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© 2007, Cortesia Sanctuary














Garden as Sanctuary

Cortesia Sanctuary, Eugene, Oregon
Entrance to Gardens

This section of the website offers numerous ideas on how to foster a soulful relationship to Nature just outside your front or back door.

To embrace one's yard or garden as a sacred place has a profound effect on its caretaker and the planet. To surrender to such a noble and reverent way of celebrating Nature is to truly get in touch with the concept of planetary stewardship.

Dr. C. Forrest McDowell and Tricia Clark-McDowell have been pioneers of what has been hailed as one of the most significant new garden design concepts to come along in years: the Sanctuary Garden.

Their best-selling book, The Sanctuary Garden: How to Create a Place of Refuge in Your Yard or Garden (Fireside Books, 1998, presently out-of-print but to be re-released by Cortesia Press late 2007) has helped foster a broad movement to create sanctuary gardens, healing gardens, quiet gardens and the like, both privately and publicly, around the world. Such gardens are being created in hospitals, hospices, prisions, retreat centers and local neighborhoods as well.

The McDowells, earthstewards of Cortesia Sanctuary in Eugene, Oregon, first saw the impact of more reverently designed gardens, and their effect on uplifting the spirit, in their work over 20 years ago to create small organic gardens for the needy at their homes in Lane County, Oregon. Clearly, both individuals and families discovered a reconnection to Earth and a reaffirmation of their heart. Since those initial outpourings, Tricia and Forrest McDowell have written and lectured extensively, always offering very practical ideas and literature, supported by beautiful slideshow images of how people all over the world are redefining their loving relationship to their gardens.

Below are listed numerous articles and tips by Dr. C. Forrest McDowell and Tricia Clark-McDowell and others. More material is added regularly, so visit often.

The Sanctuary Garden: National Bestseller!

By Christopher Forrest McDowell & Tricia Clark-McDowell
(1998, Fireside Books)
Note: Presently out-of-print.
To be re-released by Cortesia Press


The Garden as Sacred Place
In this excerpt from Chapter 1 the McDowells look at the theoretical foundations for embracing an outdoor setting within a sacred context. [Go]

Meeting the Needs of the Soul with a Sanctuary Garden
In Chapter 2 the McDowells look at 5 human needs and how they are met via a sanctuary garden. [Go]

The Sanctuary Garden: Entrance
An excerpt from Chapter 3, here the McDowells look at the first of seven designs elements of a sanctuary garden, focusing on philosophical, psychological and practical strategies. [Go]

  • Mood Gardens: 8 Design Types
    The McDowells outline 8 types of garden designs that elevate mood in a garden. Brief discussions about creating an exuberant garden, melancholy garden, convivial garden, healing garden, memory garden, meditative garden and more. [.pdf]

  • The Soulful Garden: Deepening the Roots of Place
    In this brief article, learn how the soul is deepened via gardens that emit peace, healing and exuberance. [.pdf]

  • 10 Ways to Celebrate in Your Garden
    Master Gardener, Tricia Clark-McDowell offers some sage one-line pointers for fostering celebration in your garden.[Go]

  • Ways You Can Promote Peace in Your Garden
    Practical tips for promoting peace and nonviolence in your garden sancdtuary.[Go]

  • Ways to Heal Your Yard or Garden
    Practical strategies on how to regenerate your garden.[Go]

  • Convivial Things to Do in Your Garden
    Pointers about how to create the right atmosphere in your garden for friendship and socialization.[Go]

  • Expressing Exuberance in Your Life
    Tricia Clark-McDowell offers some practical tips on how to bring joy into your garden.[Go]

  • To Be Picked and Chosen: A Garden Story
    In her personable, sincere and humorous style Tricia Clark-McDowell looks at the dilemma every gardener faces: to choose what plants stay in the garden, and what plants must go.[Go]

  • Letting Go: A Garden Story
    Tricia Clark-McDowell ponders the impact Fall has on the gardener after a glorious Summer of celebration.[Go]

  • Lawnmower Hell: A Garden Story
    Here's Tricia's humorous take on having her peace of mind interrupted by her weekend warrior husband's need to fire-up the mower at seven in the morning![Go]

  • Brochure: How to Create Your Yard or Garden as a Sanctuary (.pdf file)
    Thousands of copies of this brochure have been given away by Cortesia Sanctuary to help people understand the soulful possibilities of creating a sanctuary garden.[Go]

  • 7 Design Elements of a Sanctuary Garden: Outline (.pdf file)
    This is a fantastic summary of the philosophical/psychological and practical considerations in creating a sanctuary garden. The McDowells offer this as a handout at all their lectures and workshops.[Go]

  • Creating a Sanctuary Garden: Overview (.pdf file)
    Another great 2-page summary of design considerations for a sanctuary or healing garden.[Go]

  • Healing and Sanctuary Garden Design Considerations for Special Populations: Overview (.pdf file)
    The initial Sanctuary Garden movement has expanded into healing gardens and spiritual gardening, especially useful with special populations who have special needs. The McDowells offer design considerations for visual, mobile, hearing and memory loss impairments.[Go]

  • Healing Garden: article from Midwest Living Magazine 2003 (.pdf file)
    Here is one woman's true story about how she was able to heal herself by creating and nurturing a healing garden and relationship to Nature.[Go]

  • Sanctuary, Spiritual & Healing Gardening Reading List
    Since the publication of the McDowells' ground-breaking book in 1998, numerous other fine books have expanded the ideas of reverent gardening. Here is a growing list of books.[Go]

[pdf files require Acrobat Reader; dowload free here]

Sanctuary for a Minute

Take a break right now. Breathe deep a couple of times. Contemplate on the value of sanctuary in your life by looking at any of the following images.
Blessings in your life!

Click on the title

Enjoy Some Music While You Gaze at the Images
In the Garden of Lady Eve

from Sanctuary CD by Confluence
information and to order at
Sanctuary Music

There is a little plant called reverence in the corner of my soul's garden,
which I love to have watered once a week.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

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  1. Fly a bright, happy windsock from a prominent tree, pole, or eave to celebrate the wind.
  2. Throw a garden party. If your garden is small, let it be a small party. Celebrate some aspect of nature like spring, summer, or the planting of a new rose bush or flowerbed. Celebrate just being alive!
  3. Place a waterproof "gratitude box" (containing a journal or tablet and a pen) on a stump or small table near your favorite sitting area or bench. Each time someone sits there, they can choose to write down what they are currently most grateful for.
  4. Have a formal garden dedication where you name your garden sanctuary or land. Place a sign or other special objects as a symbol of your relationship to this special place.
  5. Go ahead! Plant all the most vibrant colored flowers you desire in that special spot.
  6. Plant ornamental grasses that catch the wind and turn brown in the fall. Leave through the winter for a special visual treat.
  7. Turn your lawn into a more natural one. Special mixes are available that have wonderfully textured and hardy grass as well as bountiful and colorful wildflowers.
  8. Turn the sprinkler on and run through it.
  9. Plant daring combinations of plants, flowers, vegetables, even edible landscape borders.
  10. Okay, go ahead and set out some of your favorite garden art, be it whimsical or otherwise.

Copyright 2007 by Tricia Clark-McDowell

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The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don't want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don't have a soul.

Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life

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  • Create a meditation area in a quiet place or near a water feature. Place a comfortable bench there, and sit there often. Invite guests to take a few minutes of alone time there whenever they visit.
  • Hang Tibetan prayer flags from a certain tree or along your fence line. You can easily make your own with squares of solid colored fabric and tubes of fabric paint or permanent markers. Write a short prayer for someone's healing or draw a simple picture. Great for kids and adults.
  • Create an earth altar by arranging a few special objects from nature on a level stump or small table. We have many of these spread throughout our garden.
  • Create some very simple, yet deeply intended ritual for guests who enter your garden. A ceramic water bowl at the entrance for symbolically cleansing the fingers, a bowl of blessing cards, an inspirational phrase carved on a sign, something to make them stop and notice that they've arrived at a special place.
  • Create a prayer of gratitude or blessing that you say whenever you enter or leave the garden. Develop the habit of repeating it inwardly with great reverence.
  • Set aside a special area in your garden for a shrine of some sort. It need not be elaborate: perhaps a bench under a tree with a few prayer flags, a wind chime, and/or a water bowl. Be willing to allow it to evolve and deepen over time. The purity of your intention is the key to success.

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Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.
William Shakespeare

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Ways to Heal Your Yard or Garden

  • Plant one or more trees, depending on the space involved. If you're working with a larger area, think diversity, i.e. mixed conifers, fruit trees, deciduous oaks, maples, ashes, sweet gum, etc. and smaller specimen trees such as Japanese maple, dogwood, so on. Watching a tree grow that you planted yourself is a powerful symbol and inspiration for your own growth.
  • Create ongoing healing rituals that are meaningful to you. The act of repetition over time deepens their power to heal and transform. Don't underestimate the significance, for example, of even a simple, heartfelt prayer that you say whenever you enter or leave the garden.
  • Learn about the medicinal herbs native to your region. Many herbalists suggest that you start with the ten most common herbs in your yard. These may well cover the majority of your needs. But more than this, your understanding of the value of plants that others call weeds prepares you to be a wiser steward of the land on which you live.
  • Damaged land almost always responds well to cover cropping, especially if you plant legumes. Cutting, chopping, and turning the cover crop into your garden soil as it begins to flower will promote soil health and plant vigor for many months to come.
  • Rock dust is an inexpensive and widely available product from rock or gravel quarries that acts as a valuable source of trace minerals and can miraculously regenerate depleted soil, sickly trees and plants. We use it preventively on everything!
  • Consider learning about Feng Shui, the ancient, Chinese art of right placement. Feng Shui practitioners are trained to understand the energy (chi) of a place and to assist people in bringing more harmony into their environment through enhancing this energy. There are many fine books on the subject, and the success stories are amazing.

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By a garden is meant mystically a place of spiritual repose, stillness, peace, refreshment, delight.

John Henry Cardinal Newman

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  • Sip tea or wine in the evening with your partner or lover, hopefully while sitting on a bench in a secluded and quiet spot or near a water feature that screens out distracting sounds.
  • Serenade someone you love or read a poem you composed just for them while they sit in a place of honor. A birthday or anniversary makes a special occasion, but don't wait for that.
  • Create a candlelight dinner (or even a picnic on the grass), consumed slowly to the accompaniment of romantic music and the wafting fragrance of your garden's most aromatic flowers.
  • Stage a mini-concert for friends featuring your most talented musician friend(s). Ask your guests to dress up. Offer elegant deserts, or, easier, have a desert potluck.
  • Walk a friend through your garden, and pick them a custom bouquet of flowers that they choose themselves. (Don't select an overly enthusiastic friend for this one unless you have lots of flowers.)
  • If you have the space and a reasonable amount of peace and quiet in your setting, build a a sleeping deck (covered or not) and sleep out there on warm summer evenings. We know a couple that sleeps in their garden gazebo eight months a year. Fabulous.
  • Write a love letter or simply a loving letter integrating garden imagery.
  • Watch the sunset (if you can see it from your garden) or sit quietly in your garden as evening transitions into night. It's a wonderful time for fragrances and night sounds.

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Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth.


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  • Paint one or more of the rooms or walls in your home a bright, happy color, such as yellow, green, or orange, echoed tastefully by a few pillows or a painting using the same shades.
  • Place conspicuously near your entryway one or more large ceramic planters filled with bright, long-blooming flowers. A mixture of annuals and perennials could give you year-round beauty, or simply replant seasonally or as needed.
  • Hang crystals in your sunny windows for multitudes of beautiful rainbows dancing across your walls. (Great for someone who is bed-ridden)
  • Paint an exuberant nature mural on your living room wall or a section of your garden fence. You can also paint it on weather proof coated canvas and, using grommets, hang it where you like (less risky). Get your children or grandchildren involved too.
  • To vicariously experience exuberance, simply hang a well-made bird feeder within easy viewing distance of a window or favorite bench. If you fill it regularly, you'll have a constant party going on.
  • Plant an exuberant flowerbed with daring color combinations such as red/purple/ orange, or yellow/hot pink/white, or whatever best expresses your passion. Let it be profuse and not overly controlled, as if nature created it on a whim.
  • Set aside a shelf, table, or windowsill (we use the top of our upright piano) for objects that symbolize exuberance and celebration to you. You'll be amazed at what comes along to occupy that space, so be prepared to expand the area.

  • Plant a hedgerow with a diversity of herbs, grasses, clovers, and wildflowers to draw birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects. Include such plants as yarrow, Queen Anne's lace, fennel, dill, milkweed, butterfly bush, crimson clover, monarda (bee balm), chamomile, catnip, joe-pye weed, goldenrod, asters, mustard, amranth, among others.

"What better honor than to love a place soulfully,
to find a courteous relationship with all beings who dwell or visit within,
and to know that Peace is the small bit of tea sipped in timeless communion."
Christopher Forrest McDowell

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To Be Picked and Chosen

by Tricia Clark-McDowell

I've read a number of garden writers that adamantly espouse a certain coldhearted fearlessness in doing away with plants in ones garden that are sickly, overproductive (a nice word for invasive), weak in any way, or just plain undesirable according to some arbitrary standard or another. To my way of thinking, their various suggestions on getting rid of such plants often ring with a kind of impatience and even a touch of arrogance. But very possibly I would be considered by most to be overly lenient, allowing sentimentality or guilt to get the better of me when instead I should be dishing out tough love to my green charges as if they were delinquent teenagers sneaking cigarettes and beer behind my back.

Shame on any plant that dares to express its own will too strongly, they would say. It should be humbled and taught a lesson. And every gardener worth his royal salt should learn how to pick and choose only those subjects that will obey his every command. Grow here, do this, do that, ripen now..., stand tall without trellising, and whatever you do, don't attract insects. Otherwise, you're out! Forgive the exaggeration, but consider the point I'm trying to make.

The truth is, often it seems to be less a question of picking and choosing the plants that come and go in our garden, and more a matter of being picked and chosen by them! Maybe plants actually decide , on some level, whether or not they want to come live in our garden or if they will do well or not under our care. Who knows? Some plants may well be born with a stronger will to succeed than others, or perhaps certain species or members of species simply have good or bad karma that dictates the positive or negative outcome of our horticultural efforts on their behalf.

Take a certain golden deodara tree, for example, which found its way into my life, one lovely fall day, when I bought it at a plant sale fundraiser at the local arboretum. In those years, I knew there were so many areas of the garden that needed upgrading that I literally went nuts at any kind of sale. I bought things I'd never heard of or seen before as long as they looked reasonably healthy and were cheaply priced. If a "Sunset Western Garden Book" was handy, I might look up an unknown plant, but I also had to make some very fast decisions or another gardener would snatch up the very plant I dallied over.

So the little one gallon deodara cedar came home with me as one of those whimsical purchases for which I had no real explanation. You see, this is what I'm trying to tell you. The deodara chose me ! Of course I had no idea whatsoever where I would plant it. In fact I didn't plant it, as I recall, until sometime the following spring. But eventually, plant it I did on what was then the very edge of the cultivated garden. It was quite small and unobtrusive at first: a child who hadn't yet found its voice. I admired its delicate texture and soft golden color, and I was glad to see that over the next couple years it gradually came into its own. The third year of its life with us marked the creation of the meditation garden, which I decided to locate around the deodara. It was probably four feet tall by then, quite lovely to look at, and somehow possessed of that elusive, meditative quality that I was looking for as the natural focal point in this area. And from the meditation bench, it was beginning to nicely block the view of the compost area in the distance (before we thought to construct an artful fence and trellis).

In time, flower beds were carefully placed all around the deodara, the privacy fence of natural fir boughs was erected, and curving steps were put in using more arched fir boughs and pea gravel. These steps led up the slope into the meditation area and directly towards the deodara, which had only a small grassy area around it now-perhaps five feet in every direction. It was perfect. I spent many a morning on my meditation bench appreciating the simple beauty of this arrangement.
Then a friend came to Cortesia one day (the name escapes me), who shattered all this. Standing in the meditation garden, she blinked in disbelief. "Why would you ever plant a deodara tree in this spot," she asked in amazement. "Don't you realize that it will eventually grow to shade not only all of your meditation garden but the whole southeast corner of the garden as well?" Having made this devastating remark, this so-called friend completed her tour and left, and I scrambled for my Sunset Western Garden Book.

"Cedrus Deodara: Native to the Himalayas. Fast growing to 80 ft., with forty feet spread at ground level. Lower branches sweep down to ground, then upwards. Upper branches openly spaced, graceful...Planted as living Christmas tree in small lawn, it soon overpowers area..." They must have written this description just for me.

I felt terrible. How could such a dainty tree be on its way to taking over all the flower beds so carefully planted around it and perhaps the compost area as well? Why hadn't I figured this out sooner? It had to go, I realized, with a sinking feeling. Still, we procrastinated. Forrest and I both loved the deodara, and we weren't too sure where we could move it. It wasn't until the following spring, when it had grown to six feet or so, that we figured out the right place. I warned it well ahead of time what we were planning to do, but the move was difficult. We dug expecting a huge rootball, only to find a single, diminutive taproot whose deeply buried and delicate tip we inadvertantly chopped off with the shovel. In spite of its new, sunnier, and more spacious location, the deodara went into serious decline after that. I tried everything: regular watering, extra rock dust, Reiki, flower essences, even praying for it and verbally encouraging it, but it went steadily downhill over the next few years. This spring, it appeared to to be dead at last. One by one the last few remaining green tips turned brown. I still didn't want to believe it. Over and over I talked to it and told it how much I loved it and would miss it. Yet it shrivelled like a Christmas tree that succumbs quickly once the lights and tinsel are removed and it is no longer the center of attention. Then I had an idea.

I casually walked up to it one day and said, "I'm sorry, but if you don't start growing again in the next few weeks, we will have to dig you up and replace you. Time has run out. Now it's up to you." Then I forgot all about it. Two weeks later, Forrest came running into the house with great excitement. "The deodara is alive," he said. "It's still alive, and full of new growth!" I rushed out in astonishment to look at it. Sure enough, I saw new green tips all over the tree. Now it finally looks healthy and happy again, as it last looked several years ago before we moved it.

I am so glad that we didn't give up on the deodara. It would have been so easy to dump it years ago without waiting for it to come out of its decline. Who could know what life force still remained in spite of its miserable appearance, or what finally enabled it to rise above its dark night of the soul? No doubt, every sanctuary gardener has their own moving stories to tell about similar miracles.

A few years ago, I was touring the spacious garden of my neighbor. As I was about to leave, she pointed to a jumble of potted plants that she had thrown on the junk heap. "Take whatever you want,"she said. "I don't have any use for them." I chose two interesting plants laying sideways in their unwatered pots in the hot sun. I didn't know what they were, but I loaded them into the car and took them home. I placed them on the front deck where they would get only the gentle morning sun and I could keep a close eye on them. I tended them carefully all summer.

That fall, I took my first trip to Hawaii with my mother. I fell in love with all the fabulous tropical plants, especially the gingers. I wished so much that I could grow flowers like that. When I returned home in November, my two mystery plants from the junk heap were both in full bloom. Suddenly I recognized them: one was the exotic and fragrant kahili ginger and the other was the dainty and incomparable blue ginger. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Those two Hawaiian plants had called to me that day from the junk heap and I was lucky that I listened.

By the following spring, the kahili ginger had grown so much that it cracked its plastic pot, so I divided it and planted the bigger half in a fine ceramic pot. The smaller half, which actually had no leaves on it, found a home in a two gallon plastic pot. The larger plant grew wonderfully, but the division never took. Though I watered it faithfully all season long, nothing happened. So when winter came and the mother plant was moved inside into the dining room, the division was placed behind the shed with all the empty pots. Still, for some reason I didn't want to dump the plant just yet.

Many months later, this June to be exact, I was depositing more empty pots in back of the shed when I caught sight of of something very green. On closer inspection, I realized to my amazement that it was none other than the kahili ginger. Somehow it had survived a cold, wet winter and was finally feeling ready to grow after a year of thinking about it. It has had a place of honor all summer next to the other ginger and just recently went to California with a dear friend who fell in love, as I once did, with its fragrant and delicate flower. In his warmer climate, he will be able to naturalize it in a way that I can not do in this colder zone.

Just a few days later, I was cleaning off the side porch when I found an avocado plant that I had put outside back in March, thinking that it was dead. Although it had not been watered for all these months, it had new leaf buds at the base of its tall dead stem. Okay, okay. So I've promised to take it back inside. After all, it's been with me for at least fifteen years. Why not for a few more?

You see, once a plant has chosen you, you can't easily get off the hook. Like the amaranthus caudatus ("Love Lies Bleeding") and the many others that have magically appeared at Cortesia year after year-always in a different place- these plants will come back to haunt you in one way or another. Don't ask why, just honor their gift and find a place for it somewhere in your heart and garden. Someday you'll understand, but it doesn't really matter if you don't. It's enough simply to recognize and accept that you have been chosen.

Now I should probably stop here, but I can't resist drawing an analogy that extends beyond plants into the human garden of relationships. You see, there is a deeper lesson in all this. In my younger days, I used to endlessly consult the "I Ching" (Book of Changes) when I was facing a dilemna I just couldn't understand. Inbedded in the six lines within each of the sixty four hexegrams that comprised this ancient Chinese system of devination, were further instructions and illuminations. So often I was told, "Perseverance furthers" or "It furthers one to cross the great waters." By this, I knew I had to keep trying. Whatever the situation was (and it was often involving an intimate relationship), there was more to learn and a deeper committment to be made, in spite of seemingly adverse circumstances.

All of this, I mean all of this, has been training ground for persevering in my marriage of 26 years. Being strong-willed and independent by nature, I was nevertheless run at times by unacknowledged and deep-seated fears and doubts left over from childhood. These continually threatened the stability of my relationship. The I Ching was one of my early teachers. In more recent years, the teachers have been, more often then not, the very plants in my garden that I was most tempted to give up on. They were silent reminders that perseverance does further, that healing takes time, that the price of losing faith too soon is the subsequent loss of that which you may want the most.

My marriage with Forrest has survived the rockiest of times, the severest of tests. Over and over we have somehow, together, brought it back from the brink of disaster, when the death of our "third body" seemed imminent. Like the plants in our garden sanctuary, we have tendered the deeply rooted yet fragile plant of our growing love through drought, flood, high winds, intense heat, and prolonged freeze. We have over-pruned each other on numerous occasions, and at other times all but forgotten to even notice when something is growing far to rampantly.

In the final analysis, though, our intentions have always been pure and our individual and collective efforts towards harmony sustained at all costs. If a few struggling plants in our garden can teach us this, literally walking us through our darkest hours, what deeper lessons might be in store in the seasons to come?

Copyright 1998 by Tricia Clark-McDowell

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Design your garden with peace in mind, not perfection.
Consider every plant, rock, insect, breeze, dewdrop;
every thought your teacher.
Christopher Forrest McDowell

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Letting Go

by Tricia Clark-McDowell

These November days I practically pray for rain, and as the thermometer dips ever closer to that "first hard frost" level, I heave a quiet sigh of relief. This gardener is somewhat worn out and ready for winter. Not so many years ago, I remember arguing with my elderly friend Shorty when he adamantly refused to even consider planting a winter garden. Now I understand exactly what he was thinking. It's time for a rest.

This fall I've watched myself procrastinate on a number of basic garden tasks, like the final wave of cover-cropping, pruning my giant butterfly bushes, pulling out the spent tomato and squash vines, and, I hate to admit it, even composting. We've had an unusual number of warmish, sunny days lately, but that hasn't helped one bit to motivate me to get out there. It's just made me feel a little more guilty for wanting to be inside, but never for long.

Maybe I'm getting old and lazy or perhaps I'm simply gaining some wisdom and a sense of moderation. Oh, I put in a few fall/winter vegies in August and early September: hardy broccolis and cabbages, garlic and leeks, mustard, arugala, kale, various chards, and some hardy lettuces. And I planted several varieties of cover-crops- the usual fava beans, austrian field peas, and crimson clover- wherever there was space at the time. But beyond this, I'm simply not interested. And once it hits mid to late October, my garden libido slows to a virtual halt, as if I'm about to go into hibernation.

I like what garden humorist Des Kennedy says in his fun book, "Crazy about Gardening": He speaks about the gardener's recklessness in "pushing the hardiness zones" and "cheating the seasons" by trying to plant winter gardens or all sorts of flowering varieties that bloom in January or February. Sometimes this works: often it doesn't. But "deep down," Des writes, "most of us appreciate that a numbing bit of winter is good for the spirit." My sentiments exactly.

So today I had to struggle mightily to counteract the powerful pull of ensuing dormancy to go out into the cold to make the final batch of compost for the year. I simply couldn't delay any longer because our kitchen scraps were now overflowing their third five-gallon bucket ( not counting numerous smaller containers and plastic bags and whatever is still hidden in the refrigerator). The aroma of all this could no longer be contained or covered over by burning incense near the back porch. It was time to act. But of course, once outside I got distracted by harvesting herbs, picking the last dahlias, photographing the gorgeous ornamental grasses, repotting a few rootboound house plants, and washing the windows in our new garden sanctuary structure. And just when I'd decided to seriously get to work on the composting, our daughter Sonji called needing a ride to her high school's football game. Of course, road construction delays complicated this simple task, so by the time I finally arrived back home, I had less than an hour before dark.

Composting is not one of those jobs that can be rushed- if it's done properly, that is. I had to haul two batches of shredded leaves from the meadow into the garden, clean out the manure under the rabbit hutches, empty and wash all the dead food containers and buckets, pick enough fresh weeds to up the nitrogen ratio for a hotter, faster compost, and extract the mucky contents of my overflowing weed holding bin. Strangely, I was fighting a bit of resentment for the considerable time outlay these tasks required. What I would rather have done, now that I was outside, was to wander dreamily through the garden appreciating the lovely autumn colors and grazing on the occasional strawberries and raspberries that were hiding beneath their sodden leaves. And, you see, I very much wanted to be the philosopher and the contemplative, not the hard laborer and maintainence woman.

The sun slipped away as I worked feverishly to finish the pile. As the temperature dropped, a low fog drifted dreamily through the orange golden trees. I was struck deeply by the beauty of endings graciously accepted without undue mourning. I used to pine away for two or more months in the late fall, depressed at having to relinquish my hold on the garden. Now, I eagerly anticipate the inward days of winter when I can luxuriously reflect upon and absorb all the lessons of the year, whether garden related or not. What good all the poignant teachings of spring, summer, and fall if we cannot take the time to allow them to resonate deeply within us in the cold, still months of the year. Winter is sanctuary time in the clearest sense of the word, a time for nurturing the soul.

So, I have made no trips to the nursery this fall. I have refrained from indulging in the frenzied plant buying characteristic of past years, even at the big autumn plant sale at the arboretum. I first practiced for this by not buying a single grocery store poinsetta the last two Christmases or any of the early spring primroses that never again look as good as they do when they're first bought. I only had one moment of weakness outside the local post office/variety store a couple months ago when I very spontaneously grabbed a white mum and two purple asters on the way out from mailing a letter. I had no real intention to plant them, you see. They were just frivolous seasonal "color spots" for the deck. That's the kind of quick fix mentality I'm trying to get away from. It's harmless in one way, true, but wasteful in another. Throw away plants- the product of an over-zealous gardening industry hungry for year-round profits. Ah well, the rains have already reduced my color spots to brown mush, but that's okay. I'm not perfect.

Just give me a hard frost soon and then a long, cold winter so I can let go of any thoughts of the garden and any heroic attempts to keep it alive for another week or month. The firewood is cut and stacked. The freezer and pantry are full. I've got a full ream of paper, a whole pack of pens, two journals to fill, my little laptop computer plugged in, and a brand new rocking chair. What more do I need? Flowers blooming in January or February? Peas in March? Hothouse tomatoes in April? Nah, just a pot of peppermint tea and perhaps a good book or two. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow- at least for awhile...

Copyright 1998 by Tricia Clark-McDowell

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The temple bell stops ringing
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers

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Lawn Mower Hell

by Tricia Clark-McDowell

Have you ever been awakened from a deep and peaceful sleep by the volcanic eruption of a lawnmower at 7:00 am in the morning (when you stayed up til 3am working)? Your own spouse has done this to you, you say? Mine too. Let me tell you, as much as I love him, this kind of unexpected behavior could constitute grounds for-well if not for divorce, enforced abstinence or a serious argument.

As I lay there in bed with my head ringing, trying to remember the dream I am in the middle of, other loving thoughts crowd in to claim my attention. "That jerk. Why does he have to choose this morning for this heinous act?" Then, "Stay calm," I tell myself. "Don't go there." But the ignoble mind-procession has begun, accompanied by the loud drone out the bedroom window.

I conjure up wild schemes of revenge: ice cold water dumped on the inconsiderate perpetrator in the middle of the night, the radio suddenly blaring at full blast as he dozes in front of the late night news on TV, two tablespoons of salt subtly mixed into his strawberries or sprinkled on his ice cream. By now the roar outside seems deafening. In spite of my best efforts to ignore the intrusion, I find myself visualizing the exact location and direction of the mower based on the level of intensity of the sound. Back and forth, back and forth. Then the grinding sound of running over a rock. All the freeways in LA do not sound this bad, I reflect.

"Forget it," I tell myself, still lying in bed, as the irritation turns to anger. Only fifteen minutes have passed, and I know I have another hour and a half to go. "Damn, there must be some way to transcend this." I know better than to try to meditate so I turn the radio on. The normal volume isn't loud enough so I turn it up. The announcer's voice sounds unusually grating this morning. Somehow a loud voice on top of a loud lawnmower doesn't cut it. Two wrongs don't make a right, they say. Correct. He's going to play a piece by Rachmaninoff. I hate that piece, at least today. I turn off the radio in disgust.

Then I try a more spiritual approach. Thinking of all the people suffering in the world, I offer prayers on their behalf. My dear friend's mother dying in Illinois, the child down the road who just broke his leg, the neighbors who just sold everything and moved to Ecuador last week, the victims of land mines in Viet Nam. There'a nothing like a global perspective to diminish the seeming importance of ones personal problems. I begin to feel a little better.

Then I look at the clock. Damn, only half an hour has passed. Will this acursed noise pollution ever stop? Why can't the technological genius of our age come up with a solution? They've invented gun silencers, quiet computers, and cars that purr like a kitten. Why not silent lawnmowers? Probably because men are usually the inventors, and they don't perceive this as a problem. Besides, they can wear their ear-protecting headphones when they cut the grass. Are the rest of us given our own headphones before the engine starts up? No.

It's seven forty now. I had planned to sleep until nine o'clock or so, or at least eight thirty, but I drag myself out of bed and put on my bathrobe. My daughter glares at me from the living room couch. Amazingly, at this early hour she is trying to read. I know she would have stayed in bed until at least nine thirty, maybe ten. After all, it's summer. Instead, she's endeavoring to use brain cells that are barely able to function, especially after June 15th. Why try to concentrate when it's not an absolute necessity? I steer clear of her.

Outside, the already warm day reminds me that I'd better water some of the flower beds. I search for the right sprinkler head and drag uncooperative hoses around, soaking myself in the process of trying to reposition things mid stream. The water runs like a river down the steep path and pools near the back door.

Then, for some reason, I decide to walk out to the refrigerator in the shed to check its ancient contents. I've been thinking it's about time for the annual blueberry picking trek to the organic blueberry farm on the west edge of town. The tiny freezer compartment is badly in need of defrosting. After chipping and scraping, I determine that the bulk of it's contents is in fact blueberries, very old ones. It's just that they are no longer recognizable. The lid pops off one of containers frozen sideways to the ceiling of the freezer. Fat little berries covered with ice crystals tumble onto my bare feet and roll into the spaces between boxes, as if they had a minds of their own. I'm not ready to deal with the freezer, and I decide not to go berry picking this year.
Walking back through the garden towards the house, I cast evil glances at the back of my loving husband, who by now is sweating profusely as he pushes the mower up the sloping path next to the raised vegetable beds. I've never pushed a lawnmower in my life. And I hope I never do. That's what fathers, brothers, and husbands are for, and barring those options- neighborboys.
I'm running out of motivation. It's eight thirty now. Surely he'll be finishing up soon. I go back in the house and pick up a good book that I haven't had time to read for weeks. He must be mowing the farther reaches of the garden because the noise seems a little bit more distant. I read a page, appreciating its witty contents, but realize after a few minutes that I'm rereading the same words over and over in a rather fruitless effort to concentrate. My stomach begins to growel, but I don't eat before I meditate. And I can't meditate until it's quiet.

At 8:45 am the lawnmower stops. "Is he really done?" I ask myself. The sound of silence seems too good to be true. Maybe I really can meditate now. I pull myself together and try to calm my mind. Then the machine from hell starts up again. This time it seems louder than ever. He must have found a spot he missed. This time I wait without doing anything. What would it be like if I lived in town again, and everyone started up their mowers at once? I try to imagine how that would feel.

Silence again. It's eight forty five on the dot. The phone begins ringing. Business calls, teenage shooting the breeze calls for our daughter, carpet cleaning specials in the neighborhood. Yeah, right. Forrest walks in the door sweating and exhausted. None of the well-rehearsed snide remarks and ultimatums see the light of day. I look at him, and though I don't exactly smile, I keep my mouth shut.

The sun is already hot as I walk out into the freshly mowed garden. The birds are singing again. At least I can hear them now. The flowers seem taller and the beds more organized with the grass short. Undaunted, the sweet english lawn daisies push their little white heads back up, knowing they're home free for another week or two. The entire garden looks more lush and beautiful than ever surrounded by this contrasting carpet of velvety green. It provides welcome relief from the amazing density of the planting beds, and it never, ever gets muddy after watering or long periods of rain.

What the heck. I guess an hour or two of lawnmower hell never killed anyone. Then again, I wonder if there's any way I can possibly expand the front beds any further so that the grassy area nearest the window can be reduced. Nah....that's even more work then cutting the grass!

Copyright 1998 by Tricia Clark-McDowell

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We may have to learn again the mystery of the garden:
how its external characteristics model the heart itself,
and how the soul is a garden enclosed,
our own perpetual paradise where we can be
refreshed and restored.

Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life

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Garden Books related to Sanctuary, Healing, & Spiritual Themes

A Garden of Love and Healing: Living Tributes to Those We Have Loved and Lost
By Marsha Olson. Fairview Press, 2002.

Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the Soul
By Elizabeth Murray. Pomegranate Communications, 1998.

Garden Retreats: Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary
By Barbara Blossom Ashmun, Allan Mandell (Photographer). Chronicle Books, 2000.

Landscape As Spirit: Creating a Contemplative Garden
By Martin Hakubai Mosko and Alxe Noden. Weatherhill Books, 2003.

Sanctuary: Gardening for the Soul
By Dency Kane (Photographer), Friedman/Fairfax Publishing, 1999.

Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outdoors
By Peg Streep, John Glover (Photographer). Inner Ocean Publishing; 2nd edition, 2003.

The Garden Sanctuary: Creating Outdoor Space to Soothe the Soul.
By Keith Mitchell. Hamlyn Press, 2000.

The Healing Garden: Gardening for the Mind, Body and Soul
By Gay Search. Vega Books, 2003.

The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning
By Julie Moir Messervy, Sam Abell (Photographer). Little & Brown, 1995.

The Sanctuary Garden: Creating a Place of Refuge in Your Yard and Garden
By Christopher Forrest McDowell & Tricia Clark-McDowell. New York: Simon & Schuster, Fireside Books, 1998.

NOTE: For detailed information and numerous articles about Sanctuary (philosophical and practical applications) visit Dr. C. F. McDowell & Tricia Clark-McDowell's website:

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