunshine to tackle a host of gardening jobs. Instead I’ve been cooking, eating, playing, crafting, walking, cycling and enjoying this unusually long period of family time together. But this afternoon I snatched a quick break to curl up with a notepad, some new seed catalogues and my seed packets to plan the annual layer for the new cutting patch.
Bulb Base Layer
Since I last wrote about the cutting patch (in Planning a Cutting Patch: Bulb Time) I have buried all the Narcissi and Tulips deep down, ready for spring.
It’s now time to consider what will grow around and alongside the bulbs and how I will produce flowers and foliage for cutting throughout the spring, summer and autumn.
My seed packets make me smile with all their potential for colour and texture for flower arrangements in the New Year. I’ve already amassed a lovely collection: Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight Blues’, ‘Fragrantissima’ and ‘Floral Tribute’, Antirrhinum ‘Royal Bride’ (a lovely tall, white snapdragon), Cosmos ‘Purity’ (a particular favourite), Papaver somniferum ‘Irish Velvet’ and ‘Paeony Black’, Calendula ‘Daisy Mixed’ and ‘Sherbert Fizz’ (which I admired at Chelsea, so grew myself last year and liked), Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’ (another favourite), Tropaeolum majus ‘Milkmaid’ (love the milky colour of this nasturtium and can’t wait to try it), Euphorbia oblongata (a short-lived perennial, often grown as an annual for cutting), Ammi majus (a winner in my current flower border for its delicate, feathery umbels), Coreopsis ‘Unbelievable!’ and Centaurea cyanus ‘Polka Dot’ and ‘Classic Romantic’ (you can’t have a cutting patch without cornflowers).
I’ve also been sent a few treats to trial by Suttons Seeds (a company I’ve been using for years) like Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis – with tall spikes of fresh green bells), Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ (once I’d seen this white beauty with its dark eye I had to try it), Bunny Tails (Lagurus ovatus – an annual grass with fluffy white tops which is great for cutting) and the Scented Garden Collection (Sweet William ‘Perfume Mix’, Sweet Pea ‘Patio Mix’, Night Phlox, Lavender ‘Blue Wonder and Brompton Stock) which I’ll be including in the mix (as the patch will also include biennials and perennials too – more on these in a later post.)
Then, like many of my fellow seed addicts (there should be a mutual support group – maybe I’ll set one up…), I have been enticed into a few extra annual purchases in search of floral perfection. My current order comprises: Bupleurum griffithii with its acid yellow flowers and lime green leaves (I’m definitely after green foliage and flowers to offset the deeper colours of the dahlias, tulips and others), Centaurea ‘Black Ball’, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ (stalwart of any cutting patch), Cosmos ‘Double Click Cranberries’ (what a stunning colour), Crepis rubra (this pink Hawksbeard/dandelion lookalike wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but I encountered it on a course this year and fancied a try), Daucus carota ‘Purple Kisses’ (more umbellifer indulgence), Linum grandiflorum rubrum (Scarlet Flax – another beautiful new flower for me this year), Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ and Zinna elegans ‘Benarys Lime Green’ and ‘Benarys Giant Scarlet’.
I don’t imagine I’ll get round to sowing all of these, or indeed have the room to plant out a row of each, but I’m hoping most will find their way into the new cutting patch. Out of this marvellous annual selection, along with the bulbs, tubers and perennials, I must, surely, be able to create a little magic in 2017?
What are you planning to include in annual planting this year? Any thoughts for additions to my list to extend the season or offer alternative colours or textures would be great too. Thanks 🙂
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With very best wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year xxx 🙂
I started a cutting patch in the back garden last year. It was a disaster. I planted Echinacea purpurea, Monarda, Calendula (‘Indian Prince’ and ‘Porcupine’), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Barry Dare’, ‘Cupani’ and ‘Arthur Hellyer’), Gladioli (‘Flevo Cool’, ‘Flevo Flash’ and ‘Flevo Sylvia’) and nasturtiums. It was a bit of an odd mix with little forethought, just plants and seeds which I had available and which I knew would also be good for wildlife. The patch grew beautifully and created a mini pollinator paradise. It also added a focal point with vibrant colours at the end of the vegetable raised beds, but herein lay the problem. It was too lovely. Every time I contemplated ravishing it with my scissors, I hesitated and backed away. I did cut a few blooms, but each time I harvested flowers for the house, I felt I was depriving the bees and butterflies, and diluting the visual effect.
So this year I’m approaching a cutting patch with a new plan. I intend to interplant my veggies with edible companions like calendula, nasturtiums and borage to create colour and cater for the insects. Then in the allotment – far away from the kitchen window and my view as I’m washing up – I’ll plant my cutting patch which will be one bed about 1.2m by 6m. This time I’m putting a little more thought into the planting so it really earns its keep year round. We have a half plot (I’m banned from taking on any more land or responsibility for any more gardens at the moment), so every bit of space matters.
I have plans for bulbs, perennials and annuals, plus I’m hoping to squeeze in a Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ when no-one’s looking. I already have Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviremea’ and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in the garden providing wonderful winter cutting material, so a ‘Kesselringi’ will add to this collection with its stunning deep purple/black stems. I’ve been reading up on plants which offer good material for cutting at different times of year and thinking about how they might combine in arrangements. I’ll be writing about my choices of perennials and annuals in a later post, but here are my bulb plans and some of the thinking behind the combinations.
I have never grown enough tulips to have many for cutting and it struck me that including tulip and narcissi bulbs in the cutting patch won’t require much extra room. The soil will not be supporting large plants during early spring so the tulips can easily come up between the perennials as they grow and the dying foliage should be covered by the annual flowers later in the season. I’ve chosen the Sarah Raven ‘Vintage Silk’ collection as I haven’t grown ‘Apricot Beauty’, ‘Mistress Grey’, ‘Spring Green’ or ‘Groenland’ before and I love their subtle smoky look. I’m also planning on including ‘Shirley’ (which I vowed to grow again when I wrote my tulip review earlier in the year), ‘Attila’ (deep purple), ‘Carnival de Rio’, ‘Hollandia’ (these two make a red/white striped and red mix), ‘Slawa’ (an amazing maroon tulip with outer orange stripes), ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jimmy’ (these two create a deep crimson and coral orange mix). I’m hoping these combinations will look great in vases – they should last for 10 days or longer and will also mix well with the greens of Euphorbia palustris and Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae which will be planted in the cutting patch.
The narcissi should provide blooms from March to May – from ‘Gigantic Star’ with a vanilla-like fragrance in March/April, through ‘Thalia’ and ‘The Bride’ in April/May to ‘Piper’s End’ in May. J.Parker’s have offered me the narcissi and the seven tulip varieties ‘Shirley’ – ‘Jimmy’ to trial this year, so I can see how the varieties perform in the allotment and how suitable they are for cutting. The tulips bulbs will be planted about 15-20cm deep, 10-15 cm apart and the narcissi 10-15 cm deep, 8-10cm apart, depending on the bulb size. The extra depth will hopefully encourage the tulips to flower well in subsequent years. Both bulb types will be planted with a handful of grit beneath them as we do in the garden, to aid drainage. Then the perennials can be planted alongside the bulbs and the annuals sown above once spring arrives. I’m also considering planting winter/spring bedding to reduce weed cover, add colour and provide material for cutting before the spring bulbs and annuals begin.
Once I’ve added in the Gladioli ‘Flevo’ series from the garden and a mixture of dahlias which I already have and some new faces (‘Café au Lait’ and ‘Henriette’ – with their milky coffee and peach hues, alongside the deep velvets of ‘Thomas A. Edison’, ‘Downham Royal’ and ‘Con Amore’), I’ll have pretty much filled (probably over-filled) the available bulb/tuber/corm space. The dahlias will go in after the frosts next year above the narcissi, to maximise the use of space. And I’m literally bouncing off the seat with excitement at all the promise which will be hidden underground throughout the winter months. I’ve no idea how I’ll contain myself when I get to planning perennials and annuals – maybe I should read up on rabbit damage, greenfly infestations and fungal problems to introduce a degree of pessimistic balance.
But whatever problems lie in the future, for the moment I can watch the leaves falling with my cup of tea in hand and dream about vases of glorious spring blooms adorning the house. Then it’s back to the allotment, trowel in hand, to start digging.
I enjoy flower arranging and I’ve been on a couple of courses, but it’s very much a work in progress!
Are you planning a cutting patch or garden, or do you already have one? What tips would you give a newbie cut flower grower like me? I’m in two minds about whether to plant the narcissi singly or in groups and would be interested in thoughts on this. I’d also love to hear about what works and what hasn’t been as successful in other cutting patches, so do leave me a comment below 🙂
If you’d like to follow my cutting patch as I continue to plan and plant, you can follow the blog below. Next up it’s perennials and no doubt some photos about how the bulb planting is progressing…
Biography, art history, botanical study – none of these terms do sufficient justice to Molly Peacock’s expansive, lyrical and thoroughly readable account of the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788). Over a period of ten years, Delany created nearly a thousand cut-paper botanical images of flowers from all over the world. Living in a period of intense botanical exploration and investigation, Delany had access to Kew for specimens through her friendship with Sir Joseph Banks.
The parallels between Peacock’s contemporary investigation into 18th century artistic life and Delany’s progress towards ‘a new way of imitating flowers’ add depth and a personal warmth to the story. Peacock considers eleven of the botanical collages, including ‘Opium Poppy’ (Papaver somniferum), ‘Magnolia’ (Magnolia grandiflora), ‘Bloodroot’ (Sanguinaria canadensis), ‘Portlandia’ (Portlandia grandiflora) and ‘Winter Cherry’ (Physalis alkekengi) in great detail, relating each to stages of Delany’s personal and artistic development. Occasionally the botanical analogies feel a little strained, the mental contortions necessary to compare human and plant lives a little jarring, but on the whole these parallels enrich the text as they suggest echoes of life in art, in nature. As Peacock writes about the flowers in the Delany mosaics:
Each of Mrs. Delany’s flower mosaicks is a portrait, highly individual, full of personality, the bloom posed as a human figure might be positioned in a painter’s portrait… The flowers are like dancers. Like daydreamers. Like women blinking in silent adoration. Like children playing. Like queens reigning or divas belting out their arias. Like courtesans lying on bedclothes. Like girls hanging their heads in shame. Like, like, like. Along with the scissors, the scalpel, the bodkin, the tweezers, the mosaicks make use of one of the main tools of the poet: simile. By comparing one thing to another, a simile leaves the original as it is – say, just a flower – but also states what that is like, making a threshold into another world.
Art and nature are seen, by Delany and Peacock, as being intrinsically linked. Delany’s eye for detail, her botanical dissections and biological knowledge underpin the beauty and verisimilitude of her art. Science is an intrinsic part her of artistic endeavour and her art reveals the glory and power of science. As Peacock writes ‘The lines between science and art in [Delany’s] day were fluid, but in 1966 [the time of Peacock’s education] they had become as thick as the stays in eighteenth century ladies’ clothes.’
In 1993, when I began my university education, an interest in mathematical and scientific issues within the arts (in my case, English Literature) was still viewed suspiciously in many quarters – as if it somehow diluted the essence of language and art, rather than enhancing it. In 2006 interdisciplinary studies were becoming more mainstream and I wrote an MA dissertation on the ways in which contemporary science profoundly affected the style and structure of the early nineteenth century novel. The tyranny of subject boundaries was dissolving and both the arts and sciences were benefitting from increased integration. This integration continues to develop, with many universities now running courses such as ‘ecocriticism’, ‘digital studies’, ‘interdisciplinary work for policy-making’ and ‘wild writing – literature and the environment’. We are rediscovering the power of connections, of contextual knowledge and mutual respect which an eighteenth century education took for granted.
The Paper Garden celebrates Mary Delany’s life, her artistic endeavours and the way her mosaics reveal a love of both art and science through her minute observation of the plant material. This is a book which offers hope for all of us who feel our best is yet to come. It is a book for art lovers and plant lovers alike. Indeed, when leafing through the Delany mosaics, it’s hard to imagine being one, without becoming the other.
The extensive collection of flower mosaics is available to view on the British Museum’s online catalogue – for individual flower mosaics mentioned in the text, click on the links above. Individual mosaics can be studied or the entire Flora Delanica viewed, with 1,005 images held in the catalogue.
If you have enjoyed this post, The Paper Garden: Mrs Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, (Aff. link) is published by Bloomsbury and available as an eBook or paperback. Follow the blog below to get updates on new reviews in ‘Write Plant, Write Place’. At the moment I’m enjoying reading a trio of books about trees…
When I started gardening I had a small patio and a keen desire follow my father’s footsteps and grow fruit and vegetables, but I also wanted flowers and colour, so I started to learn about ways to combine the two. Now, 20 years on, I’m still exploring ways to create garden spaces which encourage relaxation and an enjoyment of the beauty of nature whilst also providing a harvest for the kitchen. Over the past 6 years we’ve turned our back garden into a family space which includes a willow den and lawn with climbing frame for the kids, a flowerbed, a fruit cage and two vegetable beds. I’ve tried to maximise our space by using both horizontal and vertical structures for plants and also by combining the aesthetic and productive wherever possible.
Three years ago we started work on the front, the aim being to create a hidden allotment – a space which would blend with the surrounding suburban front gardens and offer us a secret harvest throughout the year. As the size of modern gardens diminishes and the pressure on our outdoor spaces increases, it will become more important to combine productivity with aesthetic appeal. Here are a few of the ways we’ve been adding edibles to our outdoor spaces within an ornamental framework:
The front garden has changed from a sterile, unappealing lawn to a cheerful gravel garden filled with ornamental and edible plants
1. Eat a Hedge
Hedges are an great way to create separate areas, edge borders, establish boundaries and attract wildlife. They are also often used to add formality to a garden. With so many different functions, hedges are likely to be included in most gardens, creating an ideal opportunity to add an productive element. I have many low hedges in the garden – all evergreen and edible – and they provide a harvest throughout the year.
After discussing Chilean guava as an alternative to box hedging with James Wong a few years ago, I thought I’d try it as the edging to the front garden. It has matured over the past three years and it looks like being a good harvest this autumn despite keeping the hedge at only 50cm high. It hasn’t established as well as box, partly because it is more prone to dieback in cold weather and because I haven’t been as assiduous as I should have with watering and feeding, but it isn’t going to contract box blight and its berries are not only edible – they are truly delicious. The children love snacking on them and they work really well as tiny bursts of flavour in muesli and cupcakes. Best of all, when I am weeding or pruning in the front garden, the scent of the fruit from midsummer onwards saturates the air and makes all the hard work worthwhile.
I also have several rosemary and lavender hedges in the garden. I dry the lavender for scented bouquets in the house and add it to sugar for cakes and biscuits. The rosemary provides an invaluable year round harvest for adding to meat dishes, sprinkling over homemade chips and using in savoury biscuits. I’ve used the rosemary hedge in the front to trisect the garden, helping to disguise the rectangular shape. It almost disappears in summer as the flowers take over and then reappears in winter, adding definition and interest to the garden.
Lavender is generally used to edge the borders. There’s a hedge of dwarf lavender alongside the back flowerbed and one under the front windows. Hedges offer a wonderful opportunity to explore different varieties of lavender and we’re lucky enough to live close to Hitchin Lavender which has an extensive trial field. Summer often finds me wandering around the rows, learning about the different colours, foliage, habits and scents of this intoxicating plant. I grow ‘Twickel Purple’, ‘Dwarf Blue’, ‘Blue Ice’, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ and wish I had room for more varieties.
Another way I’ve used hedges in the garden is to create compartments in the herb bed. When we moved to the house, the back garden had a long fence with an ugly concrete base which made the left side of the garden grey and monotonous. We planted alternating rosemary and lavender ‘hedgelets’ along the border to break up the line and create areas for different herbs – sage, mint, chives, oregano and thyme – arranged based on the increasing amount of sun as you go down the garden.
If taller and less formal hedges are required, there are lots of suppliers offering native hedge plants these days, like the collection from the Wiggly Wigglers which I’ve often wished I had the space to plant. This particular collection includes ‘blackthorn (for sloe gin), crab apple (for jelly), damson (for jam and a luscious homemade alternative to Ribena), dog rose (for rosehip syrup), elderberry (for flu-preventing syrups from the berries in autumn and delicious cordial from the flowers in spring), hazel (for cob nuts), cherry plum and wild pear (for jams, liqueurs and syrups)’. (Links in the blog are not sponsored – they are simply from companies that I have used in the past and liked.)
2. Look up – Walls and Fences
In a small space it is important to use the vertical as well as horizontal plane. We’ve covered the fences around the whole garden with a mixture of soft fruit and trained fruit trees to expand our growing space and hide unpleasant concrete and overlooking windows.
I’ve enjoyed growing our three apple espaliers (‘Bountiful’, ‘Egremont Russet and ‘James Grieve’) as they provide such structure and style along the boundaries. We also have a pink seedless grape ‘Reliance’ trained up the end espalier wire next to a fig ‘White Marseille’. There’s a thornless blackberry ‘Apache’ trained up wires at the back of the garden with a plum ‘Opal’ and greengage ‘Cambridge Gage’ in front, helping to screen the windows of the overlooking houses. The fruit cage has two rows of summer and autumn raspberries at the back, screening next door’s shed and we’ve covered a blank section of wall at the front with a cordon apple ‘Fiesta’.
With the foliage, blossom and fruits, trained fruit trees and bushes should be grown more in our gardens. Requiring little maintenance, except at pruning and feeding times, they form the backbone of our relatively small garden and bring us much pleasure throughout the spring, summer and autumn months.
Cordons, fans and espaliers are all suitable for growing against walls and fences
3. Build a Green Roof
In the same spirit of using vertical spaces, I’ve tried to use horizontal spaces even when they are off the ground. When I got tired of ugly bins of the driveway, I designed a binstore with a local carpenter and included a green roof to create more growing space. This is now filled with a mix of edibles and ornamentals – sedum, dianthus, thrift, sempervivums (which although not edible, have a juice with herbal properties similar to Aloe vera and are hardy into the bargain), chillies, herbs and nasturtiums.
The herbs (thyme, lemon thyme, summer savoury, golden marjoram and French tarragon) are thriving, as are the succulents, thrift and dianthus. The chillies have suffered from lack of water at times, so if I plant them in the roof again I’ll need to keep more of an eye on them if we want a larger crop. I’m also intending to try alpine strawberries (Fragraria vesca ‘White Soul’) in the roof next year to develop the edible theme.
4. Spread Scented Ground Cover
Many herbs provide great ground cover, adding attractive foliage, flowers and scent to a garden, whilst also being extremely useful in the kitchen. Our front garden had a muddy path to which we’ve added paving and gravel, leaving plenty of space to plant ground cover herbs. There is a range of thymes, including woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), creeping white thyme (Thymus serpyllum var. albus) and creeping lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Aurea’), alongside pennyroyal mint (Mentha pulegium) and chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile ‘Flore Pleno’). They create an aromatic effect as you wander along the path (along with the oregano which has self-seeded down the side passage and releases the most lovely scent when we put the bins out). They are enjoying the location, in full sun, and have rewarded us by increasing in size, creating plenty of ground cover even when they’ve just been harvested.
We turned the weedy muddy area into a path with room for ground cover herbs
5. Munch on Edible Flowers and Colourful Veg
Many vegetable patches are visible from the house these days rather than hidden at the bottom of a long plot, so it’s important to consider how the productive area will add to the aesthetics of the garden. Including annuals and perennials with edible flowers in the vegetable patch is an easy way to engage children with gardening and create a visually appealing, vibrant space.
We grow calendula, borage, bergamot, marigolds, nasturtiums, viola, dianthus, primroses and lavender either in the veg beds or elsewhere in the garden. Although they don’t add a great amount of bulk to meals, they can be used to brighten up salads, cakes, biscuits and ice-cubes, adding a bit of creative fun to family meals.
Colourful vegetables are also a valuable addition to an ornamental vegetable patch as they create visual interest. From pea ‘Blauschokker’ with its delicate purple flowers and deep purple pods, rainbow chard with its thick stems shining like jewels in the sun to purple kohl rabi with UFO shaped swollen stems, there are so many interesting coloured vegetables from which to choose.
6. Pot it up
If you don’t have a fruit and vegetable patch, but want to grow ornamental crops, containers could be the answer. Several years ago I bought a great book called ‘Crop in Pots’ by Bob Purnell. I loved the illustrations which pay as much attention to creating attractive displays as they do to providing food for the table.
I’ve tried several of the combinations over the years and made up some of my own, like the fruit salad hanging baskets for the school fete with alpine strawberries (we used Fragraria vesca ‘Baron Solemacher’) and chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate Mint’) with its deep brown stems and bronze flush to the leaves.
Even with a small patio, windowbox or windowsill, it’s possible to grow beautiful plants which taste good too. My chilli collection includes some really ornamental plants like ‘Numex Twilight’ and ‘Purple Gusto’. I also love edible houseplants like Vanilla Grass (Pandanus amaryllifolius) and Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix) which can bring a little productive beauty into any house, whether or not it has a garden.
Growing edibles is in the garden is great fun and connects us with the origins of our food, reminding us of the fundamental yet often overlooked role plants play in our busy, modern lives. Best of all, in an ornamental edible garden, a feast for the eyes can be transformed into a feast for the table and that’s a truly beautiful thing.
What are your favourite ornamental and edible combinations? Do leave me a comment and let me know what you are growing and how it’s going. What would you advise me to try next in the colourful veggie patch and what new varieties are on your wish list?
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Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.