I have been gardening in one way or another since I was 18. I have always had a love of nature and found that being outside in the fresh air was therapeutic for me – so gardening has been a career that has satisfied that need inside me. Over the years I have been lucky to work in some beautiful gardens in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. During my time maintaining gardens, I have felt a connection to nature, that goes beyond just pulling weeds in the fresh air. A connection to something more profound , more spiritual – a mystical experience. I have always found it hard to articulate and the experience doesn’t happen everyday but often enough for me to dwell on it.
Recently , I purchased a gardening book that really put it in a way that hit the nail on the head for me. I will quote the authors as their words are much better then mine –
” Mysticism in the garden depends almost entirely on circumstances that are beyond your control, when the power of the elements combines with nature – in the early morning, in fog, or at dusk for instance – to make you feel quite alone. Mysticism may seem a strange word to use with regard to a garden. It is best defined as a spiritual experience where one feels at one with the whole of creation, and hence at one with the divinity itself.” Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
That contradiction of feelings is what I find the hardest to explain. Because as I feel “quite alone” in the early, frost – covered winter morning, there is also this profound connection to the whole of creation and the divine. Feeling a part of everything and very insignificant at the same time. This also effects how I work as I feel myself working as a part of nature , working with something more powerful then I can control. The same authors describe this as well –
” ….it is possible to feel in awe of the garden, and it is only one step beyond this to see the garden as a paradigm of creation, and the human role within it as a minor one. Rather than controlling nature, the gardener merely orchestrates living things that have their own rhythms and processes, over which he/she has little control. The mystic wants to feel as though he is an integral part of nature , the expression of divine beauty, so the mystics garden is somewhere very personal where it is possible to feel at one with nature – gardening as a spiritual exercise!”
Pretty heavy stuff! Not that I am trying to be overly serious and precious about gardening and what it entails. But I think we can all relate in our own lives when we have had a connection to something larger then ourselves – a spiritual connection – whether hiking on a mountain, watching the sunset, at a rock concert with 50,000 people or in a garden on a frosty , winter morning.
This approach to gardening – working with nature instead of against it – is not something entirely new. It has been evolving for hundreds of years. The eighteenth century English garden designer , William Kent, was the man who ” leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden”. By the late 1700’s Head gardeners on large English Estates began to get rid of the boundaries between garden and the rest of the land. There was so much natural beauty to be seen and appreciated in the surrounding land not just in the “formal walled garden”.
Today, this approach to design is also rooted in the guiding rule of “right plant, right location”. The traditional idea used to be to plant what you want, where you want it and prune it and control it into a shape that you want it to be. For example – if one wanted ball shaped shrubs, just cut whatever you have into ball shapes!
Today, with more safe and environmentally sound approaches to pest and weed control, the idea of working with nature to design a garden makes even more resounding sense.
So, all these feelings can then translate into garden design and effect what plants you use. Certain plants can evoke a more mystical feel in a garden. The garden designer Piet Oudolf believes that ornamental grasses play a large part in evoking these kinds of feelings in the garden. His use of perennials and grasses in his designs work to produce ‘moods’ in the garden as he looks to create light, movement, harmony, the sublime and finally, mysticism in his gardens.
I have always loved all the different types of shrubs , trees and perennials. So, I am excited to try and create gardens that can be a personal place of spiritual connection. I hope to inspire others to create and enjoy mystical experiences in their own gardens.