Planting Magical Gardens
From Magical Gardens : Myth, Mulch & Marigolds
By Patricia Monaghan
Tender shoots, sleeping seeds,
Watch over this garden,
Make it fertile, make it green,
Make it bloom.
All gardens are magical-and all gardeners are magicians. With the wizardry of earth and seed, the gardener transforms the world into a place of beauty, power, and healing. This year, acknowledge the connection between gardening and magic deliberately by creating a sacred space dedicated to your craft. Perhaps it will be a small space filled with significant plants and symbols-one to admire from your window-or it might be a larger space, big enough for meditations, invocations, and general witching work. Your garden might be dedicated to a deva or divinity; it might recall an ancient ritual or myth in its selection and placement of plants. Your dreams and traditions will tell you how to build your own Witches’ garden. Here are a few ideas to inspire you.
A Witches’ Pentacle Garden
The pentacle, the witch’s symbol, makes a simple shape for a garden of mixed perennial and annual flowers. To construct such a garden, find a sunny spot of any size and dig out a circular bed. Within it, "draw" a pentacle by stringing twine among five posts, set equally distant around the circle. This will create a central pentagon. Fill it with plants whose names express your craft: "Diana"; the "daylillies" named "Merry Witch" and "Wicked Witch", "Witch’s Thimble" and "Moon Witch"; and "Magic Lilies", whose flowers bolt surprisingly directly from the ground, to bloom with extravagant fragrance.
Plant the arms of your starry pentacle with light-green chamomile around a filling of darker-green mint; then place round clumps of Dianthus "Essex Witch" at each point of the star. Surround this whole design with a circle of green parsley, and densely plant dainty sweet alyssum as the pentacle’s background. Your pentacle is now ready to shine back at the night’s stars-and at you.
A Two-Headed Flower Dragon
Dragons in the garden? Why not? As symbols of the element of water, dragons should be welcome among your flowers. Try constructing a garden in the shape of a two-headed dragon, called an amphisbaena. Use a hose to outline a circle. Making a opening in the circle, create an inner circle offset from the first, forming snaky "dragon heads" at the entry. Then build a scaly back at the thickest part of the circle, with two trellises planted with "Magic Dragon" roses and separated by several feet. Opposite, make eyes with dwarf Japanese holly called "Green Dragon"; surround them with the ground-covering liriope called "Silver Dragon", which will form a soft hair to offset the dragon’s eyes.
A band of perennial creeper "Dragon’s Blood" sedum forms the belly of your dragon. Behind it and before the trellises, establish drifts of "False Dragonhead". Finally, on the outer edges of the garden, plant the scaly surge called "Jade Dragon". Between the trellises, place a bench, then add porcelain pots with dragon designs at its sides. Your garden will never thirst with such a protector guarding it.
Central Africa was terrorized by the mokelembembe, Ethiopia by the dragon of Silene, Italy by the tatzelworm, France by the peluda and tarasque. In Scandinavia, Fafnir struck fear into hearts while England was terrorized by the Mordiford wyvern and the Lambton worm. Dragons and dragon deities are found in the mythology of every continent, from Australia (where the bunyip reigns) to subarctic Canada (where we find tales of dragon-whales). Sea lizard, dragonet, basilisk, amphipter, pyrali, sirrush – these are some of the names given to this fierce and often fearsome figure. Its form is almost as variable as its name, for it appears winged and wingless, serpentine and footed, with a huge tail or none at all. Whatever its form, however, the dragon is acknowledged the world over. The culture to which the dragon has been most symbolically important is that of China, where ancient emperors reserved to themselves the right to display the image of the riveted dragon, while their attendants could claim only the forted.
Ancient China saw the dragon as a complex creature with the head of a camel, eyes of a demon, horns of a stag, a cow’s ears, a snake’s neck and a clam’s belly. Its feet were those of tigers, its claws those of eagles, and its 117 scales are those of a fish – 81 of them beneficial, 36 malignant. A creature of earth, water, sky, the dragon’s special role was as intermediary between and among these parts of the cosmos. A Chinese dragon lived an incredibly long time. Perhaps 3,000 years passed from the time one hatched from its multicolored egg to its impressive maturity. The dragon passed through many stages, living as a water snake when young, then growing a carp’s head and becoming a fish for almost a thousand years. It took another 500 years to grow the stag’s horns on its head. Lastly, its branching wings thrust out – taking more than a thousand years to do so. Once Mature, a dragon could take on one of many possible tasks. The ti-lung protected streams and rivers. The fu-ts’ang lung guarded treasure. The yu lung helped mortals pass examinations. A few were given especially important tasks, such as that of the Yellow Dragon of the River Lo, which unveiled the trigrams of the I Ching to humankind.
In Europe, the dragon appears as a powerful creature with whom combat is the ultimate test for a hero. While some claim the dragon is a symbol of evil, less dualistic thinkers have interpreted the dragon’s mythic role as that of ‘guardian at the gates’, protecting spiritual secrets from those not strong enough, or not yet ready, to understand them. Thus St. George, slaying the dragon, becomes an image of a hero conquering his own weaknesses and fears in order to enter a greater spiritual initiation, rather than an emblem of right’s might.
Why a dragon garden? Why invite this fierce being to your doorstep? There are two reasons to consider adding dragon energy to your garden. Firstly is the dragon’s connection with the forces of underground power, especially underground water. Secondly is the dragon nature of gardening itself, for in encountering the willful ways of our gardens, we encounter the lessons our spirit needs to learn. Every gardener is, to some extent, St. George slaying the demons of pride and grandiosity, of carelessness and excessive control. A dragon garden thus makes visible the soul’s struggle with itself that is the essence of conscious gardening. In welcoming the dragon into our gardens, we honor the generations of gardeners who have struggled with the energies of the earth and learned from that struggle.
A Spiral of Trees
It is especially appropriate to center a dragon garden on trees, for these long-lived woody plants have symbolic meanings similar to the dragon itself; the tree, like the dragon, is a being of many levels. Its hidden roots are deep underground and its trunk points upward into the sky. Like the dragon, the tree partakes of the three levels; below, middle earth and above. Spiraling in to its central tree, a stunning dragon’s eye pine, this garden grove should be placed in a sunny, open part of your property. As the shrubs and trees mature, they will provide substantial shade as well as a secret meditation spot where you can encounter your own dragon energy.
You will need a space that is between forty and fifty feet in diameter to make both trees and gardener happy. Place this garden where you wish to eliminate an unattractive view, where you wish to provide more privacy, or where you want a deeply shaded retreat for oppressively hot days. Note that this, unlike most of the gardens in this book, requires a warm climate, most of the trees are not hardy beyond zone six. The tree that forms the center of this spiral-pathed garden grows to a significant height, perhaps sixty feet within twenty years. The trees and shrubs that spiral out from it diminish in height to small shrubs at the garden path’s entry. Thus, as you follow the short path into the garden, you have a sense of entering a forest of increasing depth and mystery. At the spiral’s center, place a bench or several rustic chairs to encourage meditation and conversation. Although this garden will take a decade for its unique character to emerge, it will become a favorite haunt for residents and visitors as it grows into its full majesty.
The garden is shaped in a spiral, a reference both to the spiraling kundalini energy of the dragon and to the shape these mythic creatures often assume in Asian art, their tails stretching out from their circled bodies. The garden’s central tree is the unusual dragon’s-eye pine, named for its long needles banded with red and green rings. Next to it are two tall, bluish columns of Chinese Dragon spruce with unusual purplish gray bark. Spiraling beyond are three pyramidal Black Dragon Japanese cedars, whose bright green growing tips dot the dark older foliage. Next, comes three evergreen Japanese holly of the variety called Black Dragon; these mounding shrubs bear dark green clustered leaves on intricately twisting branches. Three Dragon azaleas will grow to five feet tall, bearing masses of brilliant red flowers in mid spring; their dense evergreen foliage provides privacy at the opening to the garden. Finally, two tiny Green Dragon Japanese holly form the dragon’s tail.
Around this tree spiral, plan drifts of three plants: Dragon Claw and Marbled Dragon ivy, the first with waxy deep cut leaves, the second with white veined multi-toned leaves; and Silver Dragon liriope, a magnificent variegated lily-turf groundcover whose spikes of lavender flowers will brighten the path in late summer. Draw the groundcovers out at least two feet beyond the last holly bush, bringing the dragon’s tail to as sharp a point as possible. Once the plantings are in, pave the path with cedar chips or other natural material. A stone or paved path is inappropriate to the feeling of a forest glade that you are striving to create. As the pines and spruce mature, they will add their litter to the pathways, creating a more natural ambiance.
The Artemisia Glade
The common garden plant artemisia is said to have so delighted the wildwood goddess Artemis that she named it after herself. In her honor, establish a little glade of her favorite flower. Find a narrow area with good Sun, then fill it with drifts of the silver-leafed plants. Given Artemis’ penchant for wilderness, be sure to avoid regimented rows! Begin by establishing focal points with tall "Artemisia lactiflora" (white mugwort). Then add sculptural accents with fragrant "Artemisia California montara" (California sagebrush), a gracefully cascading mounding shrub that will grow to two feet tall. Opposite, place "Artemis fiffolia", a small native shrub with airy, feathery foliage. Finally, fill in the remaining sections near the pathways with Artemisias "Silver Mound" and "Canescens", both smallish perennials which, once established, create attractive mounds of silvery gray, feathery foliage.
Artemisias, once established, thrive and expand. You may find gardener friends with older Artemisia beds which they are willing to divide. You might substitute some of the above suggestions with gift plants of similar heights and shapes. You can’t really mismatch Artemisias; the family demands similar culture and location, and the varieties of related foliage will be invariably pleasing.
There are endless ideas for gardens based in myth and magic. Try a red garden for Mars, or a white one for the Moon. Build a zodiac garden with herbs for each planet. Divide the yard according to the wheel of the year, and create plantings for each festival. Place sculptures and symbols among the plants. Your garden is a magical place already. Let yourself make it even more so!
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