In the Stars: Astro-Gardening and Horticultural Horoscopes
So, you’ve just condemned Maidenhair Fern III to the compost heap. Just like all the other maidenhairs you’ve loved before, it now sits curled and withering in the corner, its once soft green tendrils crunchy and brown. BUT WHY? you scream to the heavens in anguish. You read all the books this time – protected the plant from every draft, made detailed observations about its soil moisture, even purchased the organic indoor plant spray whose price tag made your eyes water. And still, the fern was repelled by your love. But what if I told you that traumatic plant deaths like Mr Maidenhair and his predecessors might have less to do with your horticultural skills, and a whole lot more to do with the alignment of Mercury on the day you were born? A galactic realm of information awaits, written in the stars above. And within it is the possibility of comprehending the greatest questions of humankind: Who we are, how we should live, who we should love, and how on earth should we garden.
A short history of astrology
For thousands of years, humans have been mapping their fortunes by the patterns of the cosmos. For those living in the ancient world, the phases of the moon and the movement of the skies created a calendar which determined how every aspect of life was to be lived across the seasons. In Ancient Egypt for example, the rising of the mid-year Dog Star, Sirius, predicted the approach of the annual flood of the Nile, and the appearance of Orion foretold the arrival of Winter. The skies were also compasses by which travellers of both land and sea could navigate their journeys. On their passage to America, for instance, British colonisers determined their co-ordinates by the height of Polaris in the night sky.
But the use of the heavens went far beyond predicting the practical lives of ancient civilisations. Although today we understand astronomy to be the scientific study of the sun, moon, planets and stars, and astrology as a system of interpreting the supposed effects of these cosmic forms upon the human existence, the ancients believed the two practices to be mysterious parts of the same whole.
In Mesopotamia (the birthplace of modern day astrology), Greece, where the thirteen signs of the tropical Zodiac were named, and also in Egypt, Rome and India, the Gods presented themselves in the celestial images of the stars whom they were associated with – Marduk and Ninurta in Babylon, Ares and Aprodite in Greece, Osiris and Thoth in Egypt, Jupiter and Ceres in Rome, and Surya and Buddha in Hindu India. The movement of these constellations across the year, and the events that took place during this time, were believed to reflect the changing thoughts and feelings of the deities, and furthermore, impart similar features and bestow secret knowledge upon people born beneath them.
Ptolemy’s four-part text, Tetrabiblos, written in the 2nd Century AD, would be the key to modernising the star gazing of the ancient world by considering the effects of astronomical cycles upon earthly matter as a genuine area of study. The text examined the notion of horoscopes – or how the characteristics of a person could be divined through the positioning of the planets and the stars from the moment of their birth – and provided theological tolerance of astrology as a natural science. Before long, astrology was studied in universities across Medieval Europe, with respect for the practice during the Renaissance so great that medical practitioners were required by law to consult the positioning of the planets before commencing a difficult operation.
This legitimacy would soon fall out of popularity among the scholars of Europe, with powerful religious groups arguing that the practice promoted pagan ideologies, witchcraft and incompatible belief systems. Sceptics, meanwhile, doubted its accuracy and validity, and the scientific community repeatedly failed to find evidence to support the information outlined in astrological texts.
And yet. Against all fact, reason and evidence, the intense human fascination with the mysteries of the galaxies – and intertwined within this, our fates and fortunes – continues to this day. According to a recent article in The New Yorker, astrology is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity among educated Millennials – a decline in organised religion, the rise of economical precariousness and political panic cited as reasons for this broadening cultural acceptance. In a 2017 Pew Research Centre poll, almost thirty per cent of Americans said they believed in astrology, with the number of people knowing their Sun Sign, consulting their horoscope or reading about the sign of a romantic partner recorded as much higher than this.
What is clear is that humans are obsessed by the desire to understand themselves and their place in this strange and unpredictable world. From the moment we awaken each day, questions of what we should be looking for in a romantic partner, which career path we should be walking, and what kind of oasis we should be tending to in our backyards can whirl through our minds in a looping, chaotic mess.
This is where astrology, as a system of finding answers and making sense of the compost heap, comes in.
A (very) basic guide to the Tropical Zodiac
Most Western cultures follow the Tropical Zodiac, a derivative of Babylonian and Hellenistic astrology systems.
There are 13 constellations of the Tropical Zodiac, however Ophiuchus isn’t included by most astronomers in standard astrological zodiacs. The remaining 12 constellations are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.
Each of these are called Star Signs or Sun Signs as they reflect the area the sun was traveling through during the year.
Each Star Sign has a range of characteristics attributed to them, a ruling planet and is represented by an animal or figure.
Each Star Sign also belongs to one of the four elements: earth (sometimes called root), air, fire or water.
Each Star Sign also displays the quality of either cardinal (self-motivated, active, ambitious), fixed (stable, determined, persistent) or mutable (adaptable, flexible, sympathetic).
Horticultural Horoscopes, or how to determine your gardening persona by your Star Sign
In the same way that the destinies of people might be determined by the cosmos, so might the fortunes of the plants growing in our gardens. Say goodbye to premature plant deaths forever with our handy horticultural horoscope!
Aries – March 21-April 20
Symbol: The Ram
Ruling Planet: Mars
Flower: Geraniums and Honeysuckle
Tree: Thorn bearing trees such as hawthorns and Honey Locusts
Plants to avoid: Slow growing plants and trees, such as conifers and Japanese maples. Soft foliaged plants that may be torn or burned by your passion
Garden quirks: The best time of day for an Aries to garden is with the rising sun
As the first sign of the zodiac, Aries love new beginnings, and are always thinking of areas to add to the garden or plants to experiment with. Energetic, dramatic and passionate, the garden of an Aries is big and bold, with well organised flower beds or pots mass planted with flowering plants in vibrant colours of red, orange and yellow. They are drawn to bulbs like lilies, gladioli, dahlias and daffodils which welcome the new season with their bright, colourful blooms, or flowers like four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) which open with sunrise each day. Aries can be short-tempered and impatient, with whole garden beds often uprooted and replaced overnight. Because of this, they should plant annuals or fast-growing shrubs like roses and honeysuckle – slow growing trees and shrubs will reveal how impatient and explosive an Aries can be!
Taurus – April 21-May 20
Symbol: The Bull
Ruling Planet: Venus
Plants to avoid: Ugly plants, spindly plants, weeds
Garden quirks: Taureans are the most likely to grow an erotic garden
Ruled by the Goddess Aphrodite, Taureans are earthy beings deeply in touch with their surroundings and obsessed by the pursuit of beauty. Due to their sensual natures, Taurean gardens are places of pleasure and delight, with touch, smell and taste integral elements. Soft, textured plants like lambs ear (Stachys byzantine) and hostas, fragrant shrubs like daphne and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), and delicious fruits ready to be plucked and eaten from the stem such as figs, apples and pomegranates should be grown in every Taurean garden. Taureans can be vain and self-indulgent – make sure you have very few reflective surfaces like water or mirrors in the garden, in case they get lost staring into their own reflections forever!
Gemini – May 21- June 20
Symbol: The Twins
Ruling Planet: Mercury
Tree: Nut trees
Plants to avoid: Any temperamental or high maintenance plant
Garden quirks: Gemini are clever, bookish people – why not bring the library into the garden to create a space perfect for intellectual stimulation?
Gemini are curious, youthful and clever beings, much more at home in a university or library than in a garden. This isn’t to say they are bad gardeners – but that a Gemini’s garden should be designed with the intent of bringing people together for intellectual stimulation, such as garden club meetings and book clubs. Due to their frustrations with routine, Gemini can struggle with houseplants (a.k.a. Gemini = Maidenhair fern murderers) or any plant that requires regular and ongoing maintenance (think roses, clipped shrubs or peonies). Stimulate Gemini’s love for change by planting ornamental grasses, deciduous trees and winter flowering shrubs like witch hazels to create movement and excitement within the garden, flowering annuals to attract humming bees and birds. Tough indoor plant species in a range of shapes of sizes can be grown in the house of a Gemini, but be sure to move these around regularly to maintain their interest. Perhaps also employ a house plant waterer if you wish to avoid mass plant death.
Cancer – June 21- July 21
Symbol: The Crab
Ruling Planet: The Moon
Tree: Any tree rich in sap
Scent: Night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum)
Plants to avoid: Cacti
Garden quirks: Natural nurturers, Cancer’s have a knack for growing complex plant species with hyper sensitive needs. Think orchids
Highly emotional, sensitive and intuitive beings, Cancers require a garden of solitude and escape from the outside world. Imaginative and creative, Cancer’s gardens should include long winding paths lined by flowering shrubs, hidden nooks and corners, bodies of water and large drooping tree canopies with green understoreys or ferns and woodland plants to hide among. With the moon as their ruling planet, Cancers prefer grey, silver and purple flowering plants such as artemesia, teucrium and lavender, night flowering plants such as brugmansia and members of the nightshade family. Cancers can become overly sentimental and nostalgic among their gardens, wallowing in self-pity rather than getting outside to interact with people.
Leo – July 22-August 21
Symbol: The Lion
Ruling Planet: The Sun
Tree: Bay laurel
Plants to avoid: Soft foliaged plants that may be torn or damaged by Leo’s big personality
Garden quirks: With their competitive natures and loud personalities, Leo’s make ideal flower show growers. Leo’s probably shouldn’t be left with secateurs in the garden for long periods of time
Loud, passionate Leos love being the centre of attention and their wild, colourful gardens should reflect this too. Favouring bright and bold colours of yellow, orange and gold that mimic their warm-hearted nature, Leos prefer growing sunflowers, dahlias, spiky aloes, zygocactus and rhipsalis which imitate their flowing manes. Highly creative, Leo gardens are places of artistic stimulation, with big dramatic sculptures, sun dials and spaces for creating with friends. Fire should be at the heart of any Leo garden, with a fire pit, pizza oven or barbecue stimulating their animated personalities. Like fire, Leos should remember they can burn out too quickly, exhausting themselves from social interaction or offending visitors with their loudness. Luckily, their garden is always there to provide space for recharging whenever they need a time out.
Virgo – August 22-September 21
Symbol: The Virgin
Ruling Planet: Mercury
Flower: Forget-me-nots (Myosotis)
Tree: Nut trees
Scent: Lemon verbena
Plants to avoid: Cacti, plants that don’t enjoy being pruned, climbing plants, rhipsalis
Garden quirks: With their careful plant management, Virgos make exceptionally good vegetable gardeners
Careful, meticulous Virgos are extremely well-organised perfectionists, and their carefully tended gardens often reflect this. Favouring a tight, conservative style, the green space of a Virgo might include clipped buxus balls and yew shapes in pots, iceberg roses and espaliered trees. Highly detail-oriented, the garden of a Virgo is seemingly perfect to any visitor, without a single sign of a weed or insect infestation. The overly critical Virgo however will constantly see faults, obsessively labouring over every plant in the garden, not welcoming any assistance from others. Due to their methodical nature, and being highly attuned to the needs and wants of each individual plant, Virgos are great plant collectors, succulent growers and terrarium gardeners.
Libra – September 22-October 21
Symbol: The Scales
Ruling Planet: Venus
Plants to avoid: Spikey plants like berberis, hawthorn and japonica
Garden quirks: Ruled by the Goddess of love and beauty, Libra’s have a secret love for all things opulent and lavish. Add a marble bust or pot to the back corner of your garden space to make a Libra’s heart sing
Symbolised by the Scales, gentle, caring Libras are passionate about justice and equality which is reflected in their well-balanced and graceful gardens. Driven by a desire for harmony, the green spaces of Libras are often influenced by the symmetry and formality of French parterre gardens. At the same time, Libra’s also enjoy experimenting with less-popular plants and weeds, and they have a unique talent for making every garden space look lush and beautiful. Like other Air signs, it is important for the gardens of Libras to be designed around creating space for people to sit and discuss important topics. Though they are praised for their fairness, Libras are ruled by the Goddess Aphrodite, and must be wary of falling into the trap of vanity and hedonism.
Scorpio – October 22-November 21
Symbol: The Scorpion
Ruling Planet: Pluto
Flower: Dark red flowers
Scent: Black orchid
Colour: Dark grey
Plants to avoid: Granny plants, pink flowering plants, soft foliaged plants that might be punctured by the Scorpio’s razor sharp tail
Garden quirks: Watch out for large dogs in the garden of a Scorpio – you should only enter if you have been specifically invited in!
With their tough outer shell and solitary natures, Scorpios can be some of the hardest people to get to know. This can often be reflected by their high-walled gardens that create privacy for Scorpio’s but keep the drama and excitement of the world outside. Highly resourceful and self-sufficient, the gardens of Scorpios can be grown almost entirely from propagation. The plant palette might include spiky shrubs like grevilleas, acacias, hawthorns, cacti and flowering quince, that keep people from entering within, whilst still allowing birds and small animal life inside. Composting, worm farms and graveyards are usually found within these gardens, as Scorpio’s are fascinated by death, decay and the cycle of rebirth. Despite their tough outer shell, Scorpios are fiercely loyal and protective of their family and friends. If you are invited within the garden of a Scorpio, its protection from the outside will look after you also.
Sagittarius – November 22-December 21
Symbol: The Archer
Ruling Planet: Jupiter
Scent: Orange blossom
Plants to avoid: Conventional plants, buxus, hydrangeas, spathiphyllums
Garden quirks: Sagittarius are always thinking about the next great adventure. Their houses should include big windows to gaze out across the garden to the horizon and beyond
People born beneath the constellation of Sagittarius have a passion for travel and adventure, which is echoed within the exotic plants and shrubs growing within their gardens. Sagittarius gardens are places of excitement and intrigue, with paths leading to areas that showcase plants of diffent colour, texture and gardening styles. Extroverted and enthusiastic, Sagittarius gardens might include strange and unusual plants collected during their travels which exhibit exciting behaviours, such as carnivorous plants, titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), stinking corpse lily (Rafflesia arnoldii), nerve plant (Fittonia albivenis) and lithops. Impatience and tactlessness are negative traits of a Sagittarius, so a big friendly dog to win back the favour of visitors is important in their gardens.
Capricorn – December 22-January 20
Symbol: The Goat
Ruling Planet: Saturn
Tree: Cherry blossom
Plants to avoid: Unruly shrubs, weeds
Garden quirks: Capricorns are known to play classical music and sing to their plants
The garden space of hard working and disciplined Capricorns should reflect reflect their strong self-control and eye for detail. Exceptionally skillful with a pair of secateurs, Capricorns favour Japanese Zen gardening, bonsai and topiary, and can often be found outside pruning their plants after a stressful day of work. Running water and a stone bench to sit upon within their garden space will provide another outlet for Capricorns to unpack their often overly full minds. Capricorns are very thrifty gardeners, and are known for their skill in collecting seed and raising plants from cuttings. Beneath their very serious exteriors, Capricorns have a very playful side, although they often forget to show it. Don’t be surprised if you turn a corner within their tamed, ordered gardens to find a pornographic image splayed across a wall!
Aquarius – January 21-February 19
Symbol: The Water Carrier
Ruling Planet: Uranus
Plants to avoid: Roses
Garden quirks: Aquarians are the most likely to be featured in a weird plant collectors magazine
Eccentric and energetic, Aquarians love collecting strange and unusual plants, and showing these off to visiting humanitarian groups or at parties with their friends. This love for weirdness extends to the vegetable patch where Aquarians are known for growing experimental foods outside of their usual palettes, such as black radish, fiddleheads and dulse. Because of their love for meeting new people and sharing knowledge, Aquarians often work in community gardens where they trade seeds, cuttings and stories of the latest political upheaval with new friends. Despite their confident air, Aquarians hate being alone with themselves. They should always have water and flowering plants in their gardens to attract birds and starve off loneliness.
Pisces – February 20-March 20
Symbol: The Fish
Ruling Planet: Neptune
Flower: Water lily
Scent: Lily of the Valley
Plants to avoid: Spiky plants, plants that require a lot of maintenance
Garden quirks: Pisces are natural gardeners but be sure to check on them regularly, they may be so visually engaged with their plant spaces that they forget to come inside!
Compassionate and gentle Pisces are highly sensitive and imaginative beings, which is reflected in their rambling, misty gardens. Like all water signs, Pisces long for privacy and solitude, and their woodland gardens offer hidden nooks and benches for quiet contemplation. Ruled by Neptune, a water feature or a koi pond is essential to the garden of a Pisces, as it will restore their feelings of hopelessness after a difficult day. Soft and feminine, the Pisces garden should feature rambling, flowering shrubs, twisting paths and wild flowers sprouting between the pavers. As Pisces are natural dreamers and romantics, medicinal and hallucinogenic plants can be added to the garden border to increase their creative capacity.