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The yard of my old home was not manicured in the least. It was haphazardly maintained, more wild and weeds than anything else. Chickweed, field penny-cress and bindweed grew right alongside the daisies, morning glories and basil I planted on purpose. One year catnip sprung up in a neglected patch and took it over. I still don’t know where it came from. The lemon balm I did plant, and it soon overran the sage and tulsi I had planted in the same bed. Similarly, my spellcraft evolved with what I could forage from my yard and the small, wild places in the neighborhood. I used dandelions and smartweed and Queen Anne’s lace in my magick because that is what I had on hand and I was too poor to buy magick supplies.

Backyard Abundance
(Clockwise from upper right hand corner.) Sunflower, bindweed, chickweed and flower-of-the-hour. Just a sampling of the wildflowers that sprung up in all the corners of my yard.

The yard of my current residence is the opposite. It has no shade. Both front and back are lawn. There is a front flower bed that is HOA sterile with cheap day lilies and an anemic yellow rosebush. A hibiscus bush provides the only hint of personality. The backyard is unshaded and bound on all sides by fencing, some new white vinyl, the rest weathered wooden slats.  We haven’t done much to the yard, other than mow.  I have created a small garden bed to the side of the patio (currently overrun by cucumbers and tomatoes).  And I did try to plant some flowers in the front (most of which were torn up by the neighborhood chipmunks).  My recent attempts at foraging had brought our minimal investment into the land front and center.

Bunches of Lemon Balm Drying
My lemon balm harvest from four years ago. Back before I started using paper bags.

I’d noted several plants in the yard during the Spring: creeping Charlie, mock strawberries and clover especially. But when I braved the 90 degree heat this week to collect them all I found was grass and weeds scorched by the sun and heat.  The creeping Charlie had disappeared. The clover was almost entirely gone to seed. Even the dandelions had taken their leave–presumably for someplace cooler.  A stand of burdock that had established itself along the back fence was wilted and brown, and besides I had already harvested a couple of roots earlier in the year. I ended up with a small bunch of clover flowers and two wood sorrel plants.

The garden yielded a bit more: a handful of lemon balm, slightly more catnip and enough basil for a batch of pesto. These I had planted in terracotta pots to avoid the two mints overrunning the area.  The rest of my potted herbs, the chamomile, sage and rosemary have all failed or are not thriving.

Setting my paltry harvest out on the kitchen table was a sobering moment.  I’ve been so used to having mounds of gathered herbs and wildflowers to sort and process that what sat before me was underwhelming.  I wondered why I had bothered.  For a moment I actually considered dumping it all in the compost. I didn’t.  I pulled out the paper bags and twist ties and hole punch.  I pinched off dead and damaged leaves, labeled bags, and hung up the bags.  

Labelled Paper Bags
I’ve found paper bags to be the best way to keep my herbs dust free as they are drying.

While I worked I reminded myself that the point wasn’t how much I put up for later use.  The point is to be grateful for what nature provides, even if it is just a half a handful. I thought about what the previous yard had looked like when I first bought the house.  It had been similarly bare; just lawn, no trees or bushes, no flower beds.  It had taken years of my well-meaning, if haphazard, gardening to get it to the shady, messy abundance it was when I left.  Because I had been so slapdash with my nurturing, it hadn’t felt like work and because it hadn’t felt like work I had grown to just see the yard as always having been the way it was.  I had forgotten what it was like at the start.  It wasn’t fair of me to judge this current yard against the old, especially when I hadn’t even put in my usual, irregular effort.

Just as my magick was shaped and informed by the home I had for so many years, I need to be open to the lessons this new land has for me.  I’m in a period of transition.  In two years’ time I’ll be leaving this house and Illinois behind.  That knowledge has been one of the reasons I haven’t done much gardening.  Because of that, maybe I don’t need to rebuild my apothecary from what I gather here.  Maybe I need, instead, a blank slate that forces me to look at the things I need to clear out emotionally and mentally.  By not offering up a bounty, this yard is telling me to deal with my baggage before I move on.

To that end, I kept hold of the leaves I pinched off for a releasing ritual I’ve planned for September.  I will use them to bring energy of pruning and discarding to the ritual.  I need to work on letting go of that which does not serve me.  And for that magick, this yard has provided.

Drying Herbs in Paper Bags
I hang the bags where they will be out of the way, but still in sight so I don’t forget them.
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