Healing/meditation gardens; how design and plant placement can sooth a stressed mind, boost serotonin and provide a space for reflection.

Blog post by Loretta Jaunzarins

I’ve always believed that if you have a dream that is creative and unselfish (by this I mean creating something that will benefit the wider community) then it will come to fruition when the time is ripe. I’ve been gardening since I was a child. First, with wonder and awe as my parents took me to garden centres to pick out annuals and then help my mother as she joyfully planted them. In my early teens being with my father as he taught me how to graft fruit trees, prune and transplant perennials. And how could I forget the many trips to Niagara to pick fruit and can countless jars of peaches, pears and cherries.

My first realization of how healing gardening and nature could be came in the fall of 1976 when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 49. She was unable to get her tulip bulbs in the ground that fall because of surgery and radiation. I remember frantically planting those bulbs one late November day as the snowflakes swirled around me. I knew I was planting them far too late in the season – at least that’s what the package told me. But, I hoped getting those bulbs in the ground for her might just give her some inner strength to get through a long, cold winter to the warmth of spring. It was my first time planting bulbs. To my surprise they grew that next spring and filled my mother’s winter weary heart with joy.

In October, 2005, I assumed my role of pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Hamilton. In the years between 1976 and 2005 I grew in knowledge and creativity as a gardener. I learned more and more about the healing properties of plants, how garden design and plant placement can sooth a stressed mind and boost serotonin and that I could share this wisdom with others.

When I arrived at Grace that fall I saw that the gardens had seen better days. There had been some yearly touch ups but most of the beds consisted of tired conifers with spring bulbs poking up here and there. I knew that for a sacred and spiritual space to be just that, the grounds around the building needed to speak of nature, the Divine and healing, a reflection of the Creator. I got started that next spring creating  garden spaces that would inspire my creativity and bring awe and wonder to everyone who came on the property. By 2014 the landscape was transformed, but the one thing that was missing was a meditation/healing garden. The dream came to fruition in 2014 with plans for a new entrance to the church hall. I eagerly awaited the completion of this huge project in the fall of 2015 because the plans included a 50 x 45 ft area that could become a healing/meditation garden. This garden would be accessible along a walkway to the front doors of the church and include the walkway to the office door.

While all garden spaces can be healing, I had never specifically created a meditation/healing garden before. That winter I was face down in my gardening books and on the internet learning and finding inspiration. As it happened, I took a course in the fall of 2015 on horticultural therapy at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, Ontario, and one of my classmates was Dan Bissonnette of the Naturalized Habitat Network of Essex County and Windsor. Dan, I discovered, held workshops on creating healing gardens. I knew the time was ripe and in March 2016, Dan came to Hamilton and held a workshop especially for those who would be working with me to design and create the healing garden at Grace. (Dan is also a native plant expert and helps property owners naturalize their gardens.)

The healing/meditation garden at Grace Lutheran has been a significant addition to the gardens. In my next post I’ll write about the principals of creating a healing/meditation garden and just how we did it on a shoestring budget.