How to Create a Contemplative Garden

It can be difficult to find moments where we can simply sit down in our outdoor spaces and allow nature to envelop us completely. Yet we’ve probably never needed this kind of break more! We asked Rita Perea, speaker, author and founder of the International Contemplative Garden Association for some tips on unwinding, unplugging and becoming one with our surroundings by designing a space that is conducive to mindfulness.

When and why did you found the Association, and how has it enhanced your gardening life?
Through a graduate degree program in Transpersonal Psychology, I became very interested in the brain-based neuroscience around mindfulness as both a calming force and a way to disconnect from the world and connect with our higher self and our spirituality. I began designing contemplative garden spaces as a way to support people in practicing mindfulness, presence and feeling connected in nature. My own contemplative gardens, consisting of 13 different garden rooms designed to promote mindfulness in nature, were opened to the public in 2014, and gained national attention. The International Contemplative Garden Association, a member-based community that certifies contemplative gardens and donates proceeds to non-profit prairies and gardens, was born in 2015. I love knowing that my gardens inspire other gardeners by being connected to the higher purpose of meditation, presence and prayer. 

What are the main principles of contemplative garden design?
Developing a contemplative garden space is about setting an intention to create a peaceful and rejuvenating spot where you can comfortably sit, reflect and revel in natural beauty, and feel at one with the earth. This space should be completely personalized – whatever speaks to your soul. I believe it’s important to have chairs or a bench to lounge on; favorite plants either in containers or planted directly into the ground; and the soothing sounds of a water fountain or wind chimes to enhance your reflective practices. Include only items that you love and that raise your energy – such as rocks or statuary – in your peaceful garden space.

How can gardeners with small spaces incorporate these principles? 
A small space is the perfect spot for a contemplative garden.  A gardener can incorporate a chair, a potted plant and a small dish of rocks in water either indoors or outside in a little corner. All you need is enough room to sit, be fully present and reflect. Lingering in a contemplative garden can assist in disconnecting and unplugging from the busyness of modern life; it can help everyone slow down and just be, enjoying the sights, sounds and fragrances of nature.

Why is it important to employ mindful gardening practices — how is it beneficial to us?   
There are so many great benefits, from taking a time-out to being fully present in the garden. Medical research has shown us that meditation leads to more focused thinking, clarity and better healing. Scientists have discovered that the smell of garden soil releases good chemicals in our brain that fight depression and uplift our spirits. In addition to being mindful in the garden, we can also garden mindfully by slowing down and being deliberately present with the plants and wildlife. We don’t view gardening as a list of chores to accomplish as quickly as possible, but rather a joyful experience of nurturing and caretaking. By paying attention to the rhythm of the seasons, we are more aware of and in tune with our own rhythms and what we may need physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

All photos courtesy Rita Perea

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