Written by: Douglas Owens-Pike
Every garden should offer a visitor opportunities to escape the frenzy of the world outside its gates. Imagine the Classical Chinese Garden in the midst of bustling downtown Portland, Oregon. Entering feels like stepping back in time, as well as leaving the urgency of the street behind. Here, there are a collection of a dozen buildings, occupying a full city block. The structures were lovingly crafted by artisans, who left their homes in China for more than a full year to create this garden. Visitors find waterfalls splashing into calming pools with sacred lotus flowers.
Classical Chinese Garden, Portland , OR
Perhaps your own city has a garden inspired by Japanese traditions. There are several in our area including the Japanese Garden at Como park, just a few miles from our office.
Each of these special public gardens has traditional elements that you may find appropriate in your own home landscape. This could simply be the right bench, placed where you can see it while sheltered inside, yet, be able travel there in your mind, even when you are too busy to go and sit there to unwind.
Above, Japanese Garden at Como Park, St Paul, MN Photos by Douglas Owens-Pike
Meditation Fire Ring, New Auburn, WI; Designed & Installed by EnergyScapes, 2006
The art of garden design includes finding just the proper place. It may be a place you are drawn to, even if the view is not correct today. Once you have found your sacred spot, you will be able to add trees, prune out branches and continue to enhance the feeling of loving enclosure as your landscape matures. This can become a place of regular sitting meditation. This may become a place you always feel comfortable, no matter the weather, or whatever challenges might distract you from feeling centered.
Then there is the skill of walking meditation. Perhaps you have done this in a group, where you simply follow close behind the person in front of you. You are removed from any responsibility of knowing which way to turn. All you have to do is follow. It is safe. You know you can relax and just enjoy the journey. This is also true with a labyrinth. While their path is always seemingly complex, it is never hard to follow when you are willing to travel down the path. It will always take you to the center, unlike a maze, where you must decide between options. All you have to do it trust, walk the path, and you will find yourself at the center.
The Rose, St Paul, MN; Designed and Installed by EnergyScapes, 1998
The Rose, St Paul, MN
These three photos are of a labyrinth that was built in St Paul, Minnesota in 1998.
The Rose, St Paul, MN
Labyrinth at Otter Creek, Wheeler, WI; Designed by Marilyn Larson, installed by EnergyScapes, 2011
Labyrinth in Snow at Otter Creek, Wheeler, WI
The primary purpose of meditative gardens is reducing stress. Therefore, we do not advocate trying to replicate the flora of a traditional Japanese garden. Here in the Upper Midwest, you ask for trouble planting those delicate Japanese maple with the finely dissected foliage. Of course, that will change if climate change continues to grace us with winters as mild as this past year. Better to go with those species we know to be hardy here: pagoda dogwood is a wonderful substitute and so many native options for deep shade ground cover including wild lily of the valley.
Chalice Room Labyrinth, Minneapolis, MN; Designed by Marilyn Larson, installed by EnergyScapes, 2002
Plymouth Millennium Garden, Plymouth, MN; Designed by EnergyScapes, installed by Sentenced to Serve Offenders and City of Plymouth Parks Staff, 2000
Simplify, breathe deeply and relax. Those are the principles when designing or visiting these gardens focused on slowing down, finding your center and connecting more deeply with natural forces with the power to heal. We welcome your feedback.
See what others on the Garden Designers’ Roundtable have posted on this subject:
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX