Whether you are Wiccan or traditional, coven member or solitary, kitchen or hedge witch, a garden can be a powerful and vitalizing part of your magical practice. Growing herbs you will eventually make part of your spellwork allows you to build both a deep knowledge of and a relationship with those plants from the time they are embryos in the seed until they are mature and ready to harvest; this can add a great deal of power and focus to your work. Working in a magical garden builds skill and confidence in personal paths in magic as well as demonstrating how powerful outside forces are--you see the results of your own decisions but also of factors outside of your control. Folks often discuss how spirits are involved in initiation and guidance in witchcraft and other magical practices. Plant spirits can play those roles if you open yourself to their direction, and of course the garden is the perfect place for learning to communicate with these spirits. They become aware of you and come to know you as you honor them by tending the herbs that embody them. Since a garden cannot be faked, plant magic is as real as it gets, and a witch's garden is as full of knowledge as any grimoire or book of shadows. You have only to be open to it, have patience, and be willing to learn. Top
Siting Your Garden
When you are planning a witch's garden, ask the spirits of the place for help in siting it and keep in mind the interaction between human and non-human a garden entails. Make it a comfortable place to be, bring your magical practice into it (and allow it to enter your magical practice), start small and know your limits, and make appropriate sacrifices. You should understand the sanctity of garden work, keep the motions of the heavens in mind, and take a broad view of your garden's productivity. That's a bunch of shoulds, but the final should is that a garden should be a delight. Try to open yourself to the spirits of the place before you site your garden. You want a good site physically for the plants, but also spiritually--for them and for you. You can do this simply by wandering about your potential garden area at different times of the day and opening yourself up to what is there. You should get a feel for which areas will benefit cultivated plants. Full sun is preferred for many gardens, but it's possible to make a wonderfully magical garden in shade, since many witching plants are not only shade tolerant but actually prefer shade, like belladonna. In fact, I wonder if part of the attraction to some of these herbs for witches in the past was that they could grow in areas that might not be so easily visible to neighbors or passers-by. Herbs growing around the doorway are quite a bit different than herbs growing in the edge of the woods or hedge bordering the witch's property.
A garden is a meeting place between human culture and plant culture. Both sides have to give in order to meet and work together. How does this work? Well, if you like to plant in rows, then make the rows far enough apart so you are comfortable walking between them and will linger. I have done this by using old cardboard boxes or newspapers (6 sheets thick and overlapped) covered with mulch, which is great for keeping down weeds and making a nice, soft and biodegradable (and relatively inexpensive) place for me to walk and from which to work with and learn from my plants. If the paths are too narrow, you aren't going to feel comfortable out there. And for most gardens, success is at least partly due to the gardener's attention. You can't know something is bugging your plants unless you get out there every day and have a look (and a feel). And it's good for your magical practice to be there with your plants, soaking up the aura of their spirits and opening yourself up to really listen to them, to all they have to teach. It's also very good for the soul. So make it a place you want to spend time in. You don't need to have a vast knot garden to create a special place where you can commune with your plants, with nature, with the Fae, or even cast some spells. You can do this in even a very small area, as long as you feel at ease there. It all depends on how comfortable you make that area feel for you and your plants.
A Place to Sit and Ponder
chairI'm not much on plastic, but I love those plastic Adirondack chairs for the garden. They are inexpensive, clean easily, are sturdy, last forever (almost literally), and they're comfortable. You can easily shift them around to view, for instance, the bees working your agastache in the morning or the grey fox scooting across your garden at dusk. A nice built-in is an old tree stump, most of which are good for sitting (or for planting--I had a nice half hollow stump at my old place that made a great planter for pansies and then for mints).
Magical Practice in Your Garden
Man with a basket in gardenThere are many ways to bring your magical practice into your garden. If you like to cast a circle, you can make a circular planting that will mark that for you. You can make an outdoor altar part of your garden, and it doesn't even have to stick out. If you are doing the Abramelin operation, the garden is the place for your retreat, which does not have to be any more sophisticated than some poles with wood trellising lashed to them (then add some nice vines to increase the privacy). I enjoy connecting with Hermes, so I pile rocks at the corners of my garden. In my last place, I made a Priapus (a Greek sort of scarecrow) by pruning a staghorn sumac appropriately. You can usually create an area of some privacy in any garden by using shrubs, treillises, or wire fences with vines growing on them. If nothing else, most gardens can support a bean teepee--a bunch of poles tied together at the top like a teepee that pole beans travel up, creating a private place inside. If you can, it is nice to make a small sleeping area so that at least one fine night in the summer you can sleep outside with your plants and allow them to speak to you through dreams or aid you in astral work. A mulch bed is nice for this, as it is soft and aromatic, but a hammock also works. Whatever your practice, it will be potentiated by occurring in a natural place you have made yours.
Huge gardenSome of the most difficult advice for a gardener to take is to start small. Every year I buy way too many seeds and start way too many plants. But a smaller garden can be better cared-for and thus a happier and more productive garden. One of my most satisfying gardens wasn't in the ground but in pots on a tiny screened-in back porch. I had only a few pots but chose decorative ones and only certain plants that I felt especially sympatico with. I loved sitting out there, and so did the cats. It was relaxing and a great place for astral work.
Know Your Limits
Garden plantGardening is hard work, so it's best to make easier whatever tasks you can. That way, you can focus on the daily tending and learning from a garden instead of being frustrated by doing more than you can at the moment. If you are starting out, choose plants that are easier to germinate and forgiving of human mistakes, like clary sage, black-seeded poppy, elfwort, sage, vervain, yarrow. Then try some seeds that have more persnickety germination requirements, like cinquefoil and black nightshade and powerful banefuls like henbane, belladonna, and foxglove. Save monkshood, wolfsbane, and mandrake for when you have more experience under your belt. Gradually you will build not only your gardening confidence but your wortcunning. With gardening, as with any magical practice, patience and diligent work pay off. But both gardening and magic teach us that the process itself can be as rewarding as the goal.
Garden fenceLearn from Saturn and maintain your borders. Although this flies in the face of the assumptions of permaculture, for much gardening, a distinction must be made between what is garden and what is not-garden. You don't need to plant in rows or work in other ways that imitate agriculture, but some kind of line (invisible or not) should mark what is your garden and what is not, because otherwise it becomes very easy to be lax about caring for it. Most plants that we grow are domesticated, and just like most domesticated animals, they don't do all that well when left to their own devices. Your plants will benefit from not only your attention but a certain focus on them in the yard itself. They will grow bigger and happier if they have their own space and are not having to compete with grass, for instance. Sometimes a border can be as inconspicuous as simply hoeing where your garden is and not hoeing elsewhere, but I have found that for me it is good to make the border a little more emphatic. I have often used rocks dug up from the very rocky soil I have here to simply line my garden borders, but in the past I also used little low fences or even simply cardboard covered with mulch (which is an great way to deal with turf). In keeping with borders, it is a good idea to smudge the borders of your yard and/or to create a wall of energy around it to keep out varmints on two legs, four, or six. It's good to welcome visitors, but a garden is always an assertion of human presence.
Lilies in a gardenMany witches talk about giving something back to the land when they harvest and tuck some tobacco, for instance, in the soil. I think when you care for a garden, you are always giving something back to the land. You have to, or you won't have a garden for very long--it will be reabsorbed into the wild or just poop out. Every time you fertilize, water, or add compost, you are giving something back to the land. Every time you groom your plants and pick off marauding bugs, you are giving something back to the land. Whether you till under or use raised beds or mulching, you are giving something back to the land. I think this is the best kind of offering you can make and one that is peculiar to us as humans. It's easy for us to forget that such work is magic.
The Sanctity of Garden Work
Garden guy with a shovelFor me, there is nothing that brings me as close to the spiritual world as working in my garden. Make it as pleasant as you can so you will do more of it. Choose good tools that you know will serve you long and well, and care for them. Keep them under cover so they don't get rained on and clean them before putting them away for the season. Smudging them at the beginning and end of the season is also a nice thing to do. Treating a garden tool like a wand, because for the green witch, it IS a wand.
As Above, So Below
MoonAlchemy teaches us that the great and the small, the high and the low, are linked and influence each other (wonder if this is where Hegel got his unity of opposites idea). This plays out in the garden not only in terms of how we interact with seeds but also in terms of time. Gardening by the Moon, the signs, and the procession of the equinoxes can bring a very satisfying unity to your garden and magical work. It emphasizes our own physical links to the rest of the world and allows us to see the tiny changes that we usually don't notice. I think that much of magic is in those tiny changes.
All Gardens Are Magical
Man harvesting in gardenA garden can focus on Elementals, planetary influences (all Venus herbs, for instance), a particular deity, or particular spellwork, such as protection or love magic. I just choose plants I'm attracted to, which ends up for me being a lot of Saturn plants. I do think that simply choosing plants you're attracted rather than choosing a theme can teach lessons in itself. My attraction to Saturn plants is part of my preoccupation with borders and interest in the Underworld, so growing these plants helps me learn about those aspects of myself and point out directions for my magical practice.
Whether your garden is on your windowsill or a few acres, private or open to visitors, half-wild or a knot garden, it can be productive for you. All gardens give some kind of harvest, be it of herbs, veggies, fruit, flowers, or the lessons of wortcunning, of patience, of determined struggle, and of being able to see the past, the present moment, and the future at the same time. If your garden produces nothing but renewal, it is a bountiful garden and a blessed place.