Every home has enough space for some dream-building -an out-of-the-way spot for relaxing after a hectic day’s work, a quiet corner where your mind is free to drift, a site too distant to hear the doorbell’s chime.

With some thoughtful landscaping, those out-of-the-way spots can emerge as meditation gardens, spirit gardens, healing gardens or Japanese rock gardens. All are created to raise consciousness or reduce stress.

“Just as there are many forms of meditation, people have a variety of needs from a meditation garden,” said Nicole Kistler, an artist and environmental designer from Seattle. “Any space where people feel comfortable and safe will be a good place to meditate.”

A meditation garden should be sensory-rich – rich in plants, trees or shrubs that are aromatic, soothing to the ears and appealing to the eyes.

That would mean such calming background sounds as the breeze-driven rustling of ornamental grass, the delicate clatter of bamboo, water gurgling from a fountain or splashing from a waterfall. Muted foliage works better than a distracting bold, along with the scent of blooms or herbs that have been crushed underfoot.

“I often see three key elements in gardens for reflection and meditation: water, lush green plants and comfortable seating,” Kistler said.

Moving water masks distractions like the noise of traffic. Plants provide shade, visual interest and oxygen. Natural lighting also is an important ingredient in the design mix.

Cultivating the minimalist look is a plus for any meditation garden, artistically and practically.

“These should be healing and relaxing gardens. Low maintenance. Not large. Not places where you have to work,” said Osamu Shimizu, a Japanese garden designer from Glen Echo, Md., who created a rooftop meditation garden at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., and several Japanese-inspired landscapes at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va.

“It would be nice to have them surrounded by hedges or trees so they’re isolated from everything. It also would be nice to have areas that you can focus on using some sculpture, pottery or water.”

Many of the elements designed into meditation gardens are borrowed from Zen or temple gardens. Examples include:

— Rocks, gravel and sand that can be groomed with a rake to symbolize the look of rippling water, islands rising from the sea, mountains peeking above the clouds or anything your imagination might suggest.

— Natural pieces reinforcing the look of the immediate surroundings. That might consist of some gnarled remnants of weathered wood or the rocky outwash from an eroding slope.

— Treescaping or landscaping with trees. “That depends largely upon their sizes, but you can create some interesting shapes with the trees you have growing in your yard,” Shimizu said.

— Labyrinths, pathways and gently curved planting beds. “Even small trails can create the illusion of space or the potential for discovery around the next bend,” Shimizu said.

Meditation gardens can become year-round retreats with the proper plant selection: Shimizu suggests evergreens in winter and perennial plants that mature in succession. And they can be enjoyed night and day with proper lighting – lights aimed at trees or fountains can be dramatic.

Even city-dwellers can create meditation gardens that overcome the racket made by helicopters, sirens, jackhammers and street traffic.

“Turn things inside out. Install or take advantage of a large window and enjoy your (meditation) garden from indoors,” he said. “You also could place an intercom near a fountain to hear the splashing water or somewhere where you could pick up the sounds of plants blowing in the wind. The intercom can act as your own natural wind chime.”

But beware the temptation to continue adding on.

“It’s human nature to add more and more. If you have a pond, then you add an aerator. Then you add some fish. Then you have to add filters,” Shimizu said. “People can lose what they’re seeking in a meditation garden by making it too complicated, too much work.”


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