Have you thought about creating a retreat in your garden? Have you considered a special quiet place to sit, or to pace, or to wander?
A garden retreat allows you to stop or to move gently and introspectively in a peaceful outdoor space.
A retreat is somewhere you return to, over and over again. And as you do, the sights and sounds and textures of the garden become more and more intertwined with your senses, experiences and memories. A retreat can be a haven for prayer, for healing, for becoming new.
So, what should be included in your garden retreat? I recommend making the retreat a deliberately three-dimensional space.
Think of it as an outdoor room. Oh, not the kind of “room” in the magazines today, with an outdoor kitchen and huge cushioned chairs. Here’s what to do.
1. Start with a seat, such as a wooden bench with a back for relaxing into, then shape three dimensions with plants. I’ve seen many lovely gardens with stone, concrete, or metal benches, but question their comfort. Consider whether stone will be cold and damp unless it’s mid-summer. Anticipate that metal can be hot if the sun strikes it. If the perfect-looking seat is not choice for setting, consider carrying a cushion for that arthritic hip or to provide protection for bone spurs in your back.
2. Plan for plants at all levels. If you will mostly sit in your retreat, what plants will catch your attention at ground level? Think of plants at the edges that will remind you that you’re entering your precious space. Include plants that offer color and invite touch at mid-height – knee to eye level.
3. Determine whether open sky or shade is part of your refuge. Tree canopy can feel like solace or it can be too enclosing. Choose a tree for its characteristics in all seasons. A tree with small, delicate leaves gives filtered light, and splashes of sun may be just what your heart hopes for. A tree that loses leaves in fall can yield seasonal color, with promises of new life in the spring, and sunlight for winter warmth. An evergreen tree can be year-round shelter, even a feeling of a den or hideout.
4. If you choose sky rather than the enclosure of a tree, small ornamental trees and shrubs are good choices for boundaries, similar to walls, and they make good corners and screens. The top foliage also creates patterns and designs that shape your perception of the sky and nearby open space. Big, fat evergreen leaves are bold against the sky and can feel strong and encouraging. Shrubs with vertical leaves such as palmettos might direct your attention upward and soaring in a feeling of sanctuary.
These are just four of the decisions you’ll make in creating the perfect garden retreat for living independently with nature throughout your lifetime.
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