Inward Garden: Planting a Sacred Realm to the Soul

 

As population pressures compress living space, and the world’s maelstrom intensifies, having a private place of refuge and sanctuary is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Everyone needs a space “where you can walk and sit and feel alone with nature,” notes gardening legend Rosemary Verey.

Urban planner Kevin Lynch says that even those who long for the stimulation of city life crave the mental rest afforded by access to nature in or around our living spaces. “Many people, if asked to describe the ideal house of their fantasy, will sketch one from whose front door one steps onto a lively urban promenade, while at the rear there is only silent countryside.” Lynch says that when a single door lies between excitement and serenity, the pleasures are sharpened on either side, “by the thought of what lies beyond.”

When we are able to take a contemplative pause from our busy lives, we make room for the celestial to enter the secular. This is how we can reconnect with our true selves and remember who we are.

The sacred realm closest to home is our garden. Large or small, our sanctuary can be anything from a backyard woods to a window box or collection of potted indoor plants.
Sacred Center

Landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy explains that sacred space is any place that engages our spirit and resonates with meaning for us. People across the country call her for help in their quest “to find their own inward garden and make it an outward garden.”

“But I can’t say I design sacred gardens,” says Messervy, who re-releases her classic book, The Inward Garden, this month. “Rather, I create a thematic framework for people to populate a garden with the essence of what’s important to them.”

Whether created inside or outside our home, our garden is a tiny portion of the bigger garden called Mother Earth. Her bounty protects and sustains life, possesses inherent beauty, inspires imagination and supplies a resting place for body, mind and spirit.

No wonder we love to wrap our senses in the sights, sounds, scents and textures of a beautiful planted place. We also can find inspiration in the transcendent vantage of the sky, doubly enjoyed when reflected in a pool, pond or puddle of water.

Good gardeners throughout the world know the enchantment of a safe harbor, says Messervy. The most inviting gardens act as a haven by featuring some embracing enclosure. In Japan, Persia and Medieval Europe, the word for garden derives from the word for enclosure.

Messervy notes that enclosure can take many forms. In her work, she might use a forest, fence, hedge, residential wall, edging strip, flowering border, weatherproof fabric or openwork lattice as a screen. Some partitions are impenetrable. Others invite views of distant landscapes. Each affords a degree of psychological and physical privacy from passersby.

“When I suggest constructing an enclosure to people, usually their first reaction is, ‘but won’t it make my yard seem smaller?’” says Messervy. “No, it won’t. One of the delightful paradoxes of building enclosures is that the more you enclose, the bigger a space feels, and the more valuable every piece of that space becomes.”
 We also might try to stop thinking of our house as having a front lawn or backyard, says Messervy.  Instead, she suggests that we consider it all a garden. Thus we’ll embrace its possibilities as a welcoming place to which we’ll regularly return to spend and suspend time.
Where to Begin

When setting out to create a sacred garden, it’s best to begin with a personally meaningful theme. Perhaps that’s a piece of music. Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello inspired Messervy’s collaboration with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma in creating The Toronto Music Garden.

Perhaps it’s a cultural connection. Messervy’s trip to Saiho-Ji, the Temple of the Western Paradise (or Moss Temple) in Kyoto, is reflected in the Tenshin-en Japanese Garden at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. A theme can be anything from affection for animals to a geometric shape or an ancient stylized courtyard. One professor of literature chose to illustrate scenes from Shakespeare. Christians might plant Biblical trees and herbs. Others might honor Buddha, or pick figures from Greek mythology. A unifying motif can be as simple as a year-round celebration of nature’s colors.

Once we’ve selected a governing theme and suitable enclosure for our sacred garden, we need a secure viewing position. This might be a bench or comfortable chair positioned against a tree or wall niche. “In any case, a strong element ‘has got your back,’ so that you can’t be surprised,” says Messervy. “You can’t lose yourself contemplating a focal point unless you feel secure.”

The next essential, then, is a dynamic focal point to invite our minds into another place. Surprisingly, we can experience tranquility best when it’s juxtaposed with an actual or suggested movement that has an unpredictable rhythm. Messervy explains that when the mind is absorbed in the interplay of motion and balance, it can more easily attain a focus for contemplation. As perceptual psychologist Rudolph Arnheim observed, “Motion is the strongest visual appeal to attention.”

This is why we enjoy a trickling waterfall, ringing wind chimes, flitting birds and scudding clouds. The virtual movement of an artful composition of objects or a dynamic sculpture works as well. And light will animate anything.

Next we might create a starting point to lead us to the special destination point we’ve made, and link the two via a pleasant garden path. A fragrant plant, wayside boulder or enchanting mobile at the garden’s entrance may inspire a walking meditation by evoking interest and provoking thought.

It’s good to keep things simple. “Your sacred garden shouldn’t be a daunting project, just pure pleasure,” says Messervy. “A few dollars invested in plants carefully selected for soil type and shade tolerance will get you started.” She likes to pick a corner that offers possibilities and protection, a bit of canopy, and something as simple as a water basin to look at.
Soul Oasis

Our home is our spiritual center on earth. Our garden can be—as Dante said in The Divine Comedy—“a grand staircase between Heaven and Earth.” A natural realm of refreshment that reflects our core being can restore meaning and sacredness to our life, and soothe our soul.

Source: Julie Moir Messervy designs landscapes for private residences, public spaces and institutions. For more information visit www.JulieMoirMesservy.com.
Source:
by S. Alison Chabonais
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Date:
2007/04/28 02:10:00 GMT-7

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