Good to Grow: Gazing into the garden

A blue gazing ball stands in a garden. Courtesy photo

I spy with my little eye, a shiny blue ball sitting among all the green in my shade garden. This gazing ball not only makes me smile, it has a history of kings, butlers, witches and fairies.

The beginning of this colorful glass sphere can be traced back to the 13th century, when they were hand blown by Italian artisans. In the 1800s, it was the Austrian “Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria who loved them so. He added them to his garden, floated them in pools of water, and hung them in trees around his castle.

Popular with Victorian aristocrats, the glass balls were often displayed in their homes. One clever use was to place these “Butler Balls” strategically in the dining room, often on the sideboard allowing servants, while outside the room, to view when their service was needed.

You think that’s clever? Gazing balls were also placed inside sitting parlors to keep an eye on young lovers during courtship.

Originally made of glass, these days you can find them made of stainless steel, acrylic, ceramic or stained glass. They come in different colors and different sizes and are often grouped together when displayed. You might see a grouping with one on a high pedestal, one on a lower stand and a third on the ground.

Gazing balls gained popularity again in the 1930s as part of the modern design movement, the graphic shape lending itself to Art Deco designs. As with most designs, they fell out of favor for a time in the 1950s, but they have always been a favorite of the Southern gardener.

The Southern host learned the trick of years-ago butlers and have been known to place these glass balls in spots to keep an eye on any glasses of iced tea that might need refilling.

A few other fun facts about this lawn ornament. It is believed that these witches’ balls can be used for protection from evil spirits. As spirits approach, they see their face in the reflective surface and are either trapped inside or scared away.

Here is where you need to be careful with the care of your gazing ball. Should the fragile ball crack or break, the captured spirits will escape. So, for our protection and that of the ball, it’s a good idea to store it inside during the winter months.

I must admit, I am a little worried about this idea of escaped spirits. My gazing ball was broken when knocked off its stand. I blame the deer and other nighttime critters, not my sweet pup. Who knows what spirits escaped back in the world?

Don’t worry, a new ball is in place and working hard to keep the little house on a big hill safe. I like to think it is even inviting fairies and other good fortunes to my home and garden.

Yard globes, mirror balls, garden globes, butler balls, witches balls, and fairy balls, regardless of the name they have been enjoyed by gardeners and others since the 13th century. How lucky are we that the tradition continues and provides enjoyment and protection in our gardens today.