Think of your healing garden as a work of art or a poem. When you design your garden, try to include a feeling of rhythm for the viewer. Just as a catchy musical piece has a repeating chorus and satisfying beat, or in a poem you can hear alliteration or repeating rhymes, in your healing garden add repeated groups of plants and thoughtful vertical interest in the plant heights.
Fig 1. Repeated plantings
Fig 2. Rhythm in the garden
Fig 3. Layered planting
In Fig 1 above you can see repetition of the grey foliaged Senecio together with the smaller grey Santolina. The clipped balls of grey add structure to the garden design. In Fig 2. the glossy leaved Ligularia is planted in several bold groups while the slender trunked Cordyine is repeated. Your eye tends to move between the groups as you seek out similar textures. There is also pleasing vertical interest from the low ground-huggers, up the slender trunks and across the the medium sized clumps. The variation in texture also creates interest and drama.
Fig 3. shows how the eye moves along the horizontal layers of concrete blocks topped by the small leafed divaricated ground cover, with explosions of bold subtropicals popping up at intervals. Nice and dramatic!
Have you ever been in a garden that is such a delight to walk through because it seems that each path just invites you to follow it, and each curve of a hedge beckons you to see what is around the corner. These gardens have been successfully designed to include an element of mystery. Just like looking at a painting if everything is revealed at the first glance of a garden, this can leave the viewer disappointed or bored. A bored viewer will quickly leave. However, there a number of devices designers use to draw the viewer in and stay longer.
One such device is the art of “conceal and reveal”. This is where certain parts of the garden are hidden until the viewer rounds a corner or perhaps crests a hill. You can add this element of surprise into your healing garden by creating one or two separate garden rooms. In my garden I use trellis panels to act as screens (see below). Tantalizing glimpses of what lies beyond the trellis encourage the visitor to “come hither”.
Another method of adding an element of surprise in your garden is to add an artwork or sculptural piece in a hidden corner. You could add a small fountain within a niche in a border so that you can hear the tinkling of water before you see it. I have added an attractive basin of water in a shady spot in a ferny glade (see below). The visitor sees it as they round a corner in a woodland walk that I have created.
Water basin hidden in the ferns
Element of surprise in your contemplative space.
Include paths that bend invitingly around corners. Straight paths just tend to take you from A to B. However, if you add seductive curves that no one can resist then your visitors will want to linger and be led astray…
In the photos above I have shown how adding plants with large leaves which drape into the pathway can add intrigue. Walking through a path where some foliage (not too much to trip you up) swishes against your legs can make it feel like a secret path.
Since ancient times, water has been the source of deep, spiritual meanings in traditional gardens. Water was seen as a feminine symbol – life giving, fertile, changing and mysterious. References to Mother Rain, the Sacred Well, mermaids and nymphs allude to the feminine nature of water.
Christian symbols of water include “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” and “a living water fountain”. Medieval monastaries often included a fountain or a wellhead at the centre of the cloister garden.
Ancient Persian gardens were dependent on water for their very existence in the desert environment. The Persian garden represented Paradise on Earth, and featured four water channels leading to a central basin. Later Islamic gardens followed this design and included fountains, pools and channels. According to the Quran “every living thing is made of water” and refers to water as symbolic of life, purification and sustainability.
Zen Buddhist gardens use water to represent how the universe changes but always stays the same. Correct placement of streams are believed to carry away evil. Water may be included as a reflection pond in a large Zen garden, or as a stone basin in an enclosed courtyard garden. Water is often represented by raked sand or a rock cascade in a “dry garden”.
You can include water in your own healing garden in a number of ways:
Even in a small healing garden you can include a bowl of water to use as a reflecting pool. Below is an image of a glazed pot of clear water in my healing garden. The clouds are reflected among the leaves of the water plant.
Reflection pool in my healing garden
Tiny, secret pools of water can be found in all kinds of places in your healing garden if you take the time to look:
Imagine the most peaceful, relaxing scene in your mind. Is it a forest glade with a crystal clear spring edged by ferny greenery; or is it a sunny meadow setting with waving grass and birdsong; or perhaps a secluded walled garden filled with scented plants. These are the types of scenes we often dream of when we are suffering from work burnout, information overload or commuter exhaustion.
You can create your own serene sanctuary or tranquil oasis in your garden. Whether you have an existing garden that you want to redesign or an awkward sized unused area on one side of your house, you can transform any part of your garden into a restful retreat. By concentrating on including healing garden design elements that make healing garden unique, you can create your own therapeutic sanctuary.
Your healing garden can serve many purposes. You might use it as a rest and relaxation space, as a spiritual meditation garden or as a contemplation garden. Whatever theme you choose for your urban retreat, you will find that there are certain design elements you will need to include to give it that tranquil ambience. These design elements include privacy, water features, planting palette and artworks. Over my next posts I will deal with these design elements in more detail.