A curious thing happened the other day. I will leave it for you to decide whether or not it was magic.
Some years ago, I read a lovely little book called Growing Myself: A Spiritual Journey Through Gardening by Judith Handelsman (1996, Dutton), in which the author offers stories of her lifelong connection with plants, the special bond she shares with them, particularly her houseplants, and how they have helped along her personal journey. I kept the book for an age but don’t have it anymore; another casualty of repeated culling as our painted gypsy wagon rolls ever onward. Seems to me that I gave it to my dear stepmom, who is a wild gardener and hardcore plant lover.
There are two things that I most remember about Handelsman’s book. The first was the author’s eloquent assertion that plants have consciousness (of course they do), and that we can form a deep, communicative bond with them as part of ‘spiritual gardening’, both inner and outer. Ever since reading her work, I have adopted the philosophy and practice of giving plants 24-hour notice before pruning, transplanting, or anything that might be traumatic—inviting them to pull their energy inwards to lessen the impact of what’s coming.
The second thing that I recall about her book was how one of the stories ended. The particulars of the tale have now faded into the mists, but something happened involving the plants (as I loosely recall) and afterwards, next to her bed on the bedside table, she finds a single leaf, as if placed there. There is no way for it to have arrived in that location, no logical explanation; it seems simply a “thank you” message from the plants, a living green love note that they really are alive and conscious of the communication she shares with them. And it’s a little glimpse of their magic.
Personally, I believe that most magic is simply a higher understanding of nature and the invisible realms. At the very least, plants have consciousness—far beyond what most people would think or even guess. They have a considerable capacity for computing and forming decisions about complex variables in their environment such as light, water, sound, chemicals, vibrations, gravity, temperature and predators. They also possess highly evolved signaling systems to alert their neighbors of danger. Furthermore, they receive signals from other plants and beings, and apparently remember all of it, as demonstrated by their future choices and responses. But really, there is so much more going on.
As a self-professed Green Man, once upon a time, I shared roof and walls with a large number of beautiful, dear plants. I loved and spoke to them all. Each time we moved house, if I couldn’t bring them along (as when going abroad, or even moving between countries in Europe, or to and from Hawaii), I sadly gifted them to friends. It was like giving away my children. Slowly, reluctantly, I stopped filling the painted gypsy caravan with houseplants, and if you visit my cottage today, but for a lone orchid in the kitchen and pots of rosemary and French lavender outside the front door, you’d never guess that I am a plant lover with a healer’s green thumb.
Jasmine grows and blooms abundantly at both at the front and rear of our little coastal house. The one in back is a considerable bush, the size of a large chariot, that has covered a good portion of the cream-colored stucco wall with a thousand curly green fingers. Particularly in the evenings, the fragrance of the blossoms dritifng in through an open window is pure aromatherapy. (As an aromatherapist I want to tell you that jasmine is noted for being relaxing and uplifting; in Western science, it is also antiseptic, antidepressive, and antispasmodic. Picked at night when the blossoms are at their peak of fragrance, it takes around 8 million flowers to produce a kilo of oil, thus making it one of the more expensive essential oils.)
In terms of gardening, plants, and life, I tend to embrace a ‘wilder is better’, live-and-let-live approach. The jasmine has not been cut since I moved into this cottage a year ago and it has become a bit, well, unruly—blocking the garden tap/spigot, and looking to creep in through the rear studio’s bathroom window.
“It’s time to cut this back,” my partner decreed recently, pointing to the fragrant hedge. “How about you give it 24-hour notice…?”
Now, I can only appreciate that my dear mate goes along with my somewhat unconventional attitudes and protocols, that he would say such a thing rather than simply take the garden shears to the jumbled green mass outside (though he is decidedly not the gardening type).
For my part, I went out to the rear of the cottage—barefoot, of course—and ran my hands through the leafy green riot of leaves, tendrils and flowers. Aloud, I informed the jasmine that twenty-four hours hence I would be cutting it back significantly, and it should begin pulling its energy inward to lessen the impact. I thanked the wild green being for its flowers and healing perfume, and said I appreciated its daily reminder to simply grow. Exuberantly.
Surely ‘spiritual gardening’ and tending the soul are closely related…?
The following day, during a break in the showers of the afternoon, true to my word, I went out and trimmed the bush back to a manageable size and shape. Wet earth under my bare feet, a low grey sky bearing down and the air smelling of fresh rain, clippety click went the long-handled shears as I cut, cut, cut. At a certain point, I decidedly heard a small voice in my head say, “no more!”
I stopped. Whether it was me or the plant speaking, it was enough, really. I gently raked my fingers through the freshly cut greenery, thanked the jasmine, and then went to work pulling woodsorrel and weeds, knowing I needed to spend at least half an hour barefooted on the earth as I continue to struggle with my electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). [Read last week’s post, “Pulling Weeds, Seeking Health“]
My ‘earthing’ time complete and the rain beginning its staccato symphony once again, I wiped muddy bare soles on an old, brown towel at the side door and stepped indoors. In the kitchen, I put the kettle on the stove for a pot of tea. Usually in the afternoon I drink green jasmine pearls, or a lovely white tea infused with jasmine flowers; both are wonderfully fragrant in a natural, non-cloying way, and I like to sip the delicate elixir from a sage green, Asian-style cup without a handle. It is a little ritual of tranquility and grace, just perfect for a rainy afternoon.
Leaving the kitchen, thinking I would change my clothes while the water warmed in the blue kettle, I entered the short, meter-long hallway that leads to the bedroom and came up short. There, in the middle of the woven jute area rug, lay a sprig of green jasmine—five leaves still attached to the tip of a stem.
I stared for a long moment, then bent down to pick it up and placed the greenery in my palm. How did it get here? I’d not yet gone into the hallway or bedroom, so there is no way the leaves could have been clinging somehow to my clothes and then fallen off. The Whippets had not been outside with me, they were still dozing in their third nap of the afternoon, so they couldn’t have brought it in, and my partner wasn’t at home.
No, it was placed here … by invisible hands or the wisp of a jasmine-scented prayer. A gift from the nature spirits, perhaps. Instantly I thought of Judith Handelsman’s story of finding the single leaf next to her bedside, a magical acknowledgment from her beloved houseplants.
Holding the sprig in my open palm, I traced the delicate green leaves with my forefinger and grinned, a soft warm glow spreading through my heart and chest. Slowly I walked into the bedroom, crossed the fuzzy wool rug from Spain and stood next to the large window, where I looked outside at the significantly diminished tangle of jasmine in the rain.
“Thank you,” I smiled.
Friends, I will only say this: in every moment, there is far more going on than our limited minds and perception can ever imagine. And magic exists, most definitely.