Hecate has written passionately piece about how her garden can be an intensely demanding lover, especially right now, when it never stops needing her attention, and the relationship, I can only imagine, is sweaty and exhausting, and I hope satisfying. I have only a few potted plants on my balcony, so I can’t describe my relationship with my plants in that way, but it made me wonder whether I can think of one of my plants as an altar.

Some time ago, my mother sent me a potted plant as part of a gift. It’s a pretty little succulent whose glossy green leaves have a thin line of contrasting reddish-purple color along their scalloped edges. When I am good at taking care of it, it rewards me with clusters of little red four-petaled flowers. I am not always good at taking care of it, but it’s teaching me, albeit slowly. Plants are often slow teachers, which is good for me when I’m being a slow learner.

One day as I was taking care of it, I found that a sizeable stalk had gotten accidentally snapped off – possibly by the cats, possibly by me pushing it up against the window carelessly. I felt bad about this, and as I hesitated to throw the broken part away, a tiny idea emerged: Couldn’t some plants propagate like this? Actually, come to think of it, I knew that jade plants, which are also succulents, could grow from cuttings, so…what if?

Not quite sure of myself, I got a water glass, ran water in it, and plunked the little stalk down it it next to the big plant, and gave it my best wishes. Much to my amazement, it worked. After just a few days, I could see tendrils of thin, white roots emerging. Over the next several days, I added just a few crystals of Miracle-Gro to the water, figuring that it needed some nutrients. When it put out new leaves, I knew it wasn’t just my imagination; this thing was actually growing!

I had to guess at the right time and sufficient root structure to actually plant it in soil and a pot of its own, but the little sprout is now growing luxuriantly. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but I hope that it will soon. Since it’s still relatively small, it spends most of its time on my desk.

I have a little mini-altar on my desk already: an inkwell, my dip pen, and a few other symbols of the Elements and Powers. But as I was watering my plants the other day, I said something like, “There you go! That should help!” to one of them, and it struck me that the watering could be a kind of offering, a libation not just to the spirits but to the very physical beings of that little corner of earth.

So I think I’m going to try cultivating a relationship with my little desk succulent wherein I regard it as an altar, a place where I come to observe and appreciate life: its, mine, and all. The difference between watering and libation may be as simple as the words I say, and the attitude I foster within myself. We’ll see. If I’m right, and it works, then this plant may become to me, for a time, more than just a plant, being also at the same time a living symbol of some of what I see as holy.

Where do you find or make your altars?

PS: Real gardeners may be horrified by my admittedly blase attitude towards the sprouting experiment. I’m sorry. I don’t even know the real name of this type of plant, and as I said, I’m still learning. Because of my many concerns with the non-plant beings in my life, plants are relatively low on my priority list. This post is about an example of changing that. Which is my way of saying: please don’t lecture me about what I should have done. I’m working on it.

11 thoughts on “My plant as an altar

  1. Enthralling tale….but isn’t it more your style to steal someone else’s garden and claim it as your own?

    1. Wow. Hostility and vague insinuations. How charming.
      Are you accusing Lit of taking your plants, or is this some kind of metaphor for … uhm… something?
      Either way, not cool.

  2. I’m inspired by this, L. I could feel little fireworks of ideas going off in my mind as I read about your experiment. As it happens, I’ve been thinking a lot about plants and how to have a deeper relationship with them. Very good food for thought!!!

    1. I’m glad! You were the one who inspired the “Mr. Leafy is my friend!” joke in the first place, which also helped me thinking about it, so I’m delighted that I was able to return some inspiration.

  3. The difference between watering and libation may be as simple as the words I say, and the attitude I foster within myself.
    Very belatedly, I just wanted to say that I really like that line.

    1. You’re not belated, and thank you! I hope to write some interesting things in the future about how that works out in practice, because so far, I’m finding it to be very true.

  4. This is so awesome… I did something like this recently, saved a cutting from my sisters ivy? and its growing so Thank you for allowing me to see it in a different light.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’ve been thinking about taking a cutting of ivy from one of my favorite natural areas around here; if you have any suggestions for how best to do that, I’d love to hear them.

  5. Loved this post, Literata! I have always considered myself to have a black thumb, but this Spring/Summer season, I have been intent on forging a new kind of relationship with my garden. A moon flower plant has been my greatest teacher, so far…

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