One of my favorite aspects of my gardens is the surprise of modest “altars” here and there, and the delightful art and serendipity of discovering ways to arrange them.
I used to have some unconscious fear of altars. When a friend once called my collection of candles that had accumulated on a dresser top along with a few pretty stones and other natural objects my “altar,” I immediately corrected him and scattered the items around the house, thinking “I’m not Catholic or Buddhist! Why would he think I had an altar?”
But they bothered me scattered everywhere, and soon I’d re-created the “altar” unintentionally.
Then a book entitled “Alters” came into my life. I wasn’t sure where it came from, and I’m not sure where it went, but it had a profound effect on my life.
The author was a big fan of alters and claimed she had one in every room of her house and around her garden. She used them to sanctify every space for its intended purpose.
In her kitchen, she gathered her prettiest kitchen tools into her prettiest pottery vase and surrounded that with a candle and items that spoke to her of nutrition, healing, art, and love.
In her office, she gathered instruments of writing that were especially pretty, a nice fountain pen, pretty scissors and letter opener, and placed near them favorite books of quotes and others about writing.
She also used altars for healing, and I tried one of her ideas to heal what I’d recently felt keenly – my lack of female friendships. I didn’t think I had anything in the house to remind me of female friends or acquaintances, and was about the give up the task, when I saw a scarf my daughter had given me, then a candle a woman acquaintance had given me, then a crystal another woman had given me, and then a book, and in no time I had gathered – to my profound surprise – quite a few items that had been simple but lovely gestures of friendship, which I had failed to recognize!
I arranged the items, lit the candle, sat before my new altar, and cried. After that, I noticed and remembered gifts, didn’t take them for granted or hide them away as meaningless, as I think I had in the past, too afraid to believe that I might have a friend. Ah, our neuroses! But I was healing.
Since then, I’ve been a big fan of altars, and I now have them all over the garden.
The main one features Mother Mary! I bought it at the local hardware store when it seemed to “call” me over a period of more than a year while I tried to ignore her! Finally, I heaved a sigh, paid the price and brought her home – and have loved her ever since.
She’s had various homes in the house and garden, and recently became the top piece for a waterfall and pond, which I describe fully with photos and video on this post.
Most of my altars are unfinished, “in process,” and that’s half the fun.
In this photo, I put together two items that look like birds, one crystal and another common stone.
Below, on the ground, I stacked two rocks to hide a hole in the fence, and topped them with a fossil that might warrant more central placement or a less inglorious purpose, but it’s fine for now, and I’ll move it when I get the notion.
This cluster of stones, crystals, wood, and water bowl has changed arrangements repeatedly. Again, I’m hiding some imperfection near the front door of this old house, and I’ve changed these items quite a few times, recently adding the upright branch with a hollow base. It’s far from elegant, but I still think of the collection – with crystals and a sphere of crystal – as an alter greeting our guests. One day, a better arrangement might become clear to me; meantime, I enjoy changing it around.
This next is not an altar, but a bouquet of dried stalks of grains that sprouted beneath the bird feeder last year. I hung it on the fence for the birds to find – a more natural environment for their food, I thought, and transition from bagged bird food (very bad for the environment and the birds) to natural bird food. And it’s pretty while it awaits discovery.
Is it stretching things to call a single stone an altar? Perhaps, but I made sure this beauty was placed so that its crystal hole would be noticed and appreciated. It gives me pause, makes me slow down and admire it, a good thing for a fast-moving person like myself. Small thing, but healing.
These two pottery pieces were seconds in need of repair, which I haven’t gotten around to, but which still add beauty and function to the garden. The large pottery collects rainwater, and the smaller one is topped with an odd piece filled with water and crystals, which serves as a birdbath. Beneath, I’ve gathered other round dishes, some hidden in the foliage, for the lizards which serve the garden as pest control. Collecting similarly-sized shapes and colors of items is a basic rule of decorating, and easy.
I chose the center of the front yard for the little circle of four arm-in-arm friends. It seemed perfect for the entryway to our home. The largest crystals (one year I bought quite a few) had no place to go, so I found an arrangement I liked, and added a tiny open geode to the center of the hugging friends.
Tell me about your garden altars!