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The Witch’s Garden reborn: Taming the feral beast for a new spring

Photo of witch garden plants in the spring.

Dear H.,

I was sitting in the garden part of the garden this evening, and I remembered I had a couple of these little bottles of absinthe. It was getting late and I was feeling tired. The absinthe reminded me of you, and how at a moment like that we’d come alive. Those were some of our most magical hours.

I sat in your chair, so cast your mind back to your view from there. The table is on the left. The rum and a couple of empty cider bottles are under the table still, from when you were here before. There’s a half full one beside you. You have that smile on …

I have essentially four beds. Starting at about nine o’clock from your chair is the first one, a feeble attempt at a cottage garden. It was a mishmash. I seem to remember a fair amount of black hollyhocks coming up there last year. There was also a huge yarrow plant skirting the border, as well as a surprisingly small tansy bush. The tansy bush is gone now. It’s alright, as I have a wall of them growing up as a back border to hide the pool. There’s an unidentifiable plant coming up, as well as white day lilies. Oddly enough, just after I put out the Sweet Kate last week, I had a bunch of Sweet Williams blooming next to it. I don’t know if I planted them last year or they’re volunteers.

I moved one of the moon flower trellises over there for the Wisteria. If it grows as hardy as people say, it will eventually tear it to bits. That might be fun to watch. I believe it’s the third year for it and I notice a few small blooms popping up. There’s a monster Wisteria in the side yard, which bloomed about a month or so ago.

Cottage garden plants in May of 2016 at the beginning of the season. A cottage garden combines plants grown for beauty or scent along with herbs used for cooking or medicinal reasons.

A cottage garden combines plants grown for beauty or scent along with herbs used for cooking or medicinal reasons.

There are also Dianthus coming up under the table, straining for your rum bottle. I planted a few over along the border, Firewitch Dianthus. Mainly because they’re pretty and had witch in the name. It is a witch’s garden after all.

So not knowing exactly what will come up, and it’s mainly overrun now by violets and wild strawberries, I figured it was fair game to do stuff in. I do have two containers with Datura seeds there. I found a Rattlesnake Master plant which had some medicinal uses for the Native Americans, and it’s in there now, along with a Dragon’s Breath and a couple of odds and end annuals, like Delphinium.

There’s the good trellis there. Last year I tried a Jasmine vine which did next to nothing and then died over the winter. I swore I wouldn’t get another. Instead I ended up with a night blooming Jasmine which is in a large container. They have trouble getting through the winter here, so the best bet is to drag it inside come frost. It was only later that I realized it was Jessamine, which is even more fragile here than Jasmine. I tried a vine last year with no luck. This is a larger plant, so hopefully it will take more effort to kill it.

Then I decided screw it and got another Jasmine plant for the trellis. This time I got one further developed, and put it in a container as well. Since I had a spare container left over at the time, I put in a Nicotiana between the two Jasmines. The bed on the opposite side is for a a moon garden, so this way I’ll be surrounded by scent.

Then next to it, closer to the studio is a herb garden. In the cottage part I planted a Patchouli plant, and have one on the table by your chair as well. There’s also a Coneflower, or Echinacea. I have a handful of cooking herbs in containers then, plus three Valerian plants, figuring I’ll harvest at least one of the roots. With that and the St. John’s Wort by the fence, I should be quite mellow.

I took your advice and decided to experiment with Datura. I planted a couple different strains of seeds in my large containers. I figured they wouldn’t come up, as it was too late and I didn’t really follow any directions. So to hedge my bet I ordered three Sacred Datura plants. They’re mounding and only get about three foot tall, but three foot wide as well. I presume it’s not a good idea to have them near the edible herbs.

So I have two in containers and one across the path in the poison garden. I’ll likely try one or two more of my seedlings there as well.

Photo of plants used for poisons or witch's potions are surprisingly common. A large Belladonna plant returned from last year on the left. To the right, Foxglove, a perennial favorite is also quite poisonous. Scattered throughout you'll find Castor Bean plants, used for Ricin, as well as the deadly Datura and Nicotiana.

Plants used for poisons or witch’s potions are surprisingly common. A large Belladonna plant returned from last year on the left. To the right, Foxglove, a perennial favorite is also quite poisonous. Scattered throughout you’ll find Castor Bean plants, used for Ricin, as well as the deadly Datura and Nicotiana.

The poison garden, from left to right you have a couple of kinds of sage. Which isn’t poison of course, but I planted it before it was the poison section and it’s never died.

Behind that is a trellis which gets something. I have a batch of Corkscrew Vine seeds trying to sprout, so one could go on that.

In front of the trellis is what appears to be the only Belladonna plant I had that came back. It came up early and is already blooming. I almost pulled it up because it’s much beefier than any I’ve had before, and I thought it was Poke Weed. I tend to buy several of everything (hence five containers of Datura seeds) the first couple of years and then I’m satisfied with one. It’s not like I need a big supply of Belladonna after all. I don’t plan on greasing up the broomstick any time soon.

Then will come the Datura and next to those, Foxglove. Foxglove tends to come up first anyway, so they won’t be starved for light from the Datura, if the Datura comes back next year. Behind that is a field of Castor Bean plants popping up. Which needs thinned out. Scattered through those are Black Lillies, and if they resurrect themselves, a few black hollyhocks. I’m thinking against the fence, where the Castor Beans were before, I could plant a line of red and orange sunflowers. Not poisonous but gosh they’re pretty.

Especially against the red of the Castor Beans. Those get huge … eight foot tall or so. And the seed pods are very spiky. You’d love them.

In the back is a Mugwort plant. It’s already about three foot across. Over by the older part of the garden there are about three or four more Mugworts. They spread nicely there. Might leave them as they do choke out weeds.

I moved my large Wormwood plant to the back, along with a row of three Tansy Plants. It was the only survivor from my attempt at growing seedlings a couple years back. It won’t die. There’s a small offspring of it nearby as well. I think it’s safe to get rid of it if I need space.

There’s English Ivy popping up around there as well. I’m planning on trailing it up the clothesline pole. Or since the pole is shaped like a cross, make a .60 scale scarecrow crucifixion scene. Not that crows are a problem. But you can’t go wrong with a near life sized crucifixion in the garden. And I think I have a concrete Mary around here someplace.

As you know, I have a tendency towards over achieving. So I briefly gave thought to the idea of taking up tombstone carving, to sell as garden ornaments. I quickly nixed it.

For now.

Speaking of choking out weeds, I came up with a bunch of pavement stones. So we made a platform of them, which holds one of the containers of Datura and I believe another container of Black Lillies.

Poison garden plants and night scented plants in the Witch's Garden, early May. The large container holds a Brugmansia plant, white nearly a tree already, which in addition to being a night scented plant, is also quite poisonous. To the right of that are black lilies in a tall, vertical container.

The large container holds a Brugmansia plant, white nearly a tree already, which in addition to being a night scented plant, is also quite poisonous. To the right of that are black lilies in a tall, vertical container.

And then there’s the Brugmansia, which is now in a container on the platform. I was looking at something else that had trumpet shapes blooms, and the lady at the nursery asked if I was looking for anything in particular. It’s the same lady I bought the Jasmine from last week. She has neat hair. She’d make a fairly good Ophelia floating down the river.

The only thing that came to mind was Angel Trumpets, and I said it without thinking. I didn’t imagine they had one. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of caring for one. They’re like a fucking pet. In our zone you might need to water it twice a day, and it would certainly die over the winter.

She said they had two, and it’s a specimen plant. I didn’t have a clue what that meant. I looked it up later. It means it’s a focal point. Of course, it’s already fucking huge. It’s about four foot tall and about five foot across.

Yesterday I noticed the first three starts at blooming, which was exciting. We’ve been undergoing a deluge of late, several days of high winds so it’s kind of beaten to hell at the moment. So to see signs of life was surprising.

I left gaps in some of the bricks for my day lilies which is a night scented plant, so I figure that’s where the moon garden starts, with the Brugmansia. There’s the butterfly bush directly across from where you’re sitting, and some ferns and other low light plants under it … and a brick floor as well. I was hoping to choke out the poison ivy, but failed in that. I have it under my chin now.

In the foreground is the moon garden, filled with night scented plants, as well as white bloomers which will glow nicely against the black mulch. Going further back you find more night scented plants, including those which could be overpowering up close

In the foreground is the moon garden, filled with night scented plants, as well as white bloomers which will glow nicely against the black mulch. Going further back you find more night scented plants, including those which could be overpowering up close

There’s a coral bell plant in there as well, which I forgot I planted. I rather like it. It kind of floats up through the vegetation like a butterfly.

I also have Black Eyed Susans which I planted because they spread like crazy. Also have a few Echinacea plants growing someplace.

Then a patch of Lambs Ear, which is shiny at night for the moon garden, and also chokes out weeds … except the poison ivy. Across the path from that … in the back is a Clematis which bloomed earlier and then appeared to die. There’s an outside chance a Datura will come up there. Then there are two Woodland Tobacco plants, which are certainly night scented. Under those are I think a bunch of White Coral Bells, white Pansies and more Lillies. Along the border are two or three Canterbury Bells. I’m pretty sure I had Sweet William there last year, so they might come back. And then up by the chairs, a lilac bush.

There’s a trellis there for Moon Flowers and my Corkscrew Vine. One of the seeds germinated early and made a nice little seedling that I have in there, surrounded by a ring of quartz. The Boston Fern hangs over that area, to kill off in a timely fashion. Below its slowly decaying corpse will go the container plants that are done blooming.

Small and mid sized pots are ideal for adding night scented plants to a seating area. In addition I've added a Patchouli plant and black Pansies, along with Nicotiana. Just below is a Datura plant in a large container which will likely fill the seating area with night scents.

Small and mid sized pots are ideal for adding night scented plants to a seating area. In addition I’ve added a Patchouli plant and black Pansies, along with Nicotiana. Just below is a Datura plant in a large container which will likely fill the seating area with night scents.

On the table are black Peonies, and small versions of Nicotiana in containers. I have enough that they should do the night scent thing too. Plus the aforementioned Patchouli plant in a container dominates the table.

Overall, the garden is pretty full, so I think I’ll be done for the year.

The question is, what to do with it? I decided if I was going to do it again, I might as well do it right. I wanted to get enough growing to choke out weeds. But till the row of lavender along the path fills out, I’ll still be pulling. So why not make it an office? An internet connection shouldn’t be hard, as I have a cable out there already going to the studio. Got the chairs, just need a little table. Which actually I have already. It’s a bamboo, tropical looking thing. I have my big, tropical fan. And should have a healthy batch of butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. Not to mention bees and slugs.

What hopefully will tempt me from work will be pulling some weeds that are bothering me, or watering the fucking Brugmansia. It has to be healthier than sitting up here in the crypt. And there’s always the pool.

So I drank the absinthe and talked to you about where everything should go, and I really should have had you here for that. Instead of the imaginary you. Yeah, I could figure it out on my own. But those things are always better with you.

I saw a photo essay this week of different artist and writer’s work spaces. The one I liked most was Rudyard Kipling’s. I think Rudyard would have been fairly comfortable out here. Not as comfortable as you were, but then some things just fit.

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