An introduction to a witch’s garden and the Witch’s Gardener
A witch’s garden isn’t just for witches. It’s for those who want the roots of what they grow to reach deeper than into the soil, but into life itself. Whether you’re wanting to grow plants for your own potions, or just like your garden to have a bit of history and folklore to it, witchy gardening offers both and more. Traditionally, the witches of yore found what they needed by foraging in the woods, meadows and moors. As time moved on, many of the plants once thought magical or occult became a part of everyday living, and found their way into cottage gardens, where people grew many of the staples needed for life.
Today we tend to garden for vegetables, cooking herbs and of course beauty. A witch’s garden is one way of exploring how beauty goes much deeper than skin deep.
IT WAS APPROACHING HALLOWEEN and I was looking for a skull to stick on a pike in my witch’s garden, in the front lawn, and she was helping me shop. She held one up, suitably realistic but as I pointed out, too small. A child’s skull.
“Exactly,” she said. “The house is right across from an elementary school is it not?”
How could I not love this woman?
Does she hate children? Of course not, she loves them. But like many witches, she loves to shock.
At her insistence, the skull is still on the pike, long after Halloween. It’s my family home – four generations of our family have passed through it and several more families before that. The wood is well baked from a century and a half of hot, humid summers. Once this block was full of houses, now there are just two, which leaves plenty of space for gardening.
My introduction to the witch’s garden
Sometimes your body knows before your mind.
It was a comment left on these pages, nothing overt, just a sweet message thanking me for something I’d written. I saw the comment fly past my email and for some reason decided to answer it on the spot. As I hit send I said aloud, “I’m going to marry this woman.” I got a response within the hour and thus began a continuous conversation that goes on till this day. It was love at first thought. The body knew before the mind.
I didn’t know she was a witch, but I should have guessed there was witchery afoot. Within the week she was coming for a visit. A week later we decided she’d just stay. We have one guiding principle to what we’re doing. In the modern world you take it slow and skeptical. We blew through that and stuck to the idea that this is going to work. It’s what we want, we find throwing ourselves into it, up to the eyes is what we do together. It’s who we are.
We’re not kids, we know ourselves, our angels and demons. There a white light about her, just like me. But there’s also the red and the black. The passion and the darkness. There is beauty in the dark, just as there’s beauty in growing dangerous things. People’s flower gardens are filled with poisons, but they seldom realize because they’re captivated by the beauty. The Foxglove is magical plant to look at, and is steeped in tales of fairies, witches and magic. It’s also a deadly poison.
We see the beauty in what we grow, but we know the power behind the beauty. Being cognizant is a way of becoming more thrillingly aware.
Being a witch, she favors black in her wardrobe, and while it gives her a sense of elegance, I insisted she also have a white gown for night. She crinkled her nose in disgust, so I asked her “How can you be the lady of the manor without at least having a white nightdress to shimmy around the gardens in during the night? The gardener would certainly be tempted into unspeakable acts by that.”
She was thoughtful in her reply, “Well that’s a different matter, if it was ancient and floaty and no longer very white and only to be worn in the moonlight for the gardener I’m sure I could be persuaded … Hair full of blackthorn blossom, a bed of rose petals and the gardener with horns?”
I lifted my hat and showed her my horns and that’s all it took. And so I became, among other things, her gardener.
A few years ago I had started a garden – mainly vegetables with a few witchy plants, taking my cue from an out of print book, A Witch’s Guide to Gardening by Dorothy Jacob.
But was in another book that gardening became interesting to me, the Psychic Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. I contacted the author to find out more about her research, and she pointed the way to Jacob’s thin book, full of short descriptions and anecdotes about the western world’s beliefs about plants, folklore and witchcraft.
Witchy gardening means a bountiful crop of weeds
She has a belief which makes gardening a lot simpler. “Weeds,” she said, “are simply flowers without pretty names.” She was born in Salem, lived around the globe, and knew the plants where she’d traveled like I know the alphabet. She knows the dark paths of the city, but it’s in the wild that she’s most at home, so it was fitting that plants from a witch’s garden, which were often found by foraging, came to be the focus of my garden.
Which means I can let whole swaths of my yard go feral and she’s quite fine with that. Besides, after doing this for a few years now, you never know what will come up on its own.
For the past couple years I’ve found Nicotiana, Tansy, Deadly Nightshade and other plants of a witchy nature popping up from self seeding. I first planted Tansy, a tasty diuretic and once a staple of British stews (and also used for inducing abortions if you go far enough back), about six years ago. I haven’t had to plant it since. In fact I had planned on moving it to another location one year, only to find out it had moved itself there.
This year’s volunteer plant, popping up in more than a half dozen locations throughout the yard and three planters, is Datura, or as it’s called around here, Jimson Weed. In the midwestern United States it’s thought of as a weed. But it puts off the prettiest white trumpet shaped flowers which bloom in the evenings, and has a scent that wafts through the garden and spills out into the neighborhood.
Ergo, it’s part of the moon garden, for when would a witch enjoy a garden more than in the evening, in the dark?
A moon garden, an essential part of a witch’s garden
In truth, I hate gardening but love sitting in gardens. Gardens tend to require a lot of work in the summer. Where we live summers can be brutal. Just stepping outside is often enough to drench a person in sweat. There is a time and a place for that, and a certain primordial feel to working the garden in that kind of heat. But it’s not the nicest time to lounge amongst the flowers.
There isn’t a sweeter feeling than sitting at night in the midst of the moon garden with my lover, the crescent overhead, crickets and cicadas singing, and nature’s trumpets blasting out their deadly and intoxicating fragrance across the lawn.
My first experience with the intoxicating nature of botanicals came as I was driving home with my first store bought night blooming plant, a somewhat large Jessamine, or night blooming Jasmine bush. It was just after dark and I was on a long, dark, nearly deserted highway, and started feeling light headed and well, stoned to be honest. I pulled to the side of the road, lowered the window and breathed fresh air. The interior of the van had grown so pungent with the perfume of the Jessamine that I still smelled of it the next day. Having the plant in the front garden fills the entire front of the house with it’s perfume on summer evenings.
Datura brings plant witchcraft into evening bliss
It addition to its nocturnal beauty, Datura has also been used for centuries as a poison. Some people try it for recreation, usually with nasty and sometimes tragic results. Datura makes one delirious and unable to tell what is real and what is fantasy. It can last several days, lead to amnesia, unusual, violent or menacing behavior and of course, death.
In The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Carlos Casteneda’s teacher, Don Juan Matus uses the plant extensively, having learned the practice from his own teacher who was a diablero. This sinister introduction was appropriate for a plant which Casteneda referred to by its Spanish name, Yerba del Diablo or Devil’s Weed. Don Juan believed there was a plant spirit, which he referred to as an Ally that lived inside the plant, which he called the ally’s container.
Datura’s white trumpet shaped blooms last just just one night each, before shriveling and dropping off. As they point upwards the plant is known as Devil’s Trumpets. On the other hand, there’s Brugmansia, a cousin to Datura, whose trumpet shaped flowers point down and are known as Angel’s Trumpets.
It too blooms at night, much larger blooms with an even more intoxicating fragrance. And even more intense results if one ingests any part of the plant.
The following comes from the records of a Swiss explorer, describing the effects of taking Brugmansia: “Soon after drinking the Tonga, the man fell into a dull brooding, … This condition would have lasted about a quarter of an hour, then all actions increased in intensity. A thick white foam leaked out between his half open lips. The pulses on his forehead and throat were beating too fast to be counted. His breathing was short, extraordinarily fast and did not seem to lift the chest, which was visibly fibrillating. A mass of sticky sweat covered his whole body which continued to be shaken by the most dreadful convulsions. His limbs were hideously contorted. He alternated between murmuring quietly and incomprehensibly and uttering loud, heart-rending shrieks, howling dully and moaning and groaning.”
That’s one of the little known secrets of gardening. What pleases the eye is often quite poisonous. Even Abe Lincoln’s mom met her fate – not two hour’s drive from here, after drinking the milk of cows who had eaten White Snakeroot. It was a common problem in the Ohio Valley when settlers first arrived, and killed thousands.
A flying potion from the witch’s garden
It’s a given that we would need the ingredients for a witch’s flying potion. For the uninitiated, the potion typically requires plants which are often deadly when taken internally, and psychedelic if absorbed through the skin. The aforementioned Datura and Brugmansia would work for that, but a true potion will have a bit more variety, such as Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade, and this year I’ve also added Monkshood, a delightful plant where even touching the leaves can cause a severe skin reaction.
Mandrake would be the perfect topping, but alas, my one attempt at that disappeared one evening, a tragedy indeed.
Speaking of which, the ingredients for the potion are then suspended in fat, ideally the fat from an unbaptized baby. To use the potion, historically you don’t spread it directly on your skin, but on the shaft of your broomstick, or log as it was often referred to. One only needs to use a slight dash of imagination (or have watched the WGN series Salem) to understand where the potion comes in contact with the witch, and can thus see the erotic possibilities of the practice.
Sexuality and witchcraft go hand in hand, and in that perhaps gardening is a very fitting metaphor. The act of seeding fertile ground, the sensual delights … scent, touch and taste all combine to create elemental desires. Our garden has the luxury of privacy, because those who leave their passion in the bedroom, where walls confine them never know their true nature. It’s in nature that a witch finds her power. All the books and trinkets in the world can never teach you as much as the full moon touching your bare flesh.
On a deeper level, gardening is an act of creation. We look at bare earth and imagine something new there – new life bringing its own cyclical nature to play. To plant a garden alone makes one an artist. To do it together makes us lovers.
The practical nature of a witch’s garden
Garden plants make excellent screens to hide yourself from prying eyes. Tansy does this well (and helps keeps away flies), and along with it I use Wormswood as a barrier, which is used for among other things, the production of Absinthe, the lady and I’s traditional cocktail of choice. Hence the need for privacy.
The tallest plant in the garden is the Castor Bean, which reaches over ten foot tall in some cases, and has leaves up to two foot wide. It also produces spiny little fruit balls, containing small “beans,” which is the source of not only castor oil, but the poison Ricin.
We have a small orchard, three apple trees, because what’s a witch without apples? Holly bushes for the druid in everyone, English Ivy because it creeps so nicely and makes everything look like a cemetery, and Wysteria because it grows wild, blows the mind with its scent and is quite destructive over time.
Some years ago I had all but eradicated the Poison Ivy in the garden, all but one vine. I was on the verge of yanking it out when she stopped me. “Is it not a poison garden?”
The witch’s garden for healing
The truth of course is that most people accused of witchcraft during the witch hunts, if they had any connection to herbalism, was in the business of healing. But sometimes it didn’t work, and as there was no medical board to go to for redress, they would instead turn to the witchfinder.
So for healing, we have Echinacea or cone flowers, Valerian whose root makes for sweet dreams to the insomniac and a healthy crop of St. John’s Wort because you gotta stay upbeat when your witch is on the other side of the world. Even poisons, such as Belladonna tend to have medicinal benefits as well.
One man’s demon is another man’s angel
Whilst discussing the garden with a fellow gardener here, I was surprised to find she had many of the same plants. I squinted and looked her in the eye, looking for the tell tale signs of something witchy behind her gaze. Instead I was shocked to find something different there … purity. I gasped, taken aback at my error.
For it’s the benevolent aspect of plants in a witch’s garden which have been with us the longest, back to the ancients. Even the plants with malevolent uses tend to have healing properties as well. The young lady in question, rather than growing a witch’s garden, has a garden quite similar but is in fact, a Bible garden.
Whether your tastes run to white or to the black, (or even the red), for those of us interested in this subject, we find it has another purpose. It’s gardening with folklore as seeds. The folklore of gardening stretches way back and in many directions. In my own country, you have the gardens borne from the melting pot, merging with the plant folklore of the native Americans. And indeed, many of these plants found their way home to the empire, along with the list of the benefits and dangers, before finding their way back here somewhat tamed.
On the witch of the witch’s garden
I have been bothered and bewitched by witches before, but I always assumed I was an innocent in the practice. In reality I carry it in my genes. When my people first came to this part of the midwest, they brought the craft with them. Cato, the local witch of legend, dating to the earliest settlers is of my line, grew some of the same plants I do now.
Even my beloved Granny Bert insisted on doing some things, from gardening to having dental work done, based on the phases of the moon. The old beliefs managed to squeeze through the cracks, even into my generation.
Eilís awoke something in me which also woke within herself. She sees in me what I see in her. What we can’t always see in ourselves. Our lover becomes a scrying glass where we can see further, deeper.
Admittedly, she’s creepy, ghoulish, dark and evil personified, but with a laugh that gives away the truth. She is suspense – she can quicken my heart and make my breathing jagged with a look from across a crowded room. She glides through the empty spaces and with a secret promise whispered she awakens me in ways I never dreamt. I live for the instant her eyes fade to black and I see the spark catch the tinder and start to blaze. She can make being afraid of her the most erotic experience on earth.
Unlike Morticia who famously snipped the heads off roses, she loves flowers and beauty. I’m lucky, her taste in flowers matched my mother’s so she inherited mom’s peonies and a magnolia tree likely a century or more old. Working the garden for her is an act of love, to create something beautiful, to grow the light as well as the darkness to suit all her tastes. The wise man tends his lover’s garden well and is paid back in love, and perhaps another set of hands for when you garden together, you create a living thing. And creating life together is one of the best ways of holding yourselves together. Two witches tending a garden grows a closeness that’s hard to match, for you’re creating a home.
The Red and the Black
Some create a witch’s garden for the fun of it. Others do it from an interest in history, and some do it because of a fascination with herbalism. Some of us don’t know why we do it, except we’re drawn to it, and find when it’s in bloom, we’ve created a new world. One which begs to be shared.
As agriculture was cyclical to the ancients, so it is that gardening is to us. Those who follow a witch’s path are more involved in those cycles than others. A man by nature, lacks what a woman has, that direct connection to the cycles of the moon and tides. It is said that the anatomy of a woman allows her to be taken by the wind, and the witch can harness that power of nature. As her love and her lover, I can share in that, and it’s there more than any other place I find my true nature. My love is my light, and it’s through her eyes, lips and the storms within that my passions turns to red, and finally to black for we are creatures of the night.
Our garden is our monument to that passion. It’s a labor of love, and on most weekends I can be found in jungle clothes and pith helmet, trying to bring a bit of order to a landscape growing wild by design.
All to put a smile on the face of the witch, who pays me back with a squeeze of my hand and a single word, “mine.”
Welcome to a guide to magick herbs and herbalism – witchy plants, white and dark, potions and poisons for the cauldron, as well as goodies for kitchen witches
The Witch’s Garden is a guide to the old ways, old magick and herbal medicine. Learn more about the gardening and gathering practices of our ancestors, be them the wise or cunning women of Europe, or early settlers and Native Americans of the American continent. And follow along with our own zone seven witch’s garden, as I try to nurse a collection of witchy plants through the year.
A notebook of thoughts, ideas, experiments failed and successful in growing a witch’s garden. Since witches are often nocturnal creatures, we also go into moon gardens, and a fair amount of cottage gardening as well.
See what’s blooming in the witch’s garden. Photos and dates for a witch, moon or cottage garden in the U.S. Zone 6
An incomplete as hell herbalist, the science and folklore of the plants, how to grow, how to serve to cure or to kill. Company can be so bothersome, but sure, come in and have a nice cup of tea?