Bits of history
The creation of gardens is definitely one of humanity’s earliest achievements.
Gardens appear in the most antique writings, and our word “paradise” has it’s origin in the
Arabian word “paridaeza” – hunting park. The beautiful leisure gardens of Mesopotamia, Babylon and Ancient Egypt have inspired the Jewish authors, who had left the mss, which have inspired the description of the garden of Eden in the bible.
Legend tells about the hanging gardens of Queen Semiramis; paintings of gardens decorate the walls of the ancient Egyptian tombs.
The ancient Egyptians had gardens at least from 2.800 BC onwards. Their gardens had developed from vineyards and orchards into pleasure gardens.
The Egyptian garden had a rectangular outline with flower beds, shadow giving vines and a pool or pond in the middle, as irrigation is the most important point of gardening in the hot and dry climate of the area.
The garden was a place to grow flowers and to enjoy shadow and water during the heat of the day. Sometimes lotuses were floating on the rectangular pond’s surface in the middle of the garden.
Flower decorations were part of the ancient Egyptian culture: flowers and flower garlands were offered to the deities, especially to the goddesses.
Banquet tables and wine jugs were decorated with flowery garlands, and people were wearing flowers in their hair.
A whole profession made their living of the winding of flowery garlands and wreaths. For a lady of class in ancient Egypt it would have been as inconceivable to appear without a lovely wreath of flowers at a society event as it had been for the Victorian lady to leave the house without a hat.
The Phoenician inhabitants of Byblos and neighbouring communities performed in their sacred grove spring rites to celebrate the resurrection of Adonis, youthful lover of the goddess Astarte.
The red anemone, which had according to myth it’s colour from the blood of dying Adonis, was growing here under the grove’s walnut trees.
In the groves, dedicated to Astarte and Adonis, the assembled worshippers offered tiny “gardens of Adonis” to the goddess and her lover. The “offering gardens” consisted of baskets or earthen pots, planted with several flowers, wheat, fennel and barley.
These rites were celebrated in Greece, Alexandria and western Asia, where the Phoenicians had their trading stations. Phoenicians are mainly known as skilful sailors and merchants, but they were skilful gardeners, too.
At the time, when Homer wrote down his Iliad they were commercial nurserymen and shipped their shrubs and ornamental trees all over the Mediterranean.
Ancient Greece had gardens and parks. Often a sacred grove had developed into a park like landscape. First there was a sacred grove with a well, lake or river. The first statues were put up – in most cases these were marble statues of the nymph, who reigned the well or river that nourished the sacred grove.
We do not have many resilient facts on the gardens of Ancient Greece, as it is the nature of gardens to be bio-degradable. Anyway, we know that they had fruit trees – pears, apples, pomegranates, olives and figs.
From these orchards the pleasure gardens developed, and flowers were raised for the decoration of altars and statues as well as for wreaths, which were worn at annual festivals, in processions and at other society events.
Beside the decorative purposes of flowers their fragrance was so important, that they were the chief crop in industrial gardens, which supplied the makers of unguents and perfumes.
On the daily flower markets of “violet-wreathed Athens” customers could choose from a variety of violets and roses, hyacinths, lilies, anemones, crocuses, iris, myrtle, lilies, narcissus as well as several sorts of fragrant shrubs – all that was available for the friend of gardening in Ancient Greece.
Flower girls went from house to house to sell the floral content of their willow baskets.
The garden of Ancient Rome hosted a mix of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. The flowers were used for the decoration of the temples, sepulchres and the domestic shrines of the Lares and Penates.
The expansion of the Roman Empire and rising wealth of the upper class enabled the rich to have huge pleasure gardens created for them. A fish pond and artificial rivulets often were part of the Roman pleasure gardens.
Descriptions, which were left to us by authors as Cato and the younger Pliny, and archeo – botanical research have lead to a copious knowledge about gardening in Ancient Rome.
The Roman villa had a portico, opening upon a terrace, the open air living room, which was surrounded with flower beds. Crocuses , lilies, violets and other colourful and fragrant flowers pleased eyes and nose, and the babbling fountain accompanied the songs of blackbird and nightingale.
Bushes as box – buxus – often trimmed in fantastic shapes, surrounded that part of the garden.
The lower garden, which was connected to the upper one by steps or a grassy ramp had been planted with shadow granting trees. Pomegranate, citron and quince were found in many Roman gardens, and their fruits were used for both, food and decoration.
Laurel and oleander for decorative purposes were part of that planting, too.
Flower beds of roses, hyacinths and asters spread their fragrance in this part of the garden – the ambulatio.
Often the gardens of the wealthy upper class had a third section: the gestatio, a shaded avenue, were the owner enjoyed riding or walking. This part had been bordered by dwarf plane trees or fanciful cut box trees.
The medieval garden
Gardening in the west of Europe and in Britain has been inspired by the Romans and the herb gardens of the monasteries. These had a “hortus” – the vegetable garden and the “herbularius” – the herb garden.
In continental Europe the influence of Charlemagne’s laws had been a main factor in the development of gardening. In the Capitulare de villis vel curtis imperii, Charlemagne suggests more than 100 plants – trees, vegetables and herbs, which should be grown in the gardens, fields and vineyards of his empire.
The list includes herbs as angelica archangelica, several sorts of menthae – mint, marshmallow – althaea officinalis and sempervivum tectorum – Thor’s beard, which was thought to protect the house against damage through lightning.
A path to paradise
Greek mythology knows the garden of the Hesperides, located on an island in the west.
Pindar describes it:
“There round the islands of the Blessed
The ocean breezes blow,
And golden flowers are glowing,
Some on trees of splendour growing
And some the water feedeth.
Fair wreaths they yield, wherewith
The happy ones do twine their hands.”
The image of a lovely garden or park appears in the ideas of otherworldly realms in many religions and spiritual traditions all over the world. In European fairy tales gardens are often presented as places of enchantment and mystery.
Mother Hulda is living in a beautiful garden, a paradisal otherworldly realm for those, who don’t go to Walhalla, as that place was reserved for those, who had died in battle.
The goddess Iduna is living in a lovely garden, where she cares for the fruit trees, which carry the fruits of everlasting youth, that are nourishing the deities of Asgard.
Pink fairies and concrete swans
I remember a conversation with my dear spiritual teacher Olivia Robertson. We talked about gardening and the big gardening stores, which have everything for your garden from flower seeds, plants, pots and gardening tools up to massive masses of artificial outdoor decoration.
Olivia said something very interesting. She said, that these garden centres with all their small, artificial ponds and rivulets, their pink plastic fairies and concrete birds are answering the visitors’ unconscious yearning for Summerland. And yes, she was absolutely right.
She told me about a conversation she once had with a lady, who had been really poor, as many people of Irish ancestry in the dark years of English rule in Ireland.
When the Republic of Ireland became part of the European Union, Irish economy began to flourish, and many families could enjoy a bit of moderate prosperity. Olivia asked that lady, what she would buy now, as there would be some extra money in the household.
And guess, what that lady answered. “Oh, Lady Olivia, I have thought about that some time. And I really want to go to the garden centre and buy me one of those beautiful concrete swans.”
Many women in her position would have wished a modern kitchen, an electric stove, something to make household work easier. But that old lady’s greatest wish had been a concrete swan!
Sophisticated readers may wrinkle their nose at this simple old woman’s wanting.
But for her that concrete swan had been not only the epitome of beauty and luxury.
This poor woman had cared all her life for her vegetable garden, and she needed all it’s space to grow things, which helped her to survive. In making a flowerbed where she placed that concrete swan, she dedicated a piece of her garden to beauty, to the goddess.
Now she had a place, where she could rest from her work, sit on a bench, enjoying the fruits of her work, contemplating the beauty of her garden – her little piece of TirNanOg.
Creating a goddess garden
And this is exactly what we are doing, when we create a Goddess garden – creating our little piece of TirNanOg. Native plants, which offer nectar and pollen, nourishing bees and other insects, and the creation of homes for squirrels, hedgehogs, birds and bats make our goddess garden a refuge for many endangered species.
In the sacred groves and temple gardens of the past water was an important element, not only to water the plants, but also as a representation of the sacred element of life.
It is ideal, if you have a rivulet flowing through or along your garden. Some medieval gardens had artificial rivers to present the mythical rivers of the biblical paradise.
Depending on the size of our garden we may represent the fluid element of life with a bird bath or a small pond and a fountain. As insects are drinking from the bird bath, a small piece of wood, drifting on the water’s surface prevents them from drowning.
When creating a pond, it must have a flat bank border, so that hedgehogs or mice cannot fall into the water and drown.
When we are choosing plants for our Goddess garden in the temperate zone of Europe we may look for orientation into the lists in Charlemagne’s capitulare. It offers a choice of useful plants which flourish in our environment.
Soil and light are important factors in the choice of the habitat for a plant. Another factor is the time of blooming. A well composed garden is blooming from March until September / October.
A goddess garden nourishes all senses. It’s colours please the eyes; the sweet melodies of the birds in the trees are filling the ears; we breathe in the fragrance of flowers and herbs; and we may pluck a leaf or blossom to taste it’s flavour of sun or morning dew.
Roses are really flowers of the goddess. They are sacred to Isis, and their fragrance and flavour is so powerful that it even breaks the influence of evil magic.
Mediumistic people sometimes report of the phenomena of the fragrance of roses in relation to manifestations of the Goddess and the Holy Virgin.
Not all roses are feeling at home in all places. Gertrude Jekyll has written a very informative book on roses for English gardens.
Some roses are edible and can be made into delicious jellies, syrup and liqueur.
As our goddess garden is a place of refuge and meditation, it needs a shrine, where the goddess energy has it’s visible focus.
Although beautiful statues of the goddess are fitting to present the Divine Feminine in our garden, a spiral, an Ankh, or, if we like a more archaic styling, a small boulder, dedicated to the goddess may serve as a representation of Her energy.
The sacred elements of air, fire, water and earth are present in our garden in the wind, the rain, the sun and the growth of plants. Anyway it is a good idea to give them a visible representation.
Water is represented by your garden fountain, pond or rivulet.
For the element of fire we may plant flowers in the colours of fire – all hues of red, golden and yellow. Or we may plant herbs which have a hot taste, which is also attributed by fire.
In our garden we are surrounded by spirits of air and earth. These playful beings love toys.
The spirits of the air love everything that is moving in even the softest breeze.
This can be little flags or a stick with many coloured ribbons, which move in the wind.
Tibetan prayer flags are beautiful, as they are not only lovely toys for the spirits. The pictures and mantras, written on them, are spreading the blessing of the Buddhas all over the land when the flags are moving in the breeze.
The spirits of the earth are present in our garden in the soil, in the growth of our plants and in the plants themselves – the lovely flower fairies and plant Devis.
There may be spirits or a spirit of the place, the genii or genius loci, and last not least the Little People. Garden gnomes are showing, that Fairy folks are welcome in your garden.
A small heap of stones can be put up to honour the genius loci. Our heap of stones consists of some stones from the surrounding fields and those, which we had found, when we were digging up the soil of our garden.
A lovely idea for garden deco comes from the south of Germany: people put a coloured glass globe on a stick, which is raised in the flower beds. These glass globes resemble Christmas tree globes, but are much larger.
The globes were said to protect the chickens from the birds of prey, as the latter were irritated by the sparkling light, when the colourful glass reflects the sunlight.
Folklore says also, that the garden globes keep away unfriendly spirits, because they see their ugly face being even more uglier reflected on the garden globe’s surface, which makes them think, that the spot is already occupied by a spirit more ugly and powerful than the intruder.
If you honour the spirits of the environment, they will show you, what they want in “their” garden, and objects and plants will come to you.
When you have have created your goddess garden you may want to perform a rite to dedicate it to the Goddess.
Members of the Fellowship of Isis may find the ritual for the dedication of a shrine to the Goddess Isis helpful. It is in “Dea – Rites and Mysteries of the Goddess, the first volume of the goddess liturgy, written by Olivia Robertson. It can be found on the central website. https://sites.google.com/site/fellowshipofisisliturgy/dea-rite-1-dedication-of-a-shrine-to-isis
An alternative is the rite “Creation of a shrine of The Goddess” from “Maya – Goddess Rites for solo use which can also be found at the central website:
Both rites are a wonderful daily practice.
Here’s is a short daily practice which can be performed as a daily rite at your garden shrine of the Goddess.
Make sure to have a vessel with clear water and an incense stick or some incense at hand. Light it, and when the smoke rises, stand in front of your shrine, being still and relaxed.
Raise your arms. When you breathe in, visualise white light flowing into your cortex. When breathing out it changes into golden light, surrounding you and being shared with all sentient beings.
“Holy Goddess Isis, Mother of all beings, come to our hearts. Grant us, Thy children, Love and Joy, Wisdom and Abundance. We offer Thee our loving care for all who are born of Thee.”
Feel the Divine present of the Goddess. Now take the vessel with water, visualise light flowing into it. Sprinkle or pour some sacred water over the heap of stones, which you have erected for the earthly spirits. Visualise pouring out pure light, that is spreading all over the garden, nourishing all beings, and making your goddess garden an oasis of peace and happiness.
The elemental beings love the divine blessing, and if you perform daily this short blessing practice you will soon experience the supportive energy.
You close your short daily practice with a blessing of all sentient beings.
I use a prayer from the F.O.I. liturgy, that I have adapted for my own practice.
“In the Names of The Goddess and Her consort,
May all beings be Blessed:
Spirits and humans,
Animals, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects,
Plants, flowers, waterways, forests,
The Earth and all Her sacred elements.
So mote it be!”
End of Rite
You may dedicate your sacred garden to your favourite goddess or goddess and Her consort.
Your garden is your little piece of TirNanOg, the Land of Heart’s Desire, and it’s energy will radiate and bring a piece of it back to humans’ consciousness.
In the introduction of the Druid Clan of Dana manual Olivia Robertson offers a wonderful description on what happens, when we are in tune and at peace with nature and our fellow beings.
And visitors of your Goddess garden or those, who may enjoy it’s products – herb teas, spices, liqueurs, may be able to get an inkling of it’s blessings, too.
Companions of the Druid Clan of Dana live as if this were the Golden Age now: And so it is in the Inner Planes! When we open our spiritual sense through our etheric life energy , we see, hear, travel, enjoy life in The Land of Heart’s Desire. The key is love. As this consciousness expands, it affects family, friends and neighbourhood. Even the cat smiles! Radiations from a Grove, whether this be in city or countryside, heal worldly ills through the auras of humans, animals, trees and stones. Communion with the Deities, with the Sidhe – elemental Beings – and friends in Spirit is enjoyed. There is no death once the soul learns to leave the body in full consciousness. Our true selves are of the Immortals. Disease, hatred, jealously and fear are dissolved as we awaken from the world dream which we ourselves have created. We see through the worldly veil and discover the ever living earth, Body of the Goddess.
Fellowship of Isis central website, authorised by Olivia Robertson
Altdeutsche Gartenflora, Prof. Dr. R.v. Fischer-Benzon, Leipzig 1894
Geschichte der Botanik, Ernst H.F. Meyer, Koenigsberg, 1856
History of the Ancient World, M. Rostovtzeff, 1926
A popular account of the Ancient Egyptians, Wilkinson, 1871
“Gardening is the purest of human pleasures”. Francis Bacon
“Magick means to see all Heaven in a flower.” Olivia Robertson