The Witch’s Garden

Witches garden a little differently; the garden is sacred space and gardening is magic at its rawest and most immediate.

We remember that our gardens don’t really belong to us, that we are only looking after them for the plants and creatures that live there, for the spirits that were there before we came and will be there long after we have gone. No matter how small the garden is, we are caretakers of the land and have a duty to it.

The garden is full of the power of the invisible. We recognise the spirits inherent in the garden and try to work in co-operation with them. We honour them and make offerings to them, season by season.

We recognise that plants have spirit. For the Pagan everything possesses spirit, a living force within it. When working with plant allies, the spirit of the plant is more important than any ‘active ingredient’. Each plant is a living teacher and must be approached as an individual, which may (or may not) become your ally. The plants you grow will be much more powerful for your magical and healing practice than any you buy. It is a knowledge that cannot be bought, and which cannot be learned from books, but only by doing. 

We look on the garden as belonging as much to the wildlife and it does to us. We see the creatures that visit as make their homes there as garden familiars. They can also aid us in our work, if we treat them properly, and they may be agents of the spirit world to us.

The garden has its own soul, the anima mundi or ‘soul of place’.

Everything we do in the garden is done with magical intent. Seeds are with intent, care for them with love, and open yourself to communicating with their spirits. This is the meeting of human and plant spirit, and it should benefit both.

Traditionally the wise woman’s garden contained plants for food, herbs for the kitchen and for healing, dye plants, plants to delight the senses with beautiful colours and perfumes, plants to attract insects and feed familiars, plants to contact the spirits, plants for magic, divination and spells, and trees like rowan and holly for protection. However, what you grow is entirely up to you. You might like to grow beautiful flowers, good things to eat, focus on herbs for healing, plants for vegetable dyes, or plants to help you with your magic. What you can grow will depend on several things – where you live and what your climate is, what your soil is like, what you want your plants for, and how much space you have. 

Finally, we know that the witch’s first duty is to maintain balance. In the garden, this means balancing the needs of all that lives there and maintaining the land and its ecosystem in harmony.

HOW YOUR GARDEN BENEFITS THE ENVIRONMENT

If you have been gardening for a couple of decades or more, you will have noticed that the climate is changing. Shifting weather patterns can bring increased rain or increasing levels of drought, higher or lower temperatures for the season. We may not be able to grow the things we are used to. Soon, many native plants may no longer be able to survive in their historic range, and the wildlife they support will be decimated.  However, no matter how small your garden is, it can have a big impact on the local environment and in protecting wildlife. No matter how big or small, your garden:

Improves Air Quality

Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through their leaves and expel oxygen, as well as helping to remove toxins from the air. Your plants will help the local environment.

De-toxifies the Ground

Plants also absorb through their roots, including chemicals and heavy metals in the soil and groundwater, gradually converting it into healthier ground. Naturally, this is not good for the particular plant, but a sick plant can alert you to soil problems.

Carbon Capture

Trees can absorb and store carbon pollution from the atmosphere. If every one of America’s 85 million gardening households planted just one tree in their backyard those trees would absorb more than 2 million tons of CO2 each year. [1]

Natural Shade

Shade trees planted near your home can also reduce energy used for cooling in the summer.

Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

Growing some of your own food, this will reduce your carbon footprint – fewer trips to the shops, no food-miles, less waste.

Prevents Soils Erosion

Plant roots bind soils together, making them less likely to wash away.  

Replenishes Nutrients in the Soil

Topsoil is created by organic materials, such as leaves, that fall from plants. Decaying organic material provides nutrients, and some plants fix these into the ground.  

Helps to Reduce Noise Pollution

Vegetation absorbs sound, so hedges, trees and shrubbery reduce noise pollution.

Helps Wildlife

The more plants and trees you have in the garden, the more you will be encouraging the local wildlife, especially if you include some native plants. Birds, insects and other animals need them to survive. If you live in a built-up area, providing spaces for insects, birds and small mammals is important.

MORE YOUR GARDEN CAN DO FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

While almost every garden helps the environment, you can do even more:

Plant Native Species

Including native plants in your garden help to maintain important pollinator connections and ensure food sources for wildlife. You can plant shrubs with berries for birds, plus bee and butterfly friendly plants.

Rewild Part of Your Garden

This means giving part of your garden back to nature, and letting nature do its thing – including letting the native ‘weeds’ (I call them wildflowers) grow, which provide food for the local insects.  Remove any non-native plants from it. Increasingly, over time, it will become a complex ecosystem. 

If you can’t do this, avoid large paved areas and artificial grass.

Create a Wildlife Pond

A garden pond, whether large or small, can be a haven for wildlife, and the wildlife will find it pretty quickly. It is vital habitat for wetland creatures such as frogs and dragonflies, and great for many species of insects, birds and mammals. Remember to make one side shallow, so that frogs and small mammals can climb out.  It is best to have some shade over part of the pond to reduce algae growth, but at part should be in full sun. Fill it with rainwater if you can, but if tap water must be used, be sure to let it naturalise for at least a week before adding any forms of life, including plants.

Build Insect Hotels

Insects pollinate your plants, aerate the soil and provide food for birds. The beneficial insects in your garden need somewhere to hibernate for the winter, so why not make them their own five-star bug hotel? It is best to do this in the early autumn, when there is plenty of suitable material available, such as dry leaves, twigs, hollow stems, dead grass, pinecones and bits of bark, and it will give the insects time to settle into their new home before the cold comes.  There are some great ideas online for making bug hotels, and kids will love to get involved. Otherwise, you can simply make a log pile in a shady area for centipedes, woodlice and beetles or a pile of pinecones and leaves is good for ladybirds and lacewings. 

Have Holes in Your Boundary Walls

It is important for wildlife to be able to move around from one place to another. A hedgehog, for example, can travel up to a mile in a single night, looking for food. One of the reasons for declining populations is the high, solid fences that some people have around their gardens. You can help by putting small holes in the bottom of your fences – as long as your neighbour agrees.

Reconsider Your Garden Lighting

Blue and white toned lighting often used in gardens is one of the major factors in biodiversity collapse. Leave areas of your garden in darkness, and don’t use your lights all the time. You can get red-tone lights that don’t affect insects as much. Try to use energy efficient products in your garden. Replace energy hungry outdoor bulbs with LEDs, or better still, use solar lighting. 

Reduce the Use of Power Tools

Avoid using power tools, such as leaf blowers and lawnmowers, as much as you can. Using a gasoline-powered mower for an hour pollutes 10 to 12 times more than the average car. [2] If you can, switch to hand tools and push-lawnmowers. The air from leaf blowers kills small creatures, and I would urge you not to use them at all.

Install a Rain Barrel

Install a rain barrel to collect free rainwater, and your plants will like this much better than tap water. You can prevent water loss from your plants by mulching around them.

Make a Compost Heap

Building a compost heap (or using a purchased compost bin) is a wonderful way to reduce your impact on the environment and create a great free source of nutrients for your garden. You can add virtually all food waste and organic matter to your compost bin – fruit and vegetable peelings, leftovers, twigs, leaves, non-seeding weeds, eggshells, egg boxes, cardboard, tea bags (if they don’t contain plastic), coffee grounds and even your old wool jumpers.  I also add the sawdust bedding and poo cleaned out from my chickens to mine. You will need to add something to ‘activate’ your compost (i.e. get everything working) and for this you will need to add soft greens, manures or urine (yes, you can use your own, though male urine is said to work better than female).

Don’t Rake Your Leaves

While you might need to remove slippery leaves from paths, in the rest of the garden fallen leaves provide a habitat for many over-wintering wild creatures. Some beneficial insects lay their eggs in leaf litter, and by raking up the leaves you will be curtailing their life cycle.  If you do rake them up, put them on the compost heap, or bag them and save them to use as mulch in the spring.  Lay a mulch of fallen leaves around plants (about 3 inches deep) and allow it to rot down into the soil. The earthworms will love it, and you will be adding nutrients and organic matter into the soil. Leaf mulch maintains soil moisture and soil temperature, prevents weeds, soil erosion and compaction.

Ditch the Chemicals

A few decades ago, chemicals were promoted as an easy technical solution to all cultivation problems – synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and weedkillers became commonplace not only on farms, but also in domestic gardens. We now know that these products are having a disastrous effect on ecosystems, wildlife and human health. [3] 

Pesticides from treated plants and soil reach surface water through runoff. More than 90% of water and fish samples from all streams in the US contained one or more pesticides,  [4] and wild salmon are swimming around with dozens of synthetic chemicals in their systems.[5] In the UK half of rivers and freshwaters exceed chronic pollution limits and 88% of samples showed pesticide contamination. [6] We are now seeing the wholesale pollution of most of our streams, rivers, ponds and coastal areas from agri chemicals.

Chemical fertilisers are equally problematic. When the excess nutrients run off into our waterways, they can cause algae blooms that are sometimes big enough to make waterways impassable. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water. Fish and other aquatic species can’t survive in these ‘dead zones’. 

It’s time to ditch the chemicals and look for natural solutions.

© Anna Franklin, 2021


[1] https://www.nwf.org/Our-Work/Environmental-Threats/Climate-Change/Greenhouse-Gases/Gardening-for-Climate-Change, accessed 13.10.21

[2] https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/222039/straight-dope-how-much-pollution-do-gasoline-powered-lawn-mowers/

[3] https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/opinion/effects-pesticides-our-wildlife, accessed 6.10.21

[4] Aktar MW, Sengupta D, Chowdhury A. Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2009;2(1):1-12. doi:10.2478/v10102-009-0001-7

[5] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-fertilizers-harm-earth/ accessed 6.10.21

[6] https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/opinion/effects-pesticides-our-wildlife, accessed 6.10.21

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s