by Celeste Jirles, Guernsey County Master Gardener

First decide what your spirit needs: work or rest.  Design your garden with your need: to labor on hands and knees with dirt under your fingernails, or to rest tranquilly in a low-maintenance haven.

When you care for your garden you are engaged in a Zen act of being in the present.  Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Whatever the tasks, do them slowly and with ease, in mindfulness.  Don’t do any task in order to get it over with.  Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention.”  You are involved in the larger pattern of nature and each act physically connects you to the earth.  A Chinese proverb is “Life begins when you start a garden.”

As you select your site for your garden, remember that part of the charm of a place is already there.  A special rock or a bank, a small stream or a tree may become a focus for the rest of the garden.  Act in harmony with your place.  Awareness of the beauty of your site before you begin to plan your garden is an attribute of Zen gardening: nonintervention and awareness.  We add our creativity and our essential nature to an already existing site.  Look at the soil conditions, the amount of sunlight and what plants are already there. 

When planning your garden, remember how much labor you want to expend and how permanent you want your garden to be.  You will be part of this plot of land.  Do you want a pool there or large rocks or trees; perhaps a brick walk?  Then you are planning a more permanent garden.  Do you want change in your beds or to rearrange your seating?  You will not have to make the essentials permanent.

Will your garden have a labyrinth?  Walking the labyrinth can be a spiritual exercise.  Your labyrinth can be made of bricks, grass, or pebbles.  A labyrinth design is a series of courses leading to a central point and out again, and can be whatever shape appeals to you.  This pattern, at least 5,000 years old celebrates the life force and the sacred as they are combined in the earth and in us.  What might be in the center of your labyrinth?

Plan your garden for all seasons.  What will it look like or feel like in winter – will it still be your garden – will it be a place where you will feel at home?  Where does your weather come from – will your garden be a protected space or open to the wind?  Chief Seattle said, “The wind also gives our children the spirit of Life.”    Ephyrus, the Roman wind god breathes life into Chloris who, with life abundant, changes into Flora, goddess of Spring and of flowers.  From Chloris we get our word chlorophyll, the green plant energy without which we have no leaves or flowers.

Feng shui is the Chinese art of placement. It means harmony with nature.  Positive Ch’I (people’s relationship with Earth’s energies) renews your spirit and gives you peace.  Quite often, paths and stones are focal points.  Do you have a place for wind chimes?  Sounds will always be part of your garden.  A bird feeder or bird house will add bird sounds to your garden.

Sometimes walls are built by gardeners as a labor of love and to create more privacy.  The eight-sided ba-gua (from I Ching) is to be aligned with the main entrance to your garden.  Each corner of the ba-gua corresponds to common life situations, colors and elements.  This may also represent the “Noble Eightfold Path” of Buddha:  right faith, right resolve, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right thought, and right concentration.

Japanese gardens may have pebbles, a pond or a path but they must have rocks.  Rocks hold the mystery of life and nature.  They mean mountains, islands, and rocks – the topography Japan itself.  Rocks demand special attention and special placement as detailed in an 11th century manual, Sa Kuteiki.  Moss is also a prized plant and many types of moss are grown in Japanese-style gardens. 

In Native American tradition taking care of a garden is a way we participate in the Circle of Life.  As we arrange and care for our garden we are giving a gift.  The gifts to us are peace of mind, knowledge, and the sense of having a full life.

For more information contact the Guernsey County Master Gardeners at the OSU Extension Office at 489-5300.