Indoor gardening has helped me retain my peace of mind in 2020. There have been so many changes… I moved into my boyfriend’s yardless condo and remembered the challenges of cohabitation. I conceived, and was surprised at just how exhausting the first trimester is, I really wasn’t my usual outgoing self. Minding my little window garden was all I had energy for, but was also the perfectly fulfilling and encouraging thing that I needed. (I am just not ready to write about this pandemic just yet.)
Last summer I added more potted plants to my home, and after a plant magic project with Uma and hearing about her experiences, I knew I had to try my hand at magical gardening again.
On two different occasions I had tried to grow mandrakes and hadn’t succeeded, so I wanted to go about it a bit differently this time.
Lamps have made all the difference. I used a desk lamp with a flexible neck and a 6500 kelvin compact fluorescent light bulb. It was inexpensive and proved to help get things started, and even help me revive other houseplants that needed some loving care. It’s also not as good as real sunshine!
The first time I planted mandrakes five years ago, they were in a room with a south-facing window that did get enough light to cause sprouting. Some sprouted after a more generous watering, after I’d go away for a weekend. They then all damped off, which was discouraging. It made me think “mandrakes like to be alone.” A few years later during round two, I planted 1” pots with seedling soil and placed them on a tray in a high shelf. I would forget to water them. They never sprouted.
The lamp and peat moss help control moisture, and light is definitely needed to “wake them up”. The seeds like being a bit under soil, but not too deep. They also don’t necessarily prefer to be alone either. They like being talked to, enjoy having nice pots, enjoy sharing space with others. Taking time with them every day has made all the difference, and it’s been a special experience watching them grow, while also growing a child that I cannot see.
I will now always use peat pellets for my mandrake seeds , the small ones that you have to hydrate first. They are a consistent colour, so there’s no mistaking a sprout for a piece of perlite. Peat also dries faster, and these pellets will help if you’re prone to overwatering seedlings like I am. I’ve learned a lot the hard way.
Use a pipette for watering, and water the pellet in a way that water doesn’t pool around the base of the seedling. Keep that pellet evenly moist, so it is soft and supple, not crunchy, not wet. Peat pellets actually grow moss if they remain too wet and get a lot of light.
I’ve tried sprinkling the tops of the pellets with cinnamon, and used chamomile tea (cooled) in an attempt to avoid damping off – that’s when your seedlings suddenly stop growing, then wither at the base of the stem.
Do cold-stratify your mandrake seeds. I’ve only achieved about a 30% germination rate so far, but the successes have felt truly rewarding. They need more light than I ever realised, and the combination of a lamp, peat pellets, and pipette watering are what I credit to now having three beauties I hope to spend many years with.
I have a lot more to learn:
Why do some seedlings emerge so quickly, and others do not? Do the autumnalis and officarum varieties react differently to cold stratification? I was less diligent about the daily rinse with my autumnalis seeds – is this why fewer have germinated? Would the use of different chemicals have helped? What about re-exposing the seeds and soil to a cold/dark cycle?
In terms of potting soil, I used cactus soil mix, hoping it will help keep the root dry. I would have liked to add sand to the soil mixture – I was thinking of budgie sand with oyster shells, to make the soil a bit more alkaline. I don’t have access to lime right now, and am not sure of what could be used as a substitute.
I will slowly experiment more with fertilizers – some plants need much more, but what do mandrakes need or want? Ultimately, once they have matured enough to produce healthy leaves, I will look at fertilizing them as I would root vegetables – though mandrake themselves do produce flower and fruit.
Harold Roth at Alchemy Works recommends using an organic kelp solution. I have kelp, don’t think it’s organic, and I’m concerned about a layer of mold that has grown across the top, and I’m not sure about it’s ratios. I have other generic household plant fertilizers of varying strengths and have been mostly using a very gentle orchid fertilizer mist, because I worry about “fertilizer burn”.
What about the magical experience of living mandrakes? I’ll explore this in a different post, as I think the subject of “plant spirits” is a deeply personal one.
The Poison Plant Path has never been more popular. So many occultists are offering informative and inspiring courses on the subject these days, including many practitioners who I have much admiration for. I don’t think plants are going to become a principal part of my practice, but there’s something so perfectly timed about having this adventure right now. Gardening teaches lessons in care, patience, observation, and recognising what is and isn’t in our control… Definitely areas I could use work on, and I am grateful for the gentleness of these lessons.