What's a Meditation Garden, and Why You Need One in Your Life?
In the chaos that is every day life, Mary Pat Peters of CenterPeace Garden Design, a firm that specializes in planning meditation gardens, says it's important to carve out a space for peace. "In contemporary life, we're busy and over scheduled, tasked with managing kids or aging parents, jobs, and more," says Peters. No wonder mindfulness in its various practices—meditation, yoga, prayer, and more—is a hot topic these days.
Nature has long offered us a chance to reconnect, and creating a meditation garden—also known as a sanctuary garden or contemplative garden—can be one step you take towards feeling calmer and more balanced. Here, our expert explains why having a meditation garden is so beneficial to your health, plus how to create your own.
What is a meditation garden?
"Meditation gardens are designed to restore the mind and body," says Peters. At its core, a meditation garden is any natural space that allows you to disconnect. But certain elements—a winding path, for example, or the gentle trickle of water—naturally invite us to slow down. "A meditation garden invites you to be still, reflect and dream, and be quiet," says Peters. "And inwardly, it invites you to quiet the mind as it awakens the senses." Sure, all gardens engage our senses, but play structures, vegetable beds, brightly colored flowers, or grand architectural features can be too visually stimulating to quiet the mind. A meditation garden offers opportunities to pause and contemplate a view or focal point. They have an intimate, calm feel.
What are the benefits of a meditation garden?
Often the biggest hurdle to practicing mindfulness can be finding a place to be fully present. Inside our homes, it's easy to see a constant to-do list (floors to sweep and clothes to fold!) that can crowd our thoughts. Few offices inspire serenity. And trying to relax on your morning commute? As most people would agree, that's simply not happening. That's where outdoor spaces come in. "Being outside provides a multi-sensory experience," explains Peters. "There are beautiful things to hear and smell, fresh air to breath, leaves to notice floating on a breeze—nature is so rich and beautiful that it's calming." A meditation garden "entwines plants, earth, water, and wildlife around a space that allows those within to experience tranquility," she says.
How do you set up a meditation garden?
There are a few key elements of a meditation garden. First and foremost, you want to select a space that has a sense of enclosure. Whether it's a wall, fence, or a hedge of plants, "creating a sense of privacy is important," says Peters. This allows you to be mindful without worrying about being observed or interrupted. This space should have a defined entrance. "You want a signal that you're entering a special place," says Peters. This could be a gate, arbor, statuary, or even a small sign or plaque with a poem written on it. Next you want to find your focal point. In a small space, this could be a "borrowed" view beyond your garden, framed by an opening in the trees. If you have room, this could be a quiet pool with fish or a small fountain—anything that speaks to you. You'll need some type of seating. This could be a log, a folding chair, or a cast iron bench, says Peters, as long as it's a spot to rest.
One key feature in your meditation garden is water. "The earth and our bodies are mostly water," says Peters, so this has a calming effect. Some find gently running water or a bubbling fountain most peaceful; others prefer to stare into a still pool that reflects the trees and sky. Calming plants are also essential. Consider fragrance, color, and texture in your plants, says Peters. "Warm colors like red or orange are too energetic—look for ones in cool tones like greens, blues, lavender or silver instead." Use native plants whenever possible, and choose ones that attract butterflies, birds or small mammals into your space to invite nature in. Finally, try and incorporate curving shapes in your landscaping. Circular fountains, elliptical walls, or winding paths are more relaxing to the mind than straight lines or sharp corners. "Curves, especially in pathways, prevent you from seeing the entire space at once," says Peters. "They force you to slow down and notice things."
What do you do in a meditation garden?
The short answer? Anything that allows you to practice mindfulness. "Meditation in a garden can take many forms, it's unique to every person," says Peters. "Perhaps you sit quietly and observe, or pray, or practice yoga, or draw, or play a musical instrument, or write—anything that allows you to be fully present without judgement." Whether your meditation garden is a tiny, intimate corner of your yard or a winding path through the trees, taking time to reconnect with yourself in nature will have benefits. "Nature nurtures something within you," says Peters. "I strongly believe that meditation gardens have the power to make the world a better place."