University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
A GARDEN OF
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
its make-believe ghosts, goblins, and witches, comes but once a
year. But you
can keep the spirit of Halloween alive by choosing plants for theme
that conjure up thoughts of this spooky day.
Granted, it's too
late in the year to actually plant the garden, and most of the
survive fall frosts and still be around for Halloween. But that
you from planning for next year now while the spirit of the season
is at hand.
Chances are you
may already have plants in your garden with ghoulish connections.
While we all
know that the broomstick-riding witches associated with Halloween
exist, folklore tells us that once upon a time anyone who was a bit
risked being called a "witch" or being accused of having special
Sometimes a woman was declared a "witch," simply because of the
plants she grew in her garden, plants thought to be used for casting
Do you have
witches' thimbles, devil's nettle, fool's parsley, or wolf's bane in
garden? If you do, and this was several centuries ago, the talk
might be that you are a "witch." Don't recognize any of those names?
may know them by other names.
is another name for foxglove, a biennial with tall spikes of large,
white, pink, purple, or red flowers. It's a source of digitalis, a
Devil's nettle or
yarrow was once used as a poultice for wounds. This plant comes in a
colors and grows to heights of two to four feet. While some species
are tall and yellow, many newer cultivars (cultivated varieties) are
short, don’t spread, and come in a range of colors.
Fool's parsley is
a hemlock herb, not to be confused with the tree although just as
Wolf's bane, or aconite, has small yellow flowers. In the 1500s it
with English yew, powdered glass, arsenic, and a number of other
ingredients to make pills. A word of caution.: if you plant any of
poisonous plants, be sure to keep curious kids and pets away.
According to folklore,
other plants that "witches" grew in their gardens include cumin and
verbena (both for love potions), opium poppies (sleep potions), and
glories (wicked spells). "Witches" also mixed monkshood, which has
spiky purple blooms, with cinquefoil, belladonna, water parsnips,
and ashes to
make a strong potion that allowed them to talk to spirits "on the
side." An ointment of monkshood and belladonna supposedly made
witches also made sure they planted flowers from every birth sign,
would have the ingredients needed to cast spells on everyone.
heather, and thorns were needed for power over a Scorpio. Someone
the sign of Aquarius could be "hexed" with potions using foxglove
For your witches'
theme garden, you also need to plant three or four rows of red
flowers--nasturtiums, geraniums, zinnias, vinca, and monarda, for
instance--around the edges of the garden to keep "witch hunters"
"witches" out, border your garden with yellow and green flowers and
foliage. Plant marigolds, rudbeckia, sunflowers, green zinnias, and
Ireland, for example. These colors remind "witches" of the sun
they supposedly hate), so they will keep their distance.
Another way to
create a Halloween theme garden is to plant only orange and black
While some gardeners may argue that there are few true black
near-black flowers are available, especially in the iris and tulip
families. There are also some pretty black pansies that will last
into fall and
maybe even to Halloween. Grow these with an orange variety called
Joker." You can find deep maroon (almost black) varieties of
buttons, snapdragons, cosmos, sunflowers, and gladioli. Check seed
ask the experts at your garden center for other varieties.
For orange, it's
easier. Many common flowers like zinnias, marigolds, daylilies, and
come in orange. You also might try butterfly weed, orange
oriental poppies. Of course many fall chrysanthemums are found in
While not in
Halloween colors, “spiky” perennials with their sinister or ghostly
can be used for contrast or accent.
Popular in recent years is the artichoke or cardoon with its large
silvery, deeply cut and sharply pointed silvery-white leaves. Or
try other silvery spiky perennials such as
globe thistle or sea holly. Yucca, or
Spanish dagger, has several cultivars all with long leaves with
Or instead, how
about plants with creepy names like bloodroot, bleeding heart,
sedum, or blood lily for your theme garden? Or scary names like
devil's tongue (also known as the voodoo lily)?
Add a few stone
gargoyles or folk art, such as that found at craft shows, like
pots (for candles) or pumpkin and Halloween character silhouettes
carved out of
wood. Or how about some orange and ghostly green lighting for the
a Halloween theme garden, you can enjoy this October holiday for
many months of