Designing a Meditation Garden
Gardening and meditating go together seamlessly. The act of taking care of plants is soothing to the mind, and finding inner quiet is much easier in a beautiful, natural environment. Building a lovely, easy-to-maintain meditation garden is likely much easier than you think, as long as you have the right space.
Why build a meditation garden?
The history of meditation gardens
Outdoor spaces have been used throughout history to aid spirituality, from Buddhist to Christian traditions.
Japanese rock garden: These spaces were meant to imitate nature while not including too much of it. They helped Zen monks focus on meditating more easily. Landscapes in these gardens are rather dry, with a focus on rocks, gravel, moss, water features and some small pruned trees and bushes. Zen gardens often included raked gravel designed to resemble waves.
Chinese gardens: Buddhism is also common in China, and their gardens reflect this. Many gardens feature spaces specifically designed for solitude and introspection, sometimes with a small physical building in which people could isolate themselves and meditate. They often include ponds and sculptures.
Monastic gardens: Another common example comes from Christianity. Monks would create enclosed spaces where they could walk and meditate, or “cloisters.” These often included beautifully designed gardens, where monks grew food and medicine.
Why build a meditation garden?
Meditation is becoming more and more popular in the West. In a hectic, stressful world, it helps people center themselves. Researchers have confirmed what people have empirically experienced for millennia — that meditation reduces stress and strengthens focus.
Still, many people have a hard time sticking to a meditation routine even when they know that it’s beneficial. This is often because there are few physical environments that are dedicated to serenity in our worlds. Unless we go out of our way to find a temple, monastery, meditating hall or other similar space, it’s hard to truly find peace and quiet.
This is why creating your own meditative space is so crucial. This can be indoors, but if you have a backyard space, an outdoor area is a wonderful alternative. Being outdoors and gardening are proven stress-reducers, so meditating outside allows you to get both benefits at once.
Creating a sense of calm
Many landscaping techniques require a very practical aesthetic approach. To create a serene backyard space, however, requires a rather different mindset. You have to use your instinct in order to design a space that will work for you.
You don’t have to stick to any strict tradition — Zen rock gardening is a specific technique that is likely out of reach for most backyard gardeners. Instead, focus on how to create the most calming space possible given your space, budget and vision.
Some ways to maximize the sense of serenity include:
- Choose or create a shady spot
- Add seating, or clear an area to place your mat
- Choose simple plants that provide plenty of greenery
- Keep the space relatively open, not cluttered
- Consider any nearby sound pollution: is there a way to buffer or mask the sounds?
- Give your eyes a rest with plenty of stone, wood and rock
Designing your layout
To begin designing, first decide on a size and shape. Many meditation gardens are circular or square, while others are shaped like a labyrinth for meditators to walk through. There’s no right shape or size, though you’ll want to consider whether this space will be used by one person or several people at a time.
You can use your entire backyard for this or choose a particular area to divide. If there’s not a shady spot in your yard, you can built your own canopy over the area where you’ll be meditating. You can also add hedges, screens, or rows of plants to physically divide the meditative area from the rest of the yard.
After you’ve sectioned off a particular space, you’ll need to factor in the terrain. If your yard is sloped or has poor soil, you may have to level the terrain or add gravel or stones to make it easy to walk comfortably. Keep in mind that you can add planting beds or use containers to add greenery.
Then, pick the location of your seating area. You might choose the center of the circle or labyrinth for this, or tuck it onto one side. It all depends on what view you’d like to be able to see easily when you sit — which perspective is most calming? You can add a bench or simply leave it open, with grass or another material, so that meditators can set up their mats on the ground.
It helps to design the space so that there’s a focal point that meditators can easily see from the seating area. The focal point could be a water feature, a statue or a certain type of plant or rock.
Once you’ve pinpointed a seating area and focal point, you can begin to fill in the rest of the space with plants, rocks, stones and other items. Keep the layout as simple as possible.
Choosing plants to grow
The next step is carefully choosing each plant. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
- Look for small, hardy trees that don’t require a lot of pruning. These will provide plenty of greenery and beauty, and they distinctly separate the space.
- Use moss between any paving stones or other ground areas. Moss has a calming green color and is easy to care for.
- Low-maintenance bushes or shrubs with dense foliage are also useful for buffering sound.
- Ferns are a common element in meditation gardens. These ancient plants represent renewal. They love shade and humidity.
- Stick to cool colors, such as green, blue and violet when choosing plants. Avoid plants that will clash with one another.
- Do not choose any plants that require a lot of upkeep or special maintenance. That will make gardening stressful rather than calming.
Decorating with objects
In meditative gardens, inanimate objects are often just as crucial to the design as plants are. Gardens often include a few of the following objects:
- Sculptures and statues, either spiritual, naturalistic or abstract.
- Water features such as fountains, ponds, bird baths or other designs. These are both visually and sonically appealing.
- Rocks are a classic object used in Japanese Zen gardens, and they’re great for adding a sense of neutrality that makes it easier to focus. They contrast well with greenery.
- Altars can also be integrated into gardening. Create an area where you’ll light candles and incense outdoors. Keep in mind that these should be safe for use outdoors.
Creating a thorough plan before you make any purchases or alterations is a smart idea. Take your time, because if you design this space well, it will be used for many years to come. I hope you enjoyed this article on designing a meditation garden. Be sure to sound off in the comments if you have anything to add!