I decided to post the full article text since many won’t have access to the magazine. This article appreared in the February 2012 issue of Alabama Gardener, Arkansas, Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia Gardener. Thanks to Jennifer Estes with State by State Gardening for the opportunity to write this compelling piece, if I do say so myself.
No matter what our personal situations, we are all learning techniques and strategies to navigate through these unusual times. We are learning to have fun and find joy in simple things, and that we can empower ourselves by making the most of what we have. For many people, that can include thinking creatively and learning to care for ourselves through a connection with nature.
In essence we are spiritual beings having an earthly, human experience. Nowhere is our connection to spirit felt more profoundly than when outdoors. Nature is a prime example of the perfection of creation. Life ebbs and flows in a flawlessly orchestrated pattern. Plants emerge from tiny seeds and mature to become grand specimens, some living beyond many human lifetimes. Blossoms open and grace our presence with breathtaking beauty and captivating fragrance. And as the circle of life continues, all this vitality is one day only to wither and eventually become the very soil that nurtures next year’s seedlings. By paying attention we can gain a profound sense of this grand harmony.
WHAT’S YOUR IDEA OF TRANQUILITY?
Creating and experiencing sanctuary in the garden is a wonderful way to rejuvenate ourselves and restore inner calm. Sanctuary in this context and is “a place of refuge; a haven, shelter, or retreat.” That means different things to different people, and the setting and garden style that evokes this type of feeling and experience is likely unique for every person.
For creating a garden sanctuary, some may love an unstructured setting with a casual or cottage feel, while others may prefer an elegant, refined setting or a formal parterre garden. Perhaps a hidden or secret garden conjures up your idea of refuge. Does enclosure help you feel serene, or is your concept one of airy open sky in a vast space? Inspiration may come from theme gardens such as the serene vista of Japanese tradition, a contemporary visual, a woodland garden, or prairie style. Perhaps a moon or evening garden is your ticket to tranquility. The time of day you can dedicate to enjoying your garden can help guide your considerations and direction.
THE SENSES and EARTHLY ELEMENTS
Features that draw response from the five senses further aid in creating an experiential setting. Some seem obvious at first glance, but on further consideration can be integrated in surprising ways. By placing items that tap into more than one sense at a time, we access a deeper sensory experience. Animation brings a powerful sense of vibrancy to the garden as well. Chimes, for instance, capture our attention initially with their action and sound, and then of course we look around for the source. Our experience of sound might also include the creation of habitats welcoming birds and other wildlife. The landscape visual may be enhanced through the rhythmic placement of elements such as stones or plantings, and then led to a particular scene. Including seasonal blooming shrubs or colorful containers is a visual joy and powerful focal point, but can also captivate us with an enticing fragrance. Plantings can encourage our touch through strategic positioning of soft or fuzzy textures, almost compelling they be felt. Including herbs and vegetables invites taste testing right in the garden.
Considering ideas to heighten recognition of the four primal elements— air, fire, earth, and water— is yet another way to enhance the meditative feeling in the garden. Including stones or boulders adds a sense of groundedness, for example. An animated wind sculpture or fluttering banner could signify air. Fire pits and water features have become increasingly popular, and add an ambience that cannot be achieved otherwise.
The idea of sanctuary implies a place for quiet contemplation or meditation, but that feeling of tranquility can achieved in action as well. Gardening can be a form of moving relaxation and meditation. The desire to dig in the dirt, plant, connect with nature, and enjoy the outdoors is for many an almost basic need. Using our own hands to create and provide care for our garden adds a significant depth to our connected energy. As we nurture the garden, we also nurture ourselves.