Try Dowsing for a Greener Garden

This ancient art of detecting water sources led to a plentiful season of gardens and flowers.


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Although I love a beautiful garden, I have always considered my own thumb to be somewhat less than green. While others coaxed luxuriant blooms and vegetables from the soil, my own results were always modest. So when dowser Marty Cain introduced me to L-rods at a sustainable building conference last spring, I was intrigued by her assertion that dowsing can be used as tool for creating a successful garden. Following her advice, I enrolled in a one-day course for beginning dowsers with the Living Waters Chapter of the American Society of Dowsers (ASD) in southern New Hampshire.

While my fellow beginners and I learned to use the various dowsing tools to detect water sources—the traditional and best-known application of this ancient art—our instructor also encouraged us to use dowsing to answer gardening questions. Returning home, I decided to let the tools help me site the replacements for two dead, deer-ravaged azaleas. Holding L-rods in my hands, I mentally defined my search: The azaleas needed a shady spot with well-drained soil, out of the path of any creature who might want to eat them. Assuming the proper posture, rods pointed forward, I began trudging through the shaded sections of the landscape, visualizing my new azaleas as the healthy, blooming specimens I wanted them to become. The L-rods finally crossed at a point near some stone steps not far from the back door of my house.

I made my plantings there, and after an entire cold season the shrubs are still healthy, full of buds, and untouched by the local herbivores—my first garden dowsing success. This year, I plan to use dowsing to site some beds for annuals and vegetables, as well as take the rods to the local nursery to help me choose the best and healthiest specimens for planting.

How dowsing works

Although dowsers have different preferences in tools—some like L-rods, others pendulums, still others the traditional, forked, green branch—dowsing equipment has no inherent power to access information.

Dowsers assume that the world and its contents all pulsate with energy. They also assume the human capacity to detect and differentiate various energies in their surroundings. The living human body acts as the detecting antenna for specific energies—an underground stream or, in the case of gardening, a hospitable site for azaleas—and the dowsing equipment serves as a reader for what we discover. The rods, pendulum, or wand simply make the answers received in the search more apparent.

Dowsing instructor Dave Royer, who taught the course I attended, acknowledges, “Before the modern era and the invention of tools, humans had the capacity to use their bodies in ways we would now consider ultrasensitive.” Without the use of a compass, the ancients could find their way over long distances. They could sense the presence of animal or human predators. They learned the difference between beneficial and harmful plants. Dowsing can put us in touch with this ancient capacity to acquire knowledge through the redevelopment of our body’s sensitivity to its environment.

Garden dowsing

Acquiring specific knowledge about gardening—or anything else—through dowsing requires the use of very specific questions. Thus, in choosing or placing plants, the dowser asks questions that account for as many variables as possible.

For example, in selecting seeds with a dowsing tool, one asks for:

  • Seeds that will successfully germinate;
  • Seeds that will thrive in the selected spot, where they will have sufficient sun and water supply and will remain free from pests and predators;
  • Seeds that will produce healthy flowers or fruit.

In looking for an appropriate spot for the garden patch, one can use the rods to point out the dimensions or shape of a garden. The dowser can ask, “Show me the perimeter of this garden.” To further define the correct space, one asks questions intended to locate:

  • A spot that is free of large obstructions (rocks and roots);
  • Soil that will be appropriate for the plantings;
  • A spot with good drainage;
  • A location that is unappealing to pests and predators.

“The better your questions, the more accurate the results of your dowsing will become,” says Royer, a twenty-year member of ASD who has been dowsing since he was nine years old. He notes that dowsers who make a living by finding water sources use many questions to find the best place for a well, starting with the need for the water to be drinkable and for the well to produce at a minimum desired volume.

In addition to answering questions about which plants and seeds to use in the garden, where to put various beds and plantings, which seeds are viable, which should be kept, and the timing of planting and harvest, dowsing can also be used to find specific energies in the landscape. These may affect not only the health and growth of plantings, but also make certain spots appropriate for spirit-enhancing seating areas, meditation spots, or water features that humans will be drawn to.

Think about these questions, then use the dowsing tools to locate your personal, sacred space in the landscape.

  • What place on my property will be conducive to calm reflection?
  • What place is free from biting insects and will not disturb other creatures?
  • What place will bring me a feeling of well-being and peace when I go there?
  • A pendulum is another favorite dowsing tool. On a six-inch string, secure any object weighing between 1/4 and 1/2 ounce, such as a ring or a hex nut. Hold the string between thumb and forefinger and position the pendulum over one knee; a clockwise circular motion is often obtained as the positive response, counterclockwise as negative.
  • A wand or a bobber is a third type of device. Often made of metal with a spiral base that allows it to move freely, this tool may circle or move up and down for a positive response, then do the opposite as a negative response.
  • Y-rods, which are the modern derivative of the forked stick, are often made of pliable plastic tubing. Many inexperienced dowsers find these to be somewhat difficult to work with, although they give a pronounced response, swinging abruptly downward or upward over a target once the dowser has learned the proper hold.