I have struggled lately with focusing and a good case of cabin fever, waiting for winter to release its hold on the north. The last 2 months I started a bunch of seeds that I hoped to plant outside in early April.
One of the seed packs I mistakenly planted and have since regretted are my Echinops ritro, or Globe Thistle. It’s my first year growing them and somehow I got it into my head they should be planted early. They are the biggest of my seedlings, quickly establishing roots and outgrowing their cells.
I should have guessed something in the thistle family might be a little tenacious.
Every year at the farm, I’ve done battle with the Canada thistles. They love our heavy clay soil and because the farm is surrounded by uncut meadows, we have literal snow storms of them during the summer—their pretty down flies into our neat plots to poke us with their needles and challenge us with their tap roots.
Despite their trouble, I have to admit I love the thistles. There is just something about their stubbornness that I find admirable.
I got thinking about the thistle because a week from today, I’ll be heading into the Highlands of Scotland for a road trip around the UK with my husband. Scotland and I have unfinished business. I went when I was 20 and I was head over heals smitten with the place. It was wild. Open. Windy. Rainy. I saw 3 rainbows in 1 hour. Pure magic. I swore I’d come back to see the Highlands. Its taken 10 years, but I’m finally going back.
The thistle is the national symbol of Scotland. The legend is that invading Norse troops tried to sneak up upon sleeping clansmen. They took off their boots to be stealthier. One man stepped on a thistle, let out a cry, and alerted the Scots against the invasion. The thistle saved them.
The thistle was also used to establish the Order of the Thistle, an old chivalric order in Scotland, who’s motto is Nemo me impune lacessit, no one provokes me without impunity.
Try putting that on your office door.
The person who tries to wound a thistle is in turn wounded. It is a proud and stubborn plant. It is not a surprise to me I feel an affinity to it—simultaneously embracing and struggling with pride and stubbornness within me.
But there is a side to the thistle that is less known—its ability to shield and defend those that protect us in our farms and gardens. Lady bugs and all sorts of beneficial insects lay their eggs on thistle stems and leaves. As nymphs and adults. they seek food and shelter in its spiny escape.
Thistle therefore is not really a symbol of defensiveness, but of protection. Therefore, as a good farmer, I need to protect those who would defend.
I’ll leave you some facts on Globe Thistles and look for more flower stories to come:
-Sow in late winter, early spring, ¼” deep
-If grown as seedling, plant out after frosts in full sun
-They are large perennials and need 1-2’ per plant and can grow 4’ high
-Drought tolerant and needs good drainage
-Can be used as fresh or dried flowers
-Beware, can spread. They come from a tenacious family.