I’ve been feeling a little homesick lately, and that’s put me in mind of gardenias. They are my maternal grandmother’s favorite flower, and she’s been trying to grow them up on her frigid mountain longer than I’ve been alive. Some summers, she actually manages to get a bloom or two, and she drinks up its sweet scent like an alcoholic savors his last drink. These past few years, I’ve been worried that her yearly bloom will be her last–and I think she’s been worrying too. I hope that this summer we’ll be able to enjoy the flowers together again.
With as intoxicating as the gardenia’s scent is, you’d think you’d find it appear more in magic. After all, rose and jasmine make an ample appearance–why not gardenia?
Well, I think the answer is almost certainly pragmatics. Gardenia does not produce an essential oil, nor do the dried blossoms carry much scent. There’s only a couple of ways to naturally preserve their heady notes: enfleurage and maceration. Both require a tremendous amount of flowers–more so even than essential oil distillation–and time. The basic process in both entails adding fresh blossoms to a fat, allowing the scent to diffuse, straining out the spent botanicals, and then repeating the process with fresh blooms until the desired scent level is reached. The resulting product is very expensive: a mere 2 ml of gardenia enfleurage (about as much as a sample perfume vial from the department store) will set you back $50 at least. (If you are interested in obtaining such a product, I recommend Victoire, Inc.)
The easiest way to incorporate gardenia into your magical practice is to grow the flowers fresh. The dried petals can also obviously be used in magic–just be prepared to miss their smell. You might also prepare yourself for a challenge: gardenias are sensitive plants that can be difficult even for those with the greenest of thumbs. They may be grown outdoors in hardiness zones 8-11; others will likely have to grow them indoors in containers.
If you are interested in using gardenias magically, Scott Cunningham notes that they’re about as femininely-aligned as it gets. He lists their gender as feminine, their ruling planet as the moon, and their element as water as well as noting their powers lie in “love, peace, healing, and spirituality.” More specifically he says that fresh blooms are to be put in sickrooms or on healing altars to encourage healing and to incorporate dried petals in healing incenses and other herbal mixtures. Similarly, he says scattering dried gardenia in a room brings about peaceful vibrations, as can using it in a moon incense. Obviously, they’re of great use in love work and to attract benevolent spirits in ritual; they also have a high spiritual vibration.
My own intuition on the matter is that gardenia can be used any time “social lubrication” is necessary. It seems to give people a little bit better of a grasp on their own emotions, as well as to intuit those of others. It can help people find a healthy, constructive common ground through that emotional leveling. It helps with communication in that respect, but not a communication dependent upon words.
Gardenia Planting and Care
To plant a gardenia, first choose a planting location with high humidity, bright sunlight and low salt content in the soil. The pH of the soil should be below 7.0. If you cannot meet these qualifications outdoors or in the ground, gardenia will grow well in containers and in humid sun rooms. Next, amend the soil (if planting in the ground) with peat moss or compost to improve drainage and nutrient capacity. Dig a hole in the ground as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. If planting in a container, fill the bottom of the container with soil formulated for container gardening, leaving enough room for the root ball to be inserted in the container. Place the root ball in the hole. Fill in the space around the root ball with soil, while holding the plant steady. Gardenias don’t respond well to root disturbance; take great care to ensure that the roots are not injured during this process. Water the plant deeply, then mulch around the base of the plant using wood chips or pine needles, leaving a 2- to 3-inch radius around the base of the plant free of mulch. If you are using a container, place it on a tray of wet pebbles to increase the humidity around the plant.
Once planted, you will need to water indoor gardenia on a regular schedule, once per week, and outdoor gardenia as often as needed to maintain an even level of moisture. Check outdoor soil frequently for moisture content, either with a moisture meter or by inserting your finger into the ground at a depth of 1 or 2 inches. Water outdoor plants more during periods of dry weather, and less during periods of wet weather. Water from below and avoid wetting leaves. Fertilize two times per year; once at the beginning of the spring and once at the beginning of the summer. Use an acid-loving fertilizer. If fertilizing a container plant, use a fertilizer formulated for container gardening. Run a humidifier and move an indoor gardenia plant closer to a sun-exposed window during the winter. Check plants frequently and regularly for pest problems. Gardenia plants may become infested with spider mites, aphids, mealy bugs, scales and white flies. Use insecticide on an as-needed basis. Prune the gardenia with sharp pruning shears after the blooms fall from the plant. Cut away dead wood and reduce the plant to desired size.