The essence of gardening is creating and caring for a garden that is personally fulfilling — a garden that reflects what you wish to feel inside, uplifts your spirit, and becomes a haven of peace and happiness.

The size of your garden doesn’t matter — whether it’s grand in scale or a tiny plot of land. Maybe all you have is a balcony. The spirit you instill in your garden is what counts. That spirit is what will be reflected back to you and others.

What is the spirit of gardening?

What is the spirit of gardening? When we give our love, care, and energy to a garden we experience a greater awareness of life. A garden can be a channel for our kindness, creativity, nurturing energy, and attunement to nature and the Divine behind all creation. Gardening can thus bring us to an ever-deepening respect and reverence for all life.

The long-cherished story, The Secret Garden, beautifully illustrates the spirit of gardening. In that story, a walled garden has been locked for many years, but a little girl, Mary, finds the buried key and explores the garden. After a time, Mary brings two new-found friends into the secret garden (along with the gruff old gardener). Through loving care, toil, and a spirit of discovery, they restore the garden to a state of beauty and inspiration.

Each child has a unique approach to the garden and a unique way of uncovering its beauty. Through the experience of gardening, they each learn, grow, and are deeply rejuvenated physically and emotionally. Gardening changes who they are and how they relate to all of life. Finally, as the story ends, the children’s life-changing perceptions, gained through their experiences in the garden, help them bring greater happiness to others.

Where do you begin?

How does one create a garden, and experience the spirit of gardening in real life? There is no set formula where you must begin. Simply start with WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU. Then your heart will be in what you do.

Make a list that includes all that you want in your garden. For example:

  • Do you want to be surrounded by greenery, or greeted by colorful flowers?
  • Are you longing for a vegetable garden, an herb bed, or an orchard?
  • Is it your desire to have a garden that attracts birds or butterflies; or that has a pond for frogs, fish, or water lilies?
  • Would you like trees for children or cats to climb, or to provide shade on hot summer days?
  • Would you prefer a secure place for dogs to run and play, or a tree house where children can gather?
  • Do you need a place to entertain friends or have family gatherings?
  • Are you longing for a personal refuge, a quiet place for contemplation or meditation?

Now prioritize your list, so the most meaningful items can become your initial focus.You usually can’t bring in one item without including some of the others, but at least you will have a place to start and more clarity about the process.

The four aspects of our being

We all have four aspects to our being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. These four aspects can be represented in the garden. I’ll give a few examples:

The physical person

A person who is very physical — plays a lot of sports, loves exercise, and always wants to be on the move — may want the garden or yard to have features that allow for physical activities or sports. What would you like to do at home? Is there room to play volleyball, croquet, basketball, or to swim? How about a workshop? The physical act of working in the garden — pruning, planting, weeding, raking, and composting — may also be very fulfilling to the physical person.

The mental or intellectual person

A mental, logical, or intellectual person may enjoy the visual lines of a garden, or features that spark curiosity or observation, more than he or she enjoys flowers. For such a person, the garden will need to appeal to the mind, to have an orderly or methodical layout, practical items, or elements that make sense.

What garden features fit in with the practical elements of your lifestyle? What interests you? Are you interested in a vegetable or herb garden, statuary or art, stonework, or organic gardening and composting? If your real thrill is in propagating plants, the perfect “garden” for you may be a greenhouse, a place where you can spend time in a controlled environment with your projects. Also, you may appreciate such practical items as an automatic watering system.

The emotional or feeling person

A feeling, emotional, or intuitive person will want to enjoy the feeling imparted by the garden: peaceful, happy, abundant, exotic, relaxing, playful —or maybe a variety of feelings.

If you have such a nature, what flowers, shrubs, or trees make you feel good, or evoke fond memories? Did your mother, father, sibling, grandparent, or friend have a favorite flower or garden feature that you would like to include around your own home? Also important, are there plants or elements with unpleasant memories that you want to avoid?

The spiritually oriented person

The spiritually oriented person will value a garden with qualities that uplift the spirit, expand the awareness, and are reminders of a higher consciousness or of the Divine—qualities such as inner peace, expansiveness, harmony, divine love, or joy.

The design of this garden could reflect simplicity and tranquil beauty, incorporate statues as reminders of the divine reality, or include an area for meditation or contemplation. Such a garden may have fluid lines, graceful trees or arches, sweeps of color in varying shapes and hues, and a soaring, expansive view.

Every person, of course, is more than a single quality — physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. The combination and strength of the qualities is what makes each person, and each garden, unique. Keep in mind, also, that if two people are creating a garden together, what is very important to one person may have little significance to another. Try to select features that will make the garden fulfilling for both of you.

Excerpted from The Spirit of Gardening,* Crystal Clarity Publishers. *The book from which this article is excerpted provides more details than could be included in the article and beautiful color illustrations of different types of gardens. Nancy (Netri) Mair is a professional landscape designer and the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award in landscape design by the California Landscape Contractors Association. A longtime member of Ananda and the author of several books, she lives at Ananda Village. To order The Spirit of Gardening from Crystal Clarity Publishers click here Clarity Magazine articles can be printed in "text only" format, using your own computer.

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