The witch’s garden for 2012

Part of belladonna bed

I am still getting my plants ready for winter and have a bunch of pots to take inside this year. I usually avoid having indoor plants because my house is very small and I have a number of cats who are on the clumsy side. This year, though, I decided I did want some aromatic plants in my work room: dittany of Crete, rose geranium, and a lavender or two. Unfortunately, my mandrake pots are sitting there doing nothing on account of squirrels deciding to rescue the baby roots from their pots. Maybe the squirrels had some serious cursing to do–like on my neighbor’s cats, who keep stalking them.:) But I have a whole bunch of white mandrake seeds ready to put into pots that I started soaking on Samhain.

This year was not the most successful garden I’ve ever had, what with the really rough weather, including hail a couple times, torrential rains, gale-force winds, extreme heat, just the whole gamut of global warming that some would like to pretend doesn’t exist. Well, it exists in my garden–I can tell by the increase in planting zones. I can get away with growing more warmth-loving plants than I could in the past. I did get some nice food plants started this year, like the Cornelian cherry trees, and more currants and gooseberries. And I collected various sorts of seeds to sell through my shop–and a small amount of herbs, such as some black nightshade that volunteered in the shade patch and the mugwort. I also got a good deal of spearmint and lemon balm and oregano and such for my own kitchen. I very much enjoyed harvesting and drying the herbs, and they are so much superior to even the best quality I can buy, that I decided I would grow more for harvest and sale for next year. I am dealing with a lot of shade and tree roots in this yard, and although that is not a very good situation for producing annual food plants, it is fine for fruiting shrubs like currants and gooseberries, which I have in place already, and for many herbs. They are often much tougher than the typical veggie, which is a more coddled critter.

So the lineup for next year, outside of the ever popular mandrakes, is:

1. Belladonna. I created an entire bed just for belladonna plants this year, so it will be all ready for the babies come spring. There are only three of them in there now. I also want to grow the Indian belladonna there (Atropa acuminata), which can have yellow flowers instead of brown (although when I’ve grown it in the past, they were indeed brown–it was just a lot easier to germinate). I’ve had problems finding suppliers of this herb, and whenever I have found one, they end up disappearing. I didn’t want to have to grow it myself because I was experimenting with a lot of food plants, but now they are going to have their own place.

2. Various henbanes. I’ve grown black, white, and golden henbane in the past. I still have a few seeds of the golden left (the flowers are bright yellow with a deep purple patch), and I will pick up some white henbane seeds. These plants will go in one of my two sunny patches in the back, next to the artemisia patch.

3. Black nightshade. This plant and I have had a rocky relationship for the past couple of years. This year, although I did not plant them, they volunteered very nicely all throughout the shade patch, where I was experimenting with growing food plants (mostly bush beans, which did okay but nothing to write home about). The shade patch will be theirs next year, because they have proven to me that they are worth growing in comparison to the bush beans–you can’t beat self-planting. And the herb I have harvested from the black nightshade I grew myself is so superior to the herb I can buy that I just can’t not grow it. Plus I finally figured out a way to dry the berries with the herb without them turning into glop. This year I harvested only a few ounces from those volunteers, but next year I expect to have much more. And I hope to learn from this plant. I know it has something to teach me, something important, because it keeps coming back no matter how badly I treat it. So yes, lots of black nightshade next year.

4. Datura. I grew only a few unmatta (Datura fastuosa) plants this year because I had a ton of seeds of other daturas left from the previous year (and datura seeds stay good for many years as long as they are stored properly). It seems that no matter what I do, I just do not have a long enough season for the unmatta. Although I started them inside and they got full sun, supplemental water, fertilizer, the whole nine yards, the seed pods did not have time to ripen. So I will go back to focusing on the toloache and jimsonweed. I think I will offer small amounts of these as herbs for magic as well, like in 10g amounts. I DON’T want to attract people who are into legal highs. There are a few medieval incense recipes for magic that require datura, though, and I have been wanting to construct J.K. Huysman’s Black Mass incense for a long time (rue, henbane, jimsonweed, and myrrh). This is from his novel La Bas (1891).

5. Foxglove. I haven’t grown this in this place, but I had a nice big patch in my last place, and how the bumblebees loved those plants! I don’t need to grow these for seeds, because it’s easily obtainable, but I would like to offer this plant in small amounts and frankly, I just like the flowers. I’ll be growing the regular purple as well as the white. I’ll probably put these in my front yard, where all the sun is, since most people would not recognize them as a “weed.”

6.  Rowan. I’m going to try germinating a bunch of rowan seeds this winter. I never have as much luck with tree seeds as I do with perennials, but I sure would like to have a couple seed-grown rowan trees. They are darned expensive to buy as small trees locally ($80 last time I found one). Hybrids are less, but I want the species. These will be in pots, since they prefer acidic soil and mine is limey.

7. Blackthorn. Yep, I will be trying these again. In the past I’ve gotten retail packets of blackthorn seeds from a single source in the UK but have not had luck germinating them. I found another source and will try those. Plus I can buy wholesale quantities from them and offer them through the shop, but eventually it would be great to have a couple of these plants. I would like to work with the berries.

8. Rue. Here’s another plant where the quality of the dried herb I can get is not that great. I was getting it from a small grower and that stuff was wonderful, but they decided not to grow it anymore. The stuff I can get now is all chopped up and while it’s not horrible, it’s not that good, either. I like to get herbs more whole. It prevents adulteration and you just get a more powerful herb, because every time a leaf is cut, oxidation occurs at the cut edges. There’s even an alchemist, Johann Isaak Hollandus (1570-1610), who recommends against cutting or crushing herbs when making alchemical products because of how much is lost to the air or by beating the herb. So a whole herb is more potent. Also, I want to keep people’s dogs off my front yard, and dogs and cats don’t like rue, so it will be lining the front walk, together with some innocuous marigold. This will allow me to harvest my own rue herb and rue seeds.

9. Elfwort. I have a couple of these growing in my back yard, but it has become so shady back there that they’re struggling, so I will put them in the front. Typically it’s the root that is sold for this herb, but I want to grow it for the seeds. They can be hard to come by. Also, the sun-wheel flowers are very cheerful.

10. Woad. I have two reasons for growing this plant–easier access to the seeds, and I’d like to try processing the herb for woad dye. This needs the sun and is presentable and not baneful, so it will go in the front. Yes, I know all about how it is evil and invasive; so are we.

11. Weld.  Another one I want to grow for the seeds, and another sun-lover that will be in the front.

12. Wild tobacco. I grow this every year, partly to harvest a small amount of seeds to supplement the ones I buy but mostly just to honor the spirits who enjoy it, like Papa Legba. And I mean, it’s the quintessential shamanic herb. How can I in good conscience NOT grow it? 🙂

13. White heather. I’ve been meaning to grow white heather for years, but it has always been a low priority since where I am, the soil tends to be sweet rather than sour, which is what this plant needs. But I’m going to give a couple of plants a try, even if it is in big pots. I would like to be able to harvest white heather sprigs, as they are considered especially good charms. It would also be great to collect seeds from such plants, although I don’t know if they would actually produce white heather plants. Probably a mix of the species lavender and white.

14. Devil’s shoe string. I got some seeds from this, but they can take two years to germinate. What the hey, I will give it a try. Even just one plant would probably supply all the herb I would need.

15.  Vervain. I have grown this now for a couple years. The plants are not that big, but wow, did they ever make seeds! So I am going to grow more of them to get some decent herb. I do sell this herb, but the only source that offers it has herb that is brown and ground almost to powder. I would like some that is more like a whole leaf, if possible. This is one I would grow en masse if I had the space for it because what’s available out there is just not that good quality and because I suspect that this herb has great magical potential.

16. Clary sage. I’ve been getting good harvests of clary sage seed just from volunteer seedlings started by three plants I grew a few years ago, but I will plant some more deliberately this coming year because I like the white variety. It would be great to get some herb to harvest from these plants, as it is wonderful for dream work and not readily available in commerce except mostly as a tincture.

17. Wild lettuce. This stuff has seeded itself so much all over my garden that I could not ever plant anything else again. It is everywhere. I should be able to harvest it for herb next year. I got a good harvest of seeds this year from just four plants, although it was messy to deal with the latex this plant produces.

18. Pokeweed. It can be very difficult to get seed for this plant, even though it will turn up growing through cracks in the sidewalk in a city. It’s surprisingly popular. I have one plant struggling along in a shady section, so I’d like to start a couple more to put in a brighter area and get seeds from.

19. Wild white and purple petunias. These are the ancestors of common petunias, and I love them. They are prolific seeders. I have been growing some in pots and some in the ground. I especially favor the wild white ones, Petunia axillaris, because its scent at night is so rich. I am sure this must have a tradition of magical use, but I have not been able to uncover anything. I am going to keep growing it until I get to know its spirit. It feels like a friendly plant. Not so much the purple ones. They have a weird smell.

20. Giant Chinese lanterns. I have not been able to get seeds of the giant variety for a while, only the regular size. Plant varieties go in and out of availability with seed wholesalers like teenage fads. I tried getting a small packet to grow my own last year, but it turned out they had none, so I will try again this year.

And that’s pretty much it. For my own self, I’ll be growing ground cherries, more currants and gooseberries, shallots in my neighbor’s sunny plot, a few snowpeas and pole beans, White Queen tomatoes (very creamy Victorian mater), and my own project just for the halibut, species roses from seeds. I have a now very large rose bush that I grew from seed I started about 5-6 years ago, and I think it’s time to move on to other species. Plus I will grow some more herbal teas, like more lemon balm, spearmint, chamomile, and some ones I haven’t tried growing, like New Jersey tea and bee balm.

21 comments to The witch’s garden for 2012

  • Avril

    This is such an interesting post – thank you. As an aside, where do you get your seeds? I had a similar garden when I lived in South Africa and after moving to the north of England was able to continue gardening with ‘interesting’ plants however, since moving to Canada (Vancouver), I’m a bit lost – ie, not sure what seeds I can (can’t) bring into the country, or where to find the plants. I’m planning my garden for next year (hoping that by then we’ll have moved out of the apartment) but success with seeds seems elusive at the moment.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      I get a lot of seeds from suppliers in Europe. I used to get more from within the US, but lots of them don’t sell the more baneful seeds and have been discontinuing herb seeds altogether. If you are in Canada, try Richter’s Herbs. The one problem I have had with them is that unless you check to make sure they have it in stock at the time you order, they might send it six months later.

  • It’s interesting that you’re having problem finding Rue; I have a big plant of it growing on my back porch. It would be lovely if you were able to get the Blackthorn and Rowan going; good luck with the seeds!

  • A friend just brought me seedpods of something he said had yellow, squash like flowers. It looks to me exactly like datura. Yet yellow flowers? He found them growing wild on his farm in a high nitrogen soil. We’re in west Quebec.
    They are definitely going in my garden. It’s been a long time since I’ve grown datura, at least two gardens ago. I’m so glad she’s come back to me.
    Have you any knowledge of a wild yellow datura?

    • Alchemist in Charge

      It could be an escape of a yellow datura, I think it’s metel that has a yellow flowered variety. Is the pod bumpy rather than really sharp spines?

      • Christine

        Actually, it is has both. The spines are longer and much sharper than any I’ve seen before and there are bumps as well. I’d say 70/30 spines to bumps. The seed pods are also more egg shaped than round. They popped open today, I’ll see if I can get one going as a house plant (I’ve had success with that before) and we’ll see what we get!

        Wonderful sites, by the way,looking forward to placing my order soon!

  • Katherine

    Blackthorn, given I live in the UK. I am more than happy to send you berries or seeds free. Serious offer as I live in the UK and I enjoy your blog and learn from it. Despite the ease it seems to grow in waste areas, getting it to grow in an set area is nigh on impossible.

  • Corinna

    Ooh! So interested in the Clary Sage. I was gonna snag some seeds from you last year but probably this year.

  • Incidentally, Harold – I have more than enough poke-weed every year to get you seeds. Or, well.. I can get you bunches of berries – not sure about processing them for seeds. 😉 This fall I plan to make poke ink… we’ll see how that goes.

    Have you considered providing seed to a few growers so that they can, in turn, provide the harvested herb and seeds for you?

    • Alchemist in Charge

      It’s easy to harvest seeds from berries. I use a large pyrex measuring cup. A glass bowl would also work. It helps to see the seeds falling to the bottom. Wear a vinyl or latex glove to protect from alkaloids (and coloring) and smash the berries up with your hand. Add water. The fruit parts will float and the seeds sink. You can scoop the fruit parts off, add more water, squish more remaining berries, etc. After a time or two, you can just pour off the floating fruit bits. I pour through a sieve to catch any seeds that make their way out. Then just wash off the seeds using a sieve and the sink sprayer, dump out on a paper plate, spread them out and let them dry (not in the sun). Usually I move the seeds around a few times a day until they are fully dry. Package in paper envelopes and store the filled envelopes in jars with some uncooked rice in the bottom in a cool, dry place. Or heck, just put the envelopes in a box in a cool, dry place. I learned this from people who harvest tomato seeds, but it works for black nightshade, deadly nightshade, woody nightshade, ground cherries, etc.

      I would be happy to buy poke seeds from you. Email me when you get some.

      In the past, numerous times I supplied free seeds of various kinds to people who promised to grow them out for me or to grow herbs from them. I would never hear from them again. So I don’t do that anymore. The only private individuals I have bought seeds or harvested herb from were growing the plants for their own interests–in both cases, oddly enough, they were growing daturas that I wasn’t growing.

      It can be a nice little niche biz to grow out seeds or herbs of the less common type, especially if they are high quality. The wild lettuce seeds I grew from four plants would have cost me $150 to buy wholesale from the UK, for instance, the only source for them I have found (this is an expensive seed, maybe because of the sticky latex, which would gum up a machine). I would have had to grow a lot more to get a worthwhile amount of herb to harvest without a lot of stalks, though, so I didn’t bother to harvest the herb.

      I would think that someone who was growing ethnobotanicals could make some decent money as well. Those are very expensive herbs and many are of dubious quality.

      For myself, I am going to see how it goes growing more plants for the harvest of seeds and small amounts of dried herb. This might be a good way for me to make some money to supplement Social Security in a few years.

      • I’m quite certain I also have Wild Lettuce – either Canadanesis or Serriola (though I think another lot has Floridana). It grows so thickly on the North side of my house that it looks like a garden plot. I suppose I will be trying to harvest some seeds and herb next year once I get a positive ID.

        I will also try getting some pokeberries, and seeds. Hopefully there is enough rain so that there are actually -plants- this year. Instead of withered, unhappy, things clinging to the dirt.

  • faustianbargain

    i enjoyed this post..:)

    i am hoping to create a shakespeare garden up front. its a tad tricky, but totally doable. the issue would be what to do with the well established natives and perennials already there. i guess it would have to be a ‘mostly shakespeare’

  • Such an interesting post, found you by way of Scylla and will be back to read more. I work mostly with Overberg/Karoo herbs and other African rhenosterbos varieties, not well known and not easy to grow except in situ. I have tried to work with fynbos seeds but many need smoke to germinate and years of patience!

    Are your petunias scented? I have grown some old varieties from farm gardens and they have thin sweet perfume never found in hybridised petunias.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      Yes, the species petunias I grow and sell are scented. The small purple ones, P. integrifolia, have a kind of soapy smell, but the white ones, P. axillaris, have a rich sweet smell, especially at night. I have found though that many of the light colored or white hybrid petunias do have a good smell. I used to grow a so-called “balcony” time that I think I got from Seed Savers that had a nice smell, and the hummingbirds loved them.

  • Ah yes, I read back through your blog insatiably and found many mentions of those white petunias. Such a wealth of information you have here — and a book to look forward to!

  • Doc_Voodoo

    This year has been rather good to me and I have new land to grow stuff on. I still have the place I had before and I’ve done most of what I think can be done with it. It gives me three crops of two kinds of hot peppers yearly and it gives me Papaya and Limes over three seasons and all the Hibiscus I could ever ask for along with Cactus pads to feed the tortoises. Living in the Southernmost Growing Zone in the United States (Zone 10) which means that Global Warming has had a crushing effect down here with Summer Temps around 105 degrees F. Things dry up in that kind of heat regardless of what you do and I dont have a lot of shade on that place. I’d Winter Garden it, but, this new property has me occupied at the moment and my plan is to put together a “Voodoo Garden” with a number of Ethnobotanicals which are in synch with the Animist Traditions that I work in and with the local soil and climatology. Should be interesting as this new soil is more alkaline and has more clay in it than the sandy loam soil at my old place. Also, the plan is to do everything by moon phase which I’ve not tried before ( just started some of my vegetables indoors under a Waxing Moon, for example ). Intend to put most everything into the soil I’m preparing come second week of February and what doesnt get planted will be potted. Still working on obtaining seed. But, there’s been a lot more available than what I had initially foreseen.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      It sounds wonderful! Reminds me of when I was living in South Florida. Even though the soil was basically just sand, a person could get great crops of various things throughout the year. The garden never quit, just changed. I remember there was a huge cactus growing in a concrete area next to a busy street. I used to go there and harvest the fruits. They were so good. People thought I was crazy to do that. And Surinam cherries, which grew on hedges! I’d snack on those on the way to work.

      I very much encourage you in your Voodoo garden. I can totally imagine that the heat will continue to grow in summer, but that might allow you to grow some truly tropical stuff that you might not be able to grow otherwise. That’s how I’m thinking of global warming in the mini view–that it means I can grow things a zone or two warmer than I might normally be able to. The only problem is the increasingly violent weather and the unpredictability.

      If you are ever looking for a seed you can’t find, let me know. I can find a lot of stuff or let you know where to get it, although I have far fewer resources on tropicals, since I can’t grow them here and they are generally short-lived and so not good candidates for sale except for specialists.

  • Hey Harold,

    We have a ton of poke that grows here, my mother cooks it for us to have as greens. I am not a big fan of the flavor but she really likes it. But they have been eating it since she was a little girl. Of course you have to be careful how you cook it or it will make you very sick. I will gather you up some seeds this year and send to you, can get all of them you want.

  • therealbomf

    Simply put I have a few aggressive patches of what I believe is pokeweed. Tall plants with nearly 2″ diameter stalks purplish in color that get dark purple/ near black berries on them that look like a strand of pea size (little smaller) grapes. I just cut them and toss them as I have no idea as to what it’s good for 🙂
    I just happened to read your postings while looking for tincture recipes and I think it’s what you’re looking for. Drop me a line as the year progresses and I will send detailed photos of the pokeweed and if it’s what you’re looking for I’d be happy to mail you some

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