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The Mindful Garden, by Stephanie Donaldson

The Mindful Garden: Serene Spaces for Outdoor Living, by Stephanie Donaldson
Ryland Peters & Small, 9781788795951, 144 pages, February 2024

Stephanie Donaldson’s The Mindful Garden: Serene Spaces for Outdoor Living joins the list of items that bring a sense of peace and serenity into my life along with Palo Santo sticks, the flicker of a votive in a small metal holder, and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Donaldson offers ways for all of us – from the suburban gardener to the urban dweller with very little outdoor space – from the experienced to the novice – to create our own haven, a retreat, a place to de-stress. The book contains stunning photographs by Melanie Eclare that made me want to sell everything and move to my husband’s country of birth, England, and recreate the spaces in the book.

Luckily, Donaldson writes some words of caution, “…before making any changes it is always wise to separate the realizable dreams from the fantasies.”1 I stopped making flight reservations and settled into the book to be guided to ways that I could create my very own place of peace in my outdoor space. For as Donaldson writes, peace is a “central element in the creation of a successful mindful garden.”2

I hadn’t really ever considered the mood that I wanted to create in my outdoor space. I mindlessly go to the garden store and picked up random plants and garden accessories without any real plan. But this season, I’m becoming more intentional with how I space my backyard.

Donaldson asks the reader to consider the tone that one wants to create to support calm versus stimulation, simple rather than busy. A space where one removes rather than adds to. And she asked me a question that no one had asked me, which is what do I want from my garden? What appeals to me? What centers me? How novel!

Upon her advice, I considered how I want the garden to be used and how I want it to look. Do I want a space for meditation or contemplation? Do I want to add water features (many of which can be added for a nominal cost without running electricity)? How does the garden look in different light – from early morning to dusk? What type of seating do I want? What materials appeal to me? What style suits me – symmetrical or balanced?

She guides the reader in how to consider the use of color (recommending a subdued palette versus complimentary colors).  Suggestions are offered in creating barriers with the use of things like stones, fences, shrubs, and trellises. And to consider scents – what plantings offer scents that calm versus stimulate.

The book offers so many suggestions that any of us can use to create a mindful space. The photographs will automatically bring a sense of calm, and there’s ton of them throughout The Mindful Garden. However, what I really liked about the book was that Donaldson was aware that we all don’t have acres of land and limitless funds to create a serene space. We can use a ceramic bowl to hold a small battery-operated foundation to create a slow flowing water feature. She showed a water feature using glass bricks filled with pebbles on a rooftop without a “plant in sight.”3

We might want to do some small tweaks to bring calm into our space or we might plan something a bit more ambitious (but again, she reminds us, doable). Consider your location (it’s challenging to have a wildflower meadow on your city lot), consider aiming for creating a space that won’t need constant attention (such as weeding). You might find out, after a few changes that Donaldson inspires, that you suddenly feel peaceful in your space.

“If you feel happy in your garden and there is nothing to change, then trust that feeling. You already have your mindful space…”4

Overall, Donaldson is a wonderful guide for bringing serenity into your life, beginning with your outdoor space, in The Mindful Garden. This book allows you to discover relaxation, peruse the pages, see what inspires you, and then take those steps to bring what you need and want into your life. You can do it with whatever space and budget you have available; Donaldson will show you how.

Plants of Power, by Stacey Demarco and Miranda Mueller

Plants of Power: Cultivate Your Garden Apothecary and Transform Your Life, by Stacey Demarco and Miranda Mueller
Rockpool Publishing, 1925924351, 352 pages, September 2021

“Go touch grass.” This is a sentiment that I really took to heart this past spring, summer, growing season or whatever else you want to call it. I ended up going ham in my little yard and definitely bit off more than I could chew this season. Clearing out the unwanted and planning for what I did want around me was rough and it’s still a work in progress. 

It’s through this little foray into the growing stuff side of life that made this book ping my interest radar. So, I waddled over to my shelf just to see what I had over there. Whelp, I will admit I had no books on plants. None, zip, zilch.

I want a practical plant space. I want it full of good strong allies ready and willing to help me out when I need it in exchange for the love and care I have to give. And with a hesitant chuckle, I began to read Plants of Power: Cultivate Your Garden Apothecary and Transform Your Life by Stacey Demarco and Miranda Mueller. This book is a good book, a great book even, and it has definitely taught me a thing or two.

I was aware that our ancestors, those who walked before us, had a deep connection to the land. It fed them, gave them the raw materials needed to build tools and shelter, the power to mend wounds and ease illness, all things we have lost touch with today. They found the plants that lessened swelling and eased a headache by observing what we nowadays can glean from a quick google search provided by science and electricity. This was their science; our science is much different. Don’t get me wrong, science is great, but it is also not so great. 

“Talk of how a plant might alter consciousness has increased the chance of that plant being banned by authorities, usually with a campaign of fear.”1

It’s the sad truth. We are so disconnected from the land and how to use it that we fear what should not be feared, we demonize what should be respected and we cherry pick which plants get this treatment. We do not shun the Lily just because it’s lethal to cats. We ignore the fact that the bulb of the Daffodil is bad for both us and our canine companions as we edge walkways with them. There are so many wonderful plant allies that have been done dirty just because we do not understand them the way we once did. I better cut this off here though and move onto the book proper here.

Part One

This book, past the intro, is divided into two main sections. The first part consists of six bite sized charters that covers a little about our authors and some general plant knowledge.

The first chapter is the meet-the-author chapter. Here we get an abridged version of their life paths away and back to the land. The next two cover nature and the land. The patterns that appear in nature have lessons to teach us if only we would slow down and listen, tending the land that we have is a great way to do this by the by. Be this land a full yard or a few pots on a balcony, it’ll do you some good me thinks.

The second half of the chapters are less about the land itself and more about the plants and what we can do for/with them. Did you know that plants can sense your intent? What about the fact that there’s two, two different ways to compost? What about using the moon and zodiac signs in your planting and harvesting? I sure as heck didn’t. I’d recommend paying extra attention to these sections, as they were quite eye opening for me and I’m sure they will also be for you.

Part Two

Here we get into the greenery proper. The plants are split into sections based on season and each plant gets a few pages to itself. These pages are laid out as follows. First, the common name at the top and the scientific one directly underneath it. Then, under that a box is further quick info like other names, planetary rulings, and a little correspondence list. Past the box is a quick blurb on the plant, some notes on its cultivation and foraging.

The really fun part of this section, the crafts section. In the crafts section, we get a bit of a mix bag from recipes for food like mint pesto and even mouthwash to meditations and salves centered on our plant in question.

Y’all my wallet gonna hate me this coming spring! I’m kidding…maybe… But in all seriousness coming out of the reading gauntlet (I tore through this book in three days) I have a deeper appreciation for the earth and the plants that I already have been tending. Which are a few mints, some common sage bushes, rosemary and a marshmallow, in case you were curious. My wishlist of plants has also become obscenely long, but it will be thinned out as I research further on which ones will grow best in my area. I hope to add at least two plants from this book as well as many, many more mint plants in pots so I can make all the mint pesto I want (recipe page 180).


I did have some minor issues with this book. Don’t you go scrunching your face up at these words, remember it’s physically impossible to fully please everyone with what you create and you just gotta roll with it. The biggest, most glaring issue is where is the index?! There’s usually an index in books like this. I don’t normally need to use the index, but in looking for the page with that mint pesto recipe, the index was sorely missed. I mean I eventually found it, but it would have been so much faster and less frustrating had there been an index.

These next two wishes were not mine originally. My wonderfully accepting and former chef father pointed out that some of the plants with an edible craft do not have a basic flavor profile. While this particular nit-pick isn’t a big one, it’s still something that might have been nice. The last one is phonetic spelling on some of the names. We spent a good twenty minutes debating the pronunciation of Comfrey over coffee one afternoon. While it was invigorating to whip out my phone and prove myself correct, this particular inclusion would have made the discussion unnecessary.

Overall Plants of Power is a great book, well worth the coin for this particular ware. This book would be a good fit for someone who doesn’t have much knowledge about plants and their real uses beyond being a pretty thing outdoors. As a beginner in the plant world there is so much more to learn but that’s what research is for and this book is a great place to start from.

The basic info provided is enough to get an idea of what you might want to start growing. This would help to keep the budding gardener from becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things out there to learn. Why spend hours learning all the ins and outs of growing say an olive tree if you know for a fact you don’t have the space or proper growing conditions for one?

I would also think someone with an intermediate to advanced knowledge of plants would also find value in Plants of Power. Even if they don’t exactly learn anything “new”, the different perspectives these two authors bring to the table ought to open doors to revelations and breakthroughs that might otherwise have laid dormant. 

Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Gardening, by Elen Sentier

Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Gardening, by Elen Sentier
Moon Books, 9781789043730, 143 pages, 2021

The introduction alone is worth picking up this book. Even if you don’t get past the first ten pages, the front section of Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Gardening by Elen Sentier is a robust read packed with useful information. Elen Sentier is a magical woman, born of magical people, and her writing is imbued with the cunning craft of her lineage. Passing on her knowledge through writing books on British native shamanism and in magic/mystery/romance novels, Sentier also offers training in the old British ways. This book captures her experiences working with the land and is an absolute pleasure to read.

Straight out of the gate, this book is a metaphor. Does it include gardening tips? Sure, but it’s really about reconnecting with nature using the various growth, death, and rebirth cycles of the year. Sentier says this book “leads you through the eight seasons of the Celtic pagan year and gives you guidance on how to work with each season.”1 

With the number of books already on the market about this very topic, it might seem futile to add to that pile. I respectfully suggest taking those other books and throwing them in the donation bin and keeping this one on the shelf to hand down to those who come after. Being able to tie seasons and moon phases with planting and harvesting is precisely the kind of magic that resonates with me personally, and I can tell you this book is never leaving my collection.

Working with the cyclical rotations of nature is great, but what about actual plants? While it’s tempting to just go all in about the metaphoric essence of this book, I am happy to tell you that there is indeed actual information about actual plants and a very interesting bit about hedges. Completely random, I know but hear me out. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have hedges might not really understand the boon they have been given, especially if said hedges surround a garden.

Sentier explains, “Hedges work because they don’t ‘stop’ the wind but ‘filter’ it. Moving air does get through but because it’s had to fight its way through a tangle of branches and leaves it’s lost 80 or even 90 percent of its energy. So, what was an 40mph wind on one side of the hedge is barely a 5 or 10mph by the time it gets through…and has also lost its wind-chill factor.”

Not only is that practical advice, it also metaphorically dials into the fact that surrounding yourself with people who love and support you will also filter out the rest of society in a way that leaves you feeling protected, supported, and able to flourish. We all need some hedges in our spiritual lives to filter out the intensity of things going on around us. Not to block it out completely, more like a provision of space to catch our breath before moving forward. 

These are the type of books that I love discovering, when the writer seems to be leading you down one path but upon reading and absorbing the book you realize it’s about so much more. 

Sentier’s writing is comfortable, like she knows what she knows and she’s eager to pass it on to whomever is willing to listen. It also feels familiar, like a long-lost cousin that you find yourself in conversation with during a family reunion. Clear language adds to the accessibility of this book: even if the reader doesn’t identify as pagan, there is more than enough actual gardening tips included to make reading the book a pleasure. Great ideas for planting, too!

The book is laid out according to season (Midwinter Solstice, Imbolc, etc), and provides an overview of that season plus various correspondences that have been historically associated with that season. Keeping in mind that geography will dictate what can and cannot be planted, Sentier does an excellent job of using broad strokes when discussing various plants used for each season. 

She is very quick to point out that choosing what to plant very personal and that plants change just as people do: “I’m not quite the same Elen I was a moment ago, nor yesterday, nor last year, so the mental and emotional clothes I wear won’t fit now, won’t be suitable for me as I am now. And neither will the plants in my garden, nor the garden herself, be the same from one day to the next. So, there’s never any right or wrong, only what’s appropriate for Now.”2

Sentier lists a variety of herbs and their uses in their respective sections. She also continually stresses the importance of listening to the land to see what it wants. She explains, “The garden…told me in the first month after we moved in that it wanted to be a garden of the wheel of the seasons. I explored this on squared paper and offered up ideas to the garden spirit but she firmly put me in my place by telling me to go get my compass and find out where the directions are in relation to the house.”3

She sorted out where the gardens would go and what would be in them by listening to what the land had to tell her. Most of us lead such busy lives, we don’t really make the time to listen to the earth as we pull weeds or choose vegetables to put on the table. This book showed me that although I don’t have a garden physically, I could look at myself as a garden and apply the same principles. Mind-blowing.

Whether you actively garden or simply daydream about it, Practically Pagan – Alternative Guide to Gardening will not disappoint you. Being able to tie everyday actions to an overarching goal of being better people and doing better for the environment is one of the key messages I personally took away from reading this book. The magical knowledge being passed down in this book is worth picking it up, and if there is an interest in gardening, so much the better.

Entering Hekate’s Garden, by Cyndi Brannen

Entering Hekate’s Garden: The Magick, Medicine & Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft, by Cyndi Brannen, PhD
Weiser Books, 1578637228, 288 pages, November 2020

The Garden of Hekate, the great Mother Goddess from whom all the world flows, is the spiritual home for the practice of pharmakeia, the ancient art, craft, and science of plant spirit witchcraft.  This practice uses botanicals for corporeal purposes, the crafting of magical formulations, and the art of transcending. It is a holistic art transmitted by Hekate and her witches for our use today. 1

Entering Hekate’s Garden: The Magick, Medicine & Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft by Cyndi Brannen is a book about plant spirit witchcraft, a craft which incorporates magick, medicine, and the mystery of botanicals through the use of both their physical properties and their spiritual essence.  This book is for anyone passionate about plants and magically inclined, ready to take a deep dive into the mysteries of the spiritual essences and consciousness of plants.  While more and more witches are carving out a career niche in the practice of clinical herbalism, Entering Hekate’s Garden takes it a step further and elevates the practice of working with plants into the spiritual realm by creating relationship to the soul of the plants and understanding their magical properties as well as there medicinal. 

Entering Hekate’s Garden reads like a sacred text. It begins with a poetic portrait of how the dark Goddess of Nature surrendered her guard to her lover, civilization, and was betrayed. This prologue is called “Medea’s Truth.”  It sets a tone that this text is a reclaiming of a lost art. That lost art is the tending of Hekate’s Garden. Medea is the darker of the two daughters of Hekate, an underworld Goddess and Queen of Witches known also as Regina Maleficarum. The other daughter is Circe. As Brannen write, “Medea’s energy and archetype speak to our shadow selves. Circe summons us to speak to embrace the transformation found by speaking our truth boldly.”2

In “Medea’s Truth,” the author channels the words of her Goddess’s despairing truth.

“Jason came to me, not out of affection, but out of greed.  He had heard of my powers…Jason’s gods preyed upon his ambitions.  They instructed him on how to seduce me.  Not only did I welcome him into Hekate’s garden, but I put a spell on…the Tree of Knowledge…. Now the time has come for you to remember the magick, the medicine, and the mystery. Return to Mother’s Garden.”3

 The book’s narrative spirals open like an actual initiation. The chapters following, each named in Latin, lay out a sacred system of working with 39 specific plant species which Brannen has selected to present – 39 being 3 x 13. Three for Mercury, God of gathering information, and 13 for the 13 moons in a Witch’s Year.  Though all plants have sacred properties, according to Brennan, for the purposes of this book, which is meant to be an introduction to the way of Hekate’s Garden, 39 was a sufficient number to work with. Throughout the book, Brennan offers detailed recipes for medicines and spellwork (and for her, medicine and spellwork are one) that the reader can replicate at home for their own journey.

The book unfolds as follows:

·      Origio: Meeting the three Goddesses through purification ritual instructions

·      PraeparatioA brief introduction to holistic healing and the practicing of true medicine.

·      Ratio: Understanding the language of archetypes, specifically the four elements, the seven planetary correspondences, the three worlds (lower, middle, and upper), and Seven Sacred Forces (passion, strength, sovereignty, power, discipline, awareness and integrity)Plus, there is a powerful initiation ritual called the Sacred Seven Ritual.

·      Practica: Physical formulations of plant medicine, such as how to tincture and make syrups and oxymels.

·      Gnosis: The 39 monographs of plants used in sacred plant magic.

For each of the 39 plant monographs, from basil to foxglove to saffron to walnut, Brennan offers a bit of lore about the plant. For example, “Thyme has been associated with the bumble since Greek warriors used them both to decorate their battle gear”.4 She includes a thorough list of properties and correspondences, such as zodiac sign, stones, and animal.  She also includes indications, formulations (for example, “Cats are often fond of thyme and it is safe for them”5) and a yummy recipe for goat cheese crescents.

The book concludes with Magikeia, and here reads very much like a classic grimoire with specific instructions on using plants in particular spellwork. She includes a long list of common types of spells and how to make basic formulations for them, which can be further customized as a practitioner gets more comfortable using the monographs.  The list includes popular spellwork topics like abundance, binding, attraction, and protection.

In sum, this book is absolutely beautiful!  It is easy the glean that Brennan is a true devotee to her path and her spirit possesses aeons of experience with her subject. The book has heart and what it offers is no less than an actual tangible portal into a magical realm, if you are willing to follow her steps and do the initiations she outlines. For a more casual fan of plants and gardens Entering Hekate’s Garden is full of fascinating and rare information about common plants – like that yarrow is one of the most powerful plants for honoring Venus! I strongly recommend this book.  It will remain a treasured piece in my own book collection for years to come and I hope to see a future hardcover addition with glossy photographs of all these wonderful, magical plants!