Symbols in the Healing Garden

When designing your healing garden you can add mystery and interest by including symbolic shapes.  Since ancient times we have been aware of the power of certain geometric shapes to evoke emotions and feelings. The very shape of our garden plot, growing beds and connecting pathways can be chosen with symbolism in mind.
Square shapes hold meaning for many cultures. The four sides refer to the four seasons, four directions or four elements.  In Islamic culture the square shape refers to the heart. in Native American culture the square refers to the four stages of life i.e. birth, growth, maturity and death. We can add the square design to our garden to reference earthly life, security and permanence.
The cross shape is well known as a Christian symbol – the cross on which Jesus died. The Celtic cross with a circle around the middle is thought by some to be a blend of the Christian cross with the earlier Celtic symbol of the seasons. In Islamic culture the cross shape of water channels in garden design refers to the sacred source of water, wine, milk and honey.

I have included square symbols and cross-shaped symbols in my healing garden design in the following ways:

The circular shape is among the oldest symbols. Ancient people the world over have used the circle to represent unity, wholeness, without beginning and end. It is often seen as a protective symbol or a sign of the life giving sun. In Zen Buddhist gardens the circular paths and stones used for meditation symbolise the wholeness of the world.
Spiral symbols are an ancient sign often imbued with feminine associations referencing the cycle of fertility, birth and life. Many ancient cultures from Scandinavian to Chinese refer to the spiral for spiritual purposes, for example the labyrinth walks, the mandala, cosmic spirals and prayer walks. The spiral is found naturally in shells, flowers and crystal formation.

Spiral symbols and circle symbols are chosen for meaning in my healing garden:

Art for your Healing Garden-“found” art

When you are designing your healing garden, make sure you add your own personality into the design. A great way to do this is to add “found art” or “l’objet bizarre”. You may choose to purchase a stunning sculpture or artwork and position it as a focal point in your garden. Or you can tap into your creative side and “magic” up a quirky object to bring a smile to your visitors’ faces. A whimsical creation can speak volumes about your hidden talents, your sense of humor and irony, and yes, even about your outlook on life…
If your creative inspiration escapes you, just look online and search for “recycled art” or “DIY garden art” for ideas.
In my healing garden I have used a favourite method of re-purposing plant pots to great a simple water basin or birdbath (see below).

If you have a grapevine to prune yearly, see if you can weave your magic with the vine tendrils. You may save in pruning disposal costs and you might create something useful. I have used grape vine prunings to make an intriguing hanging vine sphere to hang from my pergola. I have recently fashioned vines together with bamboo prunings to make my first bean wigwam of the season.

If you are really crafty you could make a simple wire-work faux cage (see below) in which to put a small plant. If you are imaginative you might see the potential in a junkyard find.  This rusty tin and wire obelisk (below) used to be a material covered floor lamp. Have fun with your creativity!


The representation of a vessel in your healing garden is rich with connotations from ancient times. Alchemists refer to crucibles, cauldrons and mortars which are used to transform the mundane to the precious. Many early cultures saw the vessels as a feminine symbol of the source of life – the womb as a sacred vessel.
The Bible refers to “vessels of silver and gold”, “oil in vessels” and “offerings in clean vessels”. The vessel is the source of truth and knowledge and is regarded as sacred, just as the chalice and the font are regarded as sacred instruments.
The association of vessels by Buddhists as containers for saffron scented water and other offerings, and for valuable food storage, relates to the concept of the “inexhaustible vessel”.
An important component traditional Islamic gardens is the brimming pool or basin of water- that precious commodity in desert environments.
The vessel is such a fascinating symbol to have in many different forms in your healing garden. You could have a Japanese style stone water basin, a terracotta oil jar overflowing with lobelias or a cast iron birdbath. I love the idea of the deep mysterious pool such as Galadriel’s pool.
Some examples of the gorgeous vessels in my healing garden are shown below.

Garden art in your healing garden

Including art in your healing garden is a great way to add an another layer of mystery and intrigue. Placing a sculpture or other focal point in carefully chosen spots adds interest for the visitor who wanders around the garden.  Locate an artwork just around a bend in the pathway so it is revealed as the visitor approaches. Place a special pot in a recess or niche in a border bed so that it is partially hidden until the viewer is near it. This element of surprise in your healing garden is priceless and always raises a smile.
Your chosen artworks could be as simple as a balanced stack of stones. To some people these precarious little towers of flat river stones are full of symbolism and mystery, and often inspire exclamations of delight from children and adults alike.

Stack of stones
Art in your healing garden

Chose your artwork to evoke a certain theme in an area of your garden. For instance you could put a terracotta birdbath or sundial in your herb plot, or a stone basin in your Japanese inspired front garden, or place a Balinese style carving in your bromeliad bed. A well chosen artwork doesn’t need to be expensive or huge, but if it reflects the mood of your healing garden “room” then it can only add to the delight of the senses.

Art works in the healing garden
Healing garden art – the element of surprise

Garden Art

When designing a healing garden consider including art works such as sculptures to act as a focal point.  Place the sculpture in a position so it is easily seen from a comfortable chair.  The viewer can gaze upon the art work and meditate. An attractive sculpture will encourage  your eyes to rest rather than search for a restful point. This sculpture (below) is made from faux rock (easy to move) and is placed in a green oasis of a semi-tropical bromeliad garden.

Example of garden art in the form of a sculpture
Guardian of the garden