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Magical Gardening Around the World

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Magical Gardening Around the World

Pay attention to plant folklore when gardening.

Image © Patti Wigington 2009

Around the world, people tend to garden in different ways. Someone living on a large family farm plants their crops differently than someone on a half-acre lot in the suburbs. A resident of a big city in an advanced nation will grow things in a different fashion than a family living in an impoverished, third world country. While one person might use a large tractor and motorized equipment, another may use a simple shovel. Still another might only use a pointed stick to make a hole in the ground. Since time began, the human race has managed to find ways to make things grow where before there was nothing.

In the early spring, many of us who follow earth-based spiritual paths begin planning our gardens for the coming season. The very act of planting, of beginning new life from seed, is a ritual and a magical act in itself. To cultivate something in the black soil, see it sprout and then bloom, is to watch a magical working unfold before our very eyes. The plant cycle is intrinsically tied to so many earth-based belief systems that it should come as no surprise that the magic of the garden is one well worth looking into.

Let's look at some of the folklore and traditions that surround gardening and planting magic.

  • Many gardeners swear by the idea of planting by the phase of the moon. The first quarter is when they plant crops which bloom above ground -- spinach and lettuce, cucumbers and corn, to name a few. The second quarter, leading up to the full moon, is the time to plant above-ground seed crops like beans, watermelons, squash and tomatoes. During the third quarter, the week following the full moon, root vegetables like carrots and potatoes should go in, as well as bulb flowers. Finally, the last quarter of the waning moon is the time to avoid planting altogether -- instead, work on garden maintenance such as tilling and weeding.
  • Appalachian folk magic is rich with tradition when it comes to planting. Pound a nail into the northern side of your fruit trees to bring a higher yield come harvest time. Also, if you want your hot peppers to grow really hot, then plant them when you're good and mad about something. For maximum growing potential, have a pregnant friend help you plant beans, and the beans will flourish.
  • Medieval English folklore says that if you plant daisies, they'll help keep the fairies out of your yard. Once they've bloomed, make a daisy chain for a child, to keep the fae from leaving a changeling in the child's place.
  • Certain tubers, such as yams, are believed to increase lust and fertility. In some West African nations, the white yam has been linked to high birth rates, particularly that of multiples such as twins.
  • If you're planting blackberries, roses, or some other brambly, thorny bush, train them over an arch in your garden. In Restoration-era England, it was believed that walking through a bramble arch would cure just about any ailment.
  • A South Carolina rootworker named Jasper says that his family's Gullah heritage has shaped a lot of their planting traditions. Women who are menstruating are not permitted to harvest okra, because it might spoil when they put it up for canning. Also, pickles won't be crunchy if canned by a woman having her period. Mustard, collard, and other greens planted near your bedroom window will help prevent conception of a child. The color blue keeps evil spirits away, so plant blue flowers near your front door.
  • Some Native American tribes planted beans, squash and corn in an arrangement known as Three Sisters. In addition to being a self-sustaining ecosystem, in which each plant helps the others, the planting of this trio is associated with the concept of happy families, abundance, and community.
  • During the Victorian era, the secret language of flowers became popular. Each flower had its own association, so if you wished to attract love, for example, you might plant love-linked flowers like geranium and lilac.
  • In Slavic countries, wild roses are said to keep away vampires. In many other places, garlic is known as an anti-vampire plant, and in some parts of Central Europe it is used to ward off the "evil eye." If you think someone might be trying to do you magical harm, plant garlic in abundance.
  • There's a number of tales about never eating tomatoes off a silver platter, or you might die. This actually has some historical basis - Colonial settlers found that they often became ill after eating tomatoes. Rather than it being a problem with the tomato itself, this was due to a reaction between the tomatoes and the settlers' pewter dinnerware. Despite the rumor being proven false that tomatoes are deadly, in some parts of the country tomatoes are never dished up in anything silver.
  • During the westward expansion of the nineteenth century, some Midwestern areas believed that if a girl found a blood-red corn cob among the yellow ones, she was sure to marry before the year was out. Forward thinking young men occasionally planted a few random kernels of red corn strains among their crops.

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