The wheel can be planted with perennial and annual herbs, or feature only medicinal herbs. Or it can encompass a wide variety of culinary, tea, heirloom or healing herbs, grasses, shrubs and cacti. Medicine wheel gardens are intensely personal, and one’s choice of plants, materials and symbolic ornaments reflects the inner garden of the spirit. Start with selections to suit the soil and climate of your site.
I’m going to plant a mix of perennial flowers and herbs whose color at some stage of development coordinates with the colors symbolic of the related cardinal direction. (See the list at the end of this blog). I’m also going to make this a Mother Goose garden to please my 5-year-old grandson. Remember the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘Scarborough Fair’? The refrain “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” gave me the idea to include those classic Mediterranean herbs for both color and fragrance. Since my Medicine Wheel will be located next to Paul’s vegetable garden, I’m hoping he will help Alex pick herbs for cooking. Considering how kids love to touch and sniff, I figure growing gardens and growing children are natural complements, right?
Location and Size
Medicine wheels are sometimes built big enough to walk around in. Some are built with a fire pit, an animal skull, or a peace pole in the center. Some are built with animal totems, others with items that hold particular meaning. Some mark their quadrants with colored flags, depictions of the four Archangels, or stones of personal meaning or from places of power. Nothing you choose is right or wrong, just make it a depiction of your life. Here are some guidelines that might help in the beginning:
*Put the wheel in an area that is readily accessible but won’t be disturbed. You want to be able to use it, but not have it be a distraction to other activities.
*Put it in a sacred space. Most of the plants I’ve selected require full sunlight, but you may decide the land under your favorite tree is perfect and select shade-loving plants.
*It’s important to ask the nature spirits to give permission for use of the plot of land you have chosen and to bless it. As you build your communication within this space, your creativity will take on a special quality. With sacred intent at work in your space, all your energies will reap greater reward.
I’m making my own outdoor circle 8’ diameter so it will be big enough to walk around and through in any direction, but small enough that it won’t encroach on the dog’s grassy area. So I will measure my rope length at 4’ and pace the perimeter, marking each direction, and placing a fist-sided stone or another anchor stake every few feet in my path.
Depending on the size of your circle, you will need quite a few stones to mark the entire rim, a central circle and the interior lines connecting the east-west and north-south points on the outer circle, so keep the temporary center pole in place until your medicine wheel architecture is in place.
Once your outer stone circle is in place, you can mark the cardinal directions. Stand at the center of your medicine wheel and find north on the compass. Holding the compass steady so the needle moves as little as possible, walk a straight northward line to your stone circle. Set a temporary pole at this point. Repeat the same procedure to find south and place another temporary pole. Now tie the cord you used before one of these two poles and carry it across the circle to the other one. When you stretch the cord taut, you know you’ve done things right if it passes across the center of the medicine wheel. Place marking stones along the path of the cord as a guide for making the giant interior cross, which will divide your medicine wheel garden into quadrants. Take the same steps for finding east and west on the outer circle.
Clear out the interior of the circular garden by removing any sod or rocks. Rake it smooth. If need be, amend the soil with compost and a small amount of bone meal. Any other soil needs will depend on the plants and herbs you choose. In general, soil should be well-draining and slightly alkaline.
Lay plastic or landscape cloth from each outer stake to the center to form paths and then spread your gravel, rocks, wood chips or other material over the paths. Replace the four directional stakes with large rocks. These represent the spirit keepers of each direction and may be adorned with drawings or artifacts.
Use bricks, wood, smaller stones, or even seashells to edge the bisection paths and outline the circle.
Medicine Wheel Symbols & Plants
Center –The center of the medicine wheel, the Creator, stands alone. The object depicting the Creator force can be a large stone of any sort, a buffalo or steer skull, or an object of deep significance to you. Some ideas for Center: a small contained fire pit or fire orb; buffalo or steer skull; unusual wood piece; large stone or crystal cluster. The Creator is the beginning of life and its ending, the great mystery within all things. Because the Creator is within everything there are no totems associated with this position.
Every person who comes into this garden will be invited to bring a small stone to place at the base of the pole with the thoughts, “I lay here my prayers for peace and understanding.” Soon this central area will become a prayer cairn around the peace pole.
North -Represents Earth, a time of hibernation, the place for mental growth and wisdom. North is the direction of night, and actualization of intentions. It is the resting place of our ancestors and the gateway to what is coming next. It’s the direction for mental growth and wisdom.
For North I’m using a large piece of white alabaster stone with a raven totem painted on it. Raven is my personal totem, so I’m breaking Native tradition by using her instead of white buffalo. Yes, we get to make those choices for our own wheel. The plantings in the North quarter will be WHITE: sweet alyssum, asteraceae, and Shasta daisy. With them I’m mixing in the herbs Echinacea (purple coneflower), lemon verbena, garlic chive, bearberry and sweet grass if I can get it to grow.
East (Totem- eagle) – Represents Air for new beginnings and creativity, finding your voice. It is the spiritual direction. The gifts of this direction include spontaneity, playfulness, inquisitiveness and truth saying.
South (Totem- Coyote) – Represents Fire, growth and self-assurance and enthusiasm. It is the place to meditate on matters of the heart. Growth here is directed exploration. This is the place to seek your visions and ask Creator to point you in the direction you should go—and then follow it rapidly and with vigor
For South I’m using a serpentine stone and a coyote totem. Plantings will be predominantly RED: bee balm, lobelia cardinalis, Salvia, borage, begonia, and nasturtium. Herbs will include calendula, white sage and yarrow.
For West I’m using a large soapstone and a small bear totem .Flowers will be BLUE and PURPLE: Lavender, larkspur, iris, hollyhock, bellflower and verbena. For herbs I’ll add purple chili pepper, skullcap, chamomile, mint and sage. Also some mugwort for dreaming, and some type of wilderness water feature like this one.
Additional details can be added to a medicine wheel garden to personalize it even more. Things like statuary, orbs, crystals, or other garden art will truly make the space into your own sacred space.
Next week I share some reflections on Father’s Day and Summer Solstice.
Until then, work on those gardens!