As I watch the snow failing outside my window, I am amazed at how my garden has been transformed. Just yesterday, I was watching the bulbs poking up their green curiosities, my snowdrops were beginning to bloom and the hellebores were starting to unfurl their buds. I was thinking how I really needed to get my act together and winter sow more of my seeds into their milk jugs which have been sitting in three big black plastic garbage bags on my front porch (a very white trash look FYI) for three weeks now awaiting a cleaning. I was starting to worry about all the winter weeds I needed to start digging up and pulling out, and about all the old foliage that needed to be pruned off, the deadheading I never finished in the fall, the fertilizer I was going to have to put down, the broken twigs I need to clean out of all the beds, and everything else the garden was crying up for. My garden to do list was building as was my anxiety.
But now, as my garden is transformed by silent white velvet, I am calmed.
I believe all gardening is therapeutic and all gardens have the ability to sooth. I also believe that your ability to become more tranquil in the garden can be achieved equally through a day of weeding as it can be by raking pebbles and contemplating your own toes, and I think it has a lot more to do with ones personality, then ones surrounding. However, if like me, you are a somewhat hyperconscious critter, sometimes you need a little help learning to slow down.
This is where the mediation or serenity garden becomes a good idea. No matter how large your land, or how big an outdoor space you have, you can always find a way to create a moment within it where you can escape the stresses of everyday life, and for some of us the stresses of the rest of the garden!
The goal is to create a space that is relaxing, beautiful and serene. Of course, for every person, these criteria are defined differently, so it’s important you be honest with yourself when you are creating your space. For me, lush greenery is relaxing, but you might want the sound of running water. Some of us will want to sit, others might want a labyrinth to walk. Wind chimes might irritate you but could sooth and calm your best friend. It’s all very personal.
There are some qualities that everyone will enjoy, the first being a sense of privacy. Whether you’re going to go to your garden to do downward dog or to watch the moonrise, your space should be your own, whether hedged in or tucked away behind another area the same sense of security you got from creating a fort in the dunes as a child should be the goal. I personally would use plants, but this can also be done with fencing or an arbor or a gazebo.
Next, you have to make sure your garden is comfortable when you want to use it. If you are going to spend a lot of time there on winter mornings you need it to be sheltered from the wind but maybe exposed to the sun. If it’s going to be the place you go on summer afternoons, you might want to have a shady corner be your space. I have a client who, after a long discussion, came to the realization that he likes to watch shooting stars. For him, we’re planning on cutting out a space in his woods to create a sunken paved area. Exposed to the sun during the day, the stones will heat up and radiate warmth into his back and shoulders as he quietly lies watching the show that is the night sky.
I am terrible at mediating. I can’t just sit and contemplate, I would need something to do, so for me a labyrinth I could walk would be very helpful. A labyrinth is not a maze, a maze has many entrances and dead ends and it’s real purpose is to confound and confuse. A labyrinth is uni-cursal, meaning it has only one path, and it’s purpose is to take the person on the path to it’s center. The journey of this path, from the outside to the inside, is a walk where you can quiet your mind and find the center, not just of the labyrinth, but of yourself. A labyrinth is not normally walled, but is either mown or paved or created in such a way as to allow you smooth and unfettered passage. Remember this when you are creating it.
I would love to be able to appreciate a Japanese Zen type garden with pebbles I could rake, but I know that it would be, for me, very stressful. What with trying to keep the chickens and dogs out, and worrying about whether it was clean enough, or which way the stones should go, this type of garden would just key me up. Perhaps you are different. If so then it’s important to create this garden with a strongly defined edge to keep the sand and pebbles from escaping as they are raked.
I always thought a moon garden would be wonderfully calming. Planted with nothing but white flowers to reflect the moonlight and night scented plants to perfume the air, and a smoochy, cushioned, cuddling area, I can’t think of anything more extraordinarily peaceful. I also believe it would be wonderful to have a place where I could sit outside in a summer rain storm and watch the water fall without getting wet. That kind of serene spot is going to take me a little more time and finagling to get going. It’s far easier to get the gentle sounds of into my serenity area with an outdoor electric outlet and a recycling fountain. The best thing about running water is that it can cancel out all other noises, especially those in your head, if you can just focus on the water and how it sounds as it falls.
One of my favorite clients has created an incredible perennial garden that is, in many ways, a serenity garden. Filled with paths that weave through trees and planting beds and then out into the lawn and then back into the flowers, there are various fountains, benches and sculptures for you to discover. These are places you can pause and contemplate and admire before you travel on through the garden. It is an incredibly serene place for me to visit, although it’s owner says he has a hard time not noticing the bits that need weeding and the plants that are crying out for dividing when he’s trying to be contemplative.
Another client has a garden where he cuts off all the flowers from every plant so his entire experience is a surrounding sea of subtle texture and color changes, all in the key of green. A third has a side area in front of his house which is two large square boxes of lavender that is complete hedged in. For him, his quietude is driven entirely by scent. I had a client who had the most beautiful moss garden I’ve ever seen, but they sold their house to someone who found the garden oppressive and transformed it into a square of full-sun flowers. To each his own.
I think the important thing to remember is to be true and honest with yourself about what you really like and what you really need. An approach to life that will work not only for creating a mediation garden, but also in almost every other aspect.
Paige Patterson is most serene when she has a trunk full of flowering plants that she got for a great price.