During the Covid lockdowns, my garden was my solace. I could go outside and forget the turmoil of the world and relax into nature's gentle rhythm. I soon realised that I wasn't the only one to whom the garden became all important; a vegetable growing forum I belonged to suddenly shot up from a steady 2,000 members to 35,000 in two weeks, and all the garden centres sold out of compost as more and more people took up gardening. In times of trouble, we all turn to Mother Nature, and remember our deep connections to her.
Everyone gardens for different reasons, perhaps for exercise; perhaps to create a tranquil space; perhaps to grow food, herbs, or beautiful flowers; or perhaps to be of benefit to the wider environment. However, for a witch, the relationship with the garden goes much deeper. I always call gardening spiritual practice at its most raw, an instant connection to the mysteries of life. I remember that healthy soil is the body of Mother Earth—not just dirt, but a living, sacred thing, a wellspring of energy that must be honoured and nurtured. To me, each sprouting seed, each unfolding flower, each ripe fruit is a powerful miracle, and I never cease to be awed by witnessing it. In my garden, I experience the changing of the seasons and the cycle of growth, blossoming and decaying, in a very personal and immediate way.
I believe that every single plant has its own unique gift of healing, food, or beauty, even—and perhaps especially—the weeds. Did you know that you can eat carnation and peony petals, honeysuckle flowers, lilac blossoms and fuchsia berries, or that nasturtium seeds make a good substitute for capers? Perhaps you are already aware that daisies are good for bruises, that dandelion is a detoxifying herb packed full of vitamins and minerals, that scented geraniums are soothing for sore muscles, and that heather flowers make a lovely tea that helps you sleep? I love to find new purposes for all that the garden gives me, to honour each gift and embrace it fully by making herb simples, teas, salves, wines, cosmetics, oils, incenses, syrups, and vinegars.
As I write, for example, the primroses are coming up, their cheerful yellow faces on the bare earth one of the first harbingers of spring. Indeed, the name of the flower comes from the Latin prime, meaning "first." In past times, when humans lived closer to nature, the sight of primroses appearing was an occasion of great excitement, a sign that warmer weather and better times were just around the corner. The very first primrose flower was carefully plucked and kept to bring luck.
When I look at primroses with witch's eyes, the whole plant resonates with the power of new beginnings, and the fertile, lusty currents of the season. I will gather its flowers to decorate the Ostara altar, and to sprinkle over the festive food and infuse in ritual cup. Ingesting primroses helps me to attune to the season in a very deep way. I'll also dry some flowers and leaves, and macerate some in oil to add to charms and talismans of love and protection.
Primroses have happily spread themselves all around my garden, making little mounds of bright blooms in every corner. As our great grandmothers did, I will collect some fresh flowers to infuse in boiling water to make a clarifying and tonifying face wash. I will sprinkle some petals in my bath and enjoy a luxurious, beautifying soak, and make more into a lotion that will treat sunburn and fade age spots. Then I will dry some leaves and flowers, store them in a pretty tin, and infuse a spoon or two of them in a cup of boiling water whenever I need a gentle, painkilling tea to treat a nervous headache or my neighbour's rheumatism. I won't forget to make a salve of the flowers to treat small skin wounds, which I will almost certainly need to soothe gardening injuries throughout the year.
The young leaves and flowers are also a culinary treat for me early in the season. I add them to salads, throw the fresh leaves into soups and stews, or boil them as a vegetable. If I get time, I will probably crystallise some flowers to decorate my Ostara or Easter cake. If it is a very abundant year, I might just have enough flowers to make delicate primrose wine, which one of the very best country wines you will ever taste.
Week by week, month by month, season by season, my garden will have different rewards for me. I watch and wait and try to understand. Every year is different, and perhaps old plant allies will have disappeared, and I realise I no longer need them, or new allies will have found their way to me. When a patch of weeds suddenly starts to grow where none were before, I stop to consider whether Mother Earth may be sending me exactly what I need at that moment, and she usually is.
I realise that my garden does not belong to me; I am only its caretaker for this moment in time. The land was there before me, and it will be there long after I am gone. I share the space with myriad other creatures who have just as much right to it as I do, some of them permanent residents, others just visitors. We must all understand that every garden plays an increasingly important part in sustaining our fragile and threatened environment, particularly if we grow native species; dig a wildlife pond; and provide habitat and food for the insects, birds, and small mammals. It is a small ark that can sustain life and carry it forward. This is especially true in barren urban environments, even if you only have a few plant pots of native plants in a small yard. I confess, it took me a long time to accept that I have to share my crops with other creatures, but we are all part of the same ecosystem, after all, and must learn to live in harmony.
We don’t have to travel thousands of miles or read hundreds of books to discover the most profound spiritual secrets. The lessons of Mother Earth are all there, spread at our feet, just waiting for us to notice and pay attention.