The aim of a meditation garden is to provide a place for retreat and to create a place where everything is soothing and peaceful, a great place to get away to unwind after the daily stresses of life. And if that appeals to you, the great thing is that you don’t even have to know anything about meditation to create a meditation garden, as it evokes the very essence of calmness on its own and all you’ll need to do is be in it to feel relaxed and at peace. Here are some suggestions to get your meditation garden started.
Imagine what a restful garden would look like to you. Think about what you love about being in the garden in terms of relaxing and offloading your stress. Take those memories and feelings and translate them into practical ideas of how you would like to see a personal garden aimed totally at relaxation and peace. If any ideas occur, (for example, a blue and yellow theme would be attractive to you, or a wooden park bench), incorporate those things into your imagined garden. If you are going to share this garden with family or others, get their ideas and input too. And always remember that this is your garden; it's your intent that counts when creating a meditation garden. There is no right or wrong way to make a meditation garden; the whole goal is to make a garden that both calms and inspires you and when you open your eyes, inspires you even more. Try to see this garden as an "outdoor room". It's a place where you'll go to relax, rest, and recline, so it will need to have features in it that you find comfortable, comforting, and secure from prying eyes. It's best to start your imagination with conditions like "it has to fit in my budget" so you know not to go wild in pursuing expensive, and therefore unobtainable, dreams. Look through garden books with pictures of other people's gardens. What elements in those gardens appeal to you as peaceful and serene ideas that you could incorporate into your own space?
Do the basic groundwork first. There are some basics that you'll need to consider initially in order to make the most of the garden space you have available and to stay within budget and the realms of what can actually be achieved. For example: Size of the garden: Work out how large your garden is so that you can work according to its size. And, unless you live alone, your garden will be used by other people, so it's a good idea to also plan how you will divide your meditation or serenity garden from the regular hustle bustle of the rest of the garden. Think about how you will make obvious divisions using such items as potted plants in rows, hedgerows, large palms, benches, fencing, and so forth. Sound levels in the garden: Consider how silent it is already or whether you might need to create buffers using fences, hedges, embankments, or other sound-muffling structures. Your garden doesn't have to be large, but if you are in a reliably quiet neighbourhood you probably have a natural advantage. Sound can be an annoying hindrance or an object of focus for meditation. Terrain: Is the garden sloped, hilly, flat, grassy, solely soil, etc. All of these will create particular needs and issues of their own that you'll need to work with to create a sense of peace and comfort. Views: What views exist in your garden that you might wish to make use of as a feature point and find ways to "frame". The view might be the horizon, or a lovely group of trees, or anything else that inspires you. If you have none of these, consider a green bamboo hedge (clumping forms) to hide a lack of view, or the mundane everyday things like the compost bin, neighbour's wall or an ugly fence.
Look at examples of gardens in different parts of the world for inspiration. You might find really good inspiration in traditional gardens from other parts of the world. While there is no need to follow a theme, having one can instill a sense of calmness through orderliness and focus. There are several ways to find out what types of gardens are grown elsewhere: borrow library books showing the gardens in pictures, look online for images, visit open gardens that feature specific garden examples, or visit your local Botanical Gardens or specialized public gardens for inspiration. Think about the elements in these gardens that inspire feelings of peace and happy solitude in you. Some gardens to consider include: A Japanese garden – this could incorporate sand or fine gravel patterns, Zen elements, cherry blossom, the Japanese maple tree, and geometric simplicity. A Chinese garden – this could incorporate a fish pond, overhanging trees, little bridges, tiny pagodas, natural stone sculptures (ie: non-carved stone) and pathways. A southwestern USA desert garden – this could incorporate simplicity, cacti, water-hardy plants(great for a garden in an area low in water), and a shady tree. A traditional English garden – think about a walled garden in a university town like Oxford, Cambridge, or Durham as an example. An Australian native garden – this could include gum trees, Australian natives (look for the fragrant plants to awaken your senses), and lots of shaded areas to cut out the heat of the sun. Eucalyptus trees are great for listening to the sound of the breeze as well as for their scent. A North American garden – this could be filled with carved wooden items; maple, fir, birch, and oak trees; lots of deciduous colors in the fall; plenty of plants and feeders for the birds to feed on, and so forth. Other minimalist type garden plans including "Middle Eastern" or "Islamic" gardens and many other different variations are ideal formats.
Start a plan. Incorporate all the pluses of your existing garden (for example, you might already have a pleasant quiet area or a fish pond that you can work around), and begin planning for the desired features that you haven't yet got. On a large piece of paper, draw an outline of how you perceive your garden, including the features you intend to add. This plan can be updated and changed as you proceed, but it's a good idea to begin with a basic idea to work from. Keep the plan in a folder or binder. This way, you can also slip in magazine cuttings, photos, and pamphlets for ideas, products, and services that you'd like to incorporate into your meditation garden over time.
Use structures and tree lines as sanctuary creators. Throughout history, people have used small garden buildings such as summerhouses, loggia, pergolas, and tree-lined areas and entrances to create little havens of peace or to calm the eye when viewed. In adding such structures (both living and inanimate), you create beauty and functionality at once: Plant a "grove" area. This is basically a small secluded little patch of trees lined up either at the end of a lawn, down a pathway, or in some other formation that works well within the garden space. A grove is a lovely place to relax in or to view, and can often avert the eyes from any major distractions like the house, your neighbour's sunbathing, or any messy areas, etc. Vine arbors and pergolas are a cross between the garden space and indoor space. They can provide shelter from sun, wind, and rain, as well as adding incredible depth and beauty to a garden space. Consider a courtyard. This semi-enclosed environment might be ideal for marking out your sanctuary with clarity and for creating barriers against external movement and sounds. Courtyards allow you to consider a rooftop garden, a lane way garden, and even a garden squashed into a small space between walls as other options for placing your meditation garden. Add a summerhouse, loggia, or an enclosed pavilion. Places that provide shelter from the sun and the rain are ideal additions to a meditation garden; if it's too noisy, hot, wet, or cold in your garden, consider building a little enclosed pavilion. If you have an existing summer house take advantage of using what's already there. The beauty of having a pavilion or summer house type structure is that you can fill it with soft furnishings such as a mat, cushions, pillows, etc., to make it a comfortable sanctuary for lying and resting in, no matter what the time of year may be.
Think about the surfaces. If you're going to be relaxing in this garden, the surface upon which you walk, sit, lie down, and relax matters a great deal. Surfaces that are too hot, cold, or hard will spoil the experience, so plan this part with great care. Some surfaces to consider include: Soft, grassy surfaces – this could be created by lawn, native grasses, chamomile, button grass, etc. Bricks – lovely old bricks make a wonderful sun-warm surface. Over time bricks attract moss, lichen, etc. That may or may not be to your liking but it does add character and it creates a sense of oneness with nature. Pavers – these can be hit and miss if chosen poorly. Older, handmade ones are probably lovely. Concrete-cast ones in bland colors can be a terrible choice if they look cheap and feel nasty. Be very careful with choosing pavers; they can look fantastic if you create patterns with them and weave them in among other surfaces and not just rely on them alone. Mosaics – if you have the time and money for mosaics, these can be used to make a small (or large!) part of the meditation garden. Choose designs that are meaningful to you. Other possible surfaces include pebbles, wood, slate, gravel (very fine), sand, patterned paving. Complexity is best used according to the character of the person. Too much can be distracting to some, too little can be uninspiring to others. A highly complex image can be an object of focus, functioning much like a mandala.
Invest in objects that will increase the sense of serenity in the garden. There are numerous garden-friendly items that will help to really create the "meditation" or peaceful feel of your garden. Ideal additions include: Sculpture – look for local artists whose work pleases you; this is a great way to support local artists as well as gaining something unique and special for your garden; you might even consider commissioning something with special meaning for you, such as an animal totem, or a memorial to someone beloved. And of course, you can always make your own sculpture! Water features – water is calming and relaxing, both when it is settled and when it is moving. You might consider water bowls, fish ponds, a fountain, a trickling water feature, or other items that use or display water. Rocks – rockeries, rock sculptures, Inukshuks, and other uses of rocks can help add to the solidity and steadiness of your peaceful garden zone. Small plinths or altars – these can be ideal places for you to place a candle, a vase of flowers, make a small shrine, or leave incense, candles or other spiritual offerings if that is your wish. Who you offer them to isn't really the matter at hand, it is the intention behind it that counts, but it's still best to pick one that inspires calmness in you. Statues – there are many possibilities with statues; simply choose those that instill a sense of peace in you. Buddha images or statues and small pagodas are good ideas, but only if they work for you. Specific empty spaces. These are little areas which are surprisingly restful as these are places which don't need anything to fill them.
Choose plants that inspire you. English cottage garden type plants are just as valid as minimalist gardens which have very few, if any, plants. The plants you choose can be scented, flowering, herbal, tropical, native or even desert style. The most important thing is that the plants should evoke calmness in you; so, if they are "fussy" plants that need a lot of effort, you might like to leave them out of your meditation garden or you'll feel compelled to weed and tidy instead of meditating and resting! Use your five senses to work out which plants will be most pleasing to you in the meditation garden. For instance, if you're a person who loves to touch things, look for plants with lovely texture, such as the velvety lamb's ears. If you're someone who loves visual stimulation, you might adore brightly coloured flowers. Or, if you're someone who loves fragrances, choose a range of scented plants that bloom at different times of the year, to ensure that they will waft a beautiful fragrance through the garden during all seasons. Some of the night-flowering plants are gorgeously scented, and create a heavenly feeling on moonlit or starry nights. Plant forms can inspire you. When choosing plants look at the shapes, patterns, lines, and colors to inspire a sense of peacefulness as well as something to concentrate upon when meditating (if you choose to do so).
Use eco-friendly garden solutions and products. A meditation garden is a place to be at one with nature and the Earth; it wouldn't make sense to drown it in chemicals such as pesticides (insecticides), fungicides, anti-microbials and rodenticides. If you are practicing a philosophy of non-harm, or a virtue system such as Buddhist precepts using such toxins can affect the quality of the meditation as well as your well-being. Instead, look for the eco-friendly options to keep weeds and other pests under control within your garden, as well as using eco-friendly plant nutrient options.
Keep updating and changing your meditation garden to suit your needs. As with meditation itself, which helps you to grow and change over time, your garden should not be stuck in time. Replenish and refurbish your meditation garden as your own needs and wants evolve.