By Guest Writer Lynda Abdo.
Nature is nourishing and vital to our well-being. Gardens of all kinds call us to slow down to smell the roses. A meditation garden is a special outdoor space separated from the main yard that allows a person to relax in natural surroundings. Being in a private natural space can do wonders for one’s peace of mind. It is a place where we can be born anew.
According to California landscape designer, Denise Buchanan, gardens are a metaphor of life. They allow one to see the perfect balance that exists in nature and cultivate the perfect soil, plant seeds of prosperity, sink roots deep down, and pluck out the weeds of one’s disharmony. Gardening can be an inner exercise of creating an ideal world.
Meditation gardens are simple and beautiful to make. Any shape or size will do, but ideally it is buffered from nearby traffic or noise. Even if you don’t have the time or money to make a garden, you can start cheaply by picking a comfortable chair outside in a semi-private spot – and arranging a simple container garden to use as a focal point.
To begin visualizing your garden, be sure to incorporate things you love. Your imagination is the limit. Look through books or magazines for inspiration. Plant your favorite flowers, scents, and colors. Then this “outdoor” room will continue to uplift you for many years to come. A central focal point can be a water fountain, garden sculpture, large crystal, special planting group, or even a birdbath. A focal point helps to center the mind and is commonly used as an aide for meditation.
Gardens have a special place in many cultures and come in many sizes and shapes:
Zen gardens frequently have fine raked gravel patterns, with large sculptural stones and bamboo as privacy screens. They are designed to resemble mountains and rivers. Cherry blossom or miniature maple trees bring delicate beauty to a private space, and hedges buffer the special oasis. Japanese gardens are masters of forced perspective and use different heights and textures to gain a sense of deep space in a small area.
Chinese gardens love to have koi ponds for good luck with small bridges leading to little islands or private gazebos. If you are interested in koi fish, consider carefully since these fish can live up to 100 yrs. Stone pagodas or small lanterns are often used along pathways to uplift the energy.
English Cottage gardens are usually loose and free flowing, with lots of trellised roses, hollyhocks, and curving pathways — a Feng Shui favorite for slowing down energy. English gardens aim to look natural and wild, and bring balance to the stiff British upper lip.
Southwestern gardens are water wise and use succulents in creative ways often paired with decomposed granite, cactus, and nice shade trees. There are many beautiful flowering succulents, and drought resistant native plants to explore, especially in Southern California. Native Americans would create medicine wheels placed on the land formed with stones, and were used to “press” on the land for healing purposes much like acupressure is used to heal the body. This practice would sanctify and honor a space.
French and Italian gardens are more formal in design, often with a symmetrical geometric layout, and grand fountain as the centerpiece. Hedges are clipped regularly and sculpted topiaries are popular. They may incorporate a labyrinth walk that can easily be arranged by a beginner with stones. Placing stones around a radiating path, spiraling out from a central point, creates a labyrinth. The person then walks within the path focused on their steps — thus taking them out of their “worry” mind and releasing the cares of the day.
There are several steps to consider when making a meditation garden. Are you looking for a spot that is introspective? Is it noisy and does it need hedges or a water feature to muffle the sound? Does you have any favorite flowers? Garden art can be a nice addition, and a beautiful piece of sculpture can be inspiring. Listen to the land and let it speak to you. Look for the potential of any nook or cranny. A good place to put a meditation garden is usually along a fence line, corner, or a quiet spot in the yard that can frame a special view. Always include a sitting area with some kind of bench and backrest so one can relax.
Follow these ten steps to start this process:
1) Figure the space, and how to divide it from the bustle of the regular yard, and protect it from noise. Fences, hedges, fountains, trees, and embankments all help muffle sound and create a quiet space. Achieving quiet is an essential first step. Pay attention to the terrain. If the area is hilly, flat or rocky — all will require special considerations in order to balance the space to create a sense of comfort and serenity. Popular vertical gardens are also a consideration.
2) What views do you want to include as you may want to frame a feature point. This can be a scenic vista, horizon, back patio, or anything else that inspires you. Bamboo can be used to hide an ugly wall. Mirrors can be added to enlarge a view or reflect light, and can be attached to a fence. Seeing oneself in natural lighting is a different experience than seeing oneself under fluorescent or indoor lights.
3) Create a “bubble” map with circles or rough sketches of what you want and how to arrange it, so you can work your ideas out on paper. Keep the drawings in a folder and then add magazine pictures of things you would like to incorporate later.
4) Create structure around your garden as the backbone of the space — and this can include large trees or stones, fences, gazebos, posts, or anything similar. Vine arbors and pergolas are a transition element from the outdoor area to a partially roofed space giving shelter from the elements. They bring a lovely depth to the view or form a visual haven. If you are designing a space with a focal point, place your centerpiece near the center of the garden — and design your seating and plants around that visual point. This gives alternative places to sit for variety where you can contemplate the central image. Seeing a circular/central image upon entering a garden instantly gives one a sense of peace and calm. Circles represent wholeness in all traditions.
5) Think about the surfaces you’d like to use. Sitting on stone that is too cold, hard, or hot can interfere with a sense of comfort, so pay attention to where the seating is being placed, and add cushions or shade for comfort if needed. The cushions can be stored closely to protect them from rain or sun. Grass is always nice to lie on, and is rich in oxygen. You also get a negative ionic boost when your body can touch the earth. Pavers well chosen can be weaved or laid in attractive patterns. Arranging free-form flagstone, with ground cover growing through the cracks, is a beautiful look. Mosaics are easy to make or purchase and lend color to a space. Other popular surfaces are brick, wood, bamboo, fine gravel, pebbles, or sand. But it is important to keep it natural looking and simple. Too many things that are included can be distracting. Ideally bright colors should be kept in a central spot since color attracts attention. You don’t want too many things fighting for your attention.
6) Small altars can be created, or statues placed that are serene such as angels, a Buddha, Kuan Yin, or St. Francis of Assisi. Natural shells, rocks, or driftwood can also be arranged in imaginative ways.
7) Leave areas for “empty” space as well. In Feng Shui tradition, empty space collects beneficial chi — so it is important to balance a busy area with appropriate empty space to create a balance between yin and yang.
8) Choose plants that inspire you. This is a great time to really remember your favorite plants. If you are a visual person, choose flowering species that you enjoy. If you are a fragrance person, choose fragrant plants. If you are a tactile person, find plants with a pleasing texture such as soft velvety plants fun to stroke. Plants such as pine or asparagus fern can add extra negative ions that help mental calm. Ideally your garden space is mostly shady, with little bits of sunlight. If there is too much sun (yang energy), it may be difficult to turn off the active part of your brain. Shade and coolness is considered yin energy and helps the intuitive mind come forward.
9) Choose eco-friendly materials. A meditation garden is a place to be at one with nature. Learn about composting, or natural ways to keep your plants pest free; such as companion plants and native flowers that attract beneficial insects and birds benefitting the eco-system.
10) Expect to change your garden with time and update it as you use it. Enjoy your creative ability in making this sacred space. Everyone has creative ability, so explore your own. Your garden will reflect your evolving tastes. Extras can be added in time such as a hidden doorway for an entrance that can give it an extra air of secluded mystery. You might try an Asian round “moon” door creating a portal that allows you to walk through into another world. A meditation garden can become your personal Eden taking you far from the maddening crowd.
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© 2017 Lynda lee Abdo
Photo: Amanda Flavell