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:

Water in your healing garden

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:

Water feature in your healing garden
Brimming basin used as a birdbath
Bubbling fountain
Bubbling fountain in your healing garden

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.

Reflecting pool

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:

Vessels

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.