When I was away at college, I would return each summer to my family’s summer cottage on Lake Michigan. The small front yard led the way to a pair of sand dunes, and then, in just few feet, was the lake. As I stepped onto the sandy beach, I exclaimed with glee, “I am home!”
For all of us who have moved away from home, possibly many times, it is hard to re-create that wonderful sense of ownership and love of the Earth again. I have visited many Southern California public gardens, and finally found one that made me feel at home and provides a place of peace and sanctuary.
The Meditation Garden at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas offers all the criteria that a sanctuary garden can offer its visitors. Orange and yellow Koi circle peacefully in the pond, small waterfalls joyfully spill from the edges of bluffs and a canopy of trees and shrubs provide shade for guests.
According to Lauren Landress, Director of Public Affairs at the Fellowship, “The Meditation Garden provides the visitor with many beautiful spaces in which they can find respite from daily life.
Benches are placed in secluded areas so people can meditate alone or with a small group.
In St. Francis Circle, the trees form an awning and guests can be seated in what Yogananada called, ‘the Wall-less temple.’ Nearby, the bluff meditation area allows the viewer to sit on a bench and view the ocean.” The Encinitas Hermitage was built in 1938, and the property is visited each year by thousands of visitors. Although the grounds are presently closed, a virtual tour is available at yogananda.org, which also provides free instruction regarding meditation techniques.
This garden has always inspired me and I have compiled some of its elements so that even the amateur gardener can create a place of peace in their own yard or even on a patio.
PICK A LOCATION
Ideally, a sanctuary garden should be in a quiet, somewhat shaded area away from the hubbub of daily life. Even if you just have one tree in your garden that can provide a shadey spot, this would be the perfect place to sit. Or in a small garden patio, choose a spot under an awning away from the direct sun, with enough space for a chair and small table.
CHOOSE SOMETHING ON WHICH TO SIT
Whether it is a favorite wooden chair, a stone bench or an old wicker settee, one of the most important elements of the meditation garden is that you will sit! This is not the type of sitting we do on a daily basis at the computer, but a place for reflection, mediation or reading. No cell phones allowed!
PICK A FORM FOR YOUR SANCTUARY GARDEN
If you have a small yard, some people start with simple stones placed in a circle in front of the seating area.
In the circle, you might place fragrant flowers, herbs or scented shrub. But remember, this is not a high maintenance garden, so place your plants in pots rather than creating a huge landscape project. If your sanctuary is located on a patio, you can create a miniature sanctuary with a small fountain, rocks and potted plants on your table.
CREATE YOUR OWN GARDEN ORNAMENTS
Fountains and sculpture form the centerpiece of many a successful garden. A sculptural addition can be as simple as large piece of driftwood, or a stone sculpture such as a Buddha or favorite animal. Fountains can be built from scratch, as I learned while studying at the Desert Botanical Garden Landscape School in Phoenix. Rebecca Senior, former director of the school explained, “A bubbling fountain can be as simple as finding a great large ceramic pot and adapting it with a simple aquarium pump.” Supplies and instructions for ceramic bowl kits can be found at webbsonline.com. The homemade ceramic fountain can be placed in the middle of your rock circle, or if you have a patio garden a smaller fountain can be purchased at garden centers.
SCENT IN THE GARDEN
In Katherine Whiteside’s book, “The Way We Garden Now,” she gives us many plants that can be used to set the mood for relaxation especially in the evening. She has lovingly named them, ‘plant perfumes,’ and suggests that “Nicotiana, Phlox, Evening Primose and Night Blooming Jasmine are real tossers, in other words they do not require close sniffing or rubbing to release their magic.” Many of these plants open and throw their scent upon us as the sun goes down, which is a perfect time to sit in your sanctuary garden.
SCENTS FOR INDOORS AND OUT
The scented plants that we grow in our garden can also be brought indoors. I recently met Aaron Lahman and his wife Sara Leoni, who introduced me to pure essential oils. The classes that they teach include products from Young Living Essential Oils encourage consumers to “replace many synthetic household products such as colognes, deodorants and cleaning products with nature’s living energy – essential oils.” To learn more about the 600 essential oils in the collection, contact them at: [email protected].
If you have questions about building your sanctuary garden please contact me at [email protected]. For a complete selection of plants and more information on building a meditation and sanctuary garden I would suggest Jessi Bloom’s, “Creating a Sanctuary,” (Timberland Press, 2018).
Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and Master Gardener and former Director of the Master Gardener Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cooperstown, New York. She works on community gardens and teaches gardening classes in North County.