African slaves pre- and post-slavery held gardening traditions with spiritual roots that some blacks in America carry forward today. Traditions like upside-down glass bottles hanging from tree limbs are meant to capture evil spirits that might get into the yard. The bottles were typically blue, the color that repels evil spirits. The appearance of vertical pipes in the ground are meant to allow the spirits of ancestors to communicate with the living.
Items in the garden that are colored white signify a color of good character. Traditional African gardens are gateless, indicating to visitors that they are always welcome. And the dirt was raked in a circular manner to give the space a calm, open feeling and to keep evil away.
Rich images of African Americans who have added the past horticulture to their own backyards can be found in a book by photographer Vaughn Sills entitled “Places for the Spirit — Traditional African American Gardens.” Stills from Sills book can be found at the Cleveland Botanical Garden in a new photo exhibit through Sunday, Sept. 29.