Meditation Cushions Get our latest catalog.Free! About Us Learning Resources Order by Item Number Web Specials

Soul Garden by Deena Wade

Article originally appeared in Natural Home & Garden (

(Learn more about Landscape as Spirit.)

Soul Garden by Deena Wade

To create the garden of your dreams—your private space in nature—
you simply need to quiet your mind and let the spirit’s inspiration flow.

Water trickles in small pools and fountains just below my feet, where large
orange koi swim in swift, slippery ellipses. As I knock at the Boulder, Colorado, home of landscape architect Martin Mosko, I’m reminded of a line from his book, Landscape as Spirit: Creating a Contemplative Garden (Weatherhill, 2003): “If the water is mind, fish are like thoughts.”

Mosko, a Zen Buddhist monk who has created many award-winning contemplative
gardens, describes the garden as a sacred space that expresses the inner self
through a meditative collaboration with nature and spirit. “People want a way to reflect
who they truly are, to heal themselves of stress and anxiety, to reconnect with joy,” he says. Landscape designer and author Julie Moir Messervy agrees that “the act of digging deeply into one’s interior life for clues to one’s ideal landscape” is an important part of creating a garden that speaks to your soul.

Throughout history, humans have found sanctuary in cultivated landscapes, potent
places to honor the mystery of the soul. In her book, Secret Gardens (Conran Octopus, 1998), Jennifer Potter writes that “the notion of the garden as a place of refuge and contemplation crisscrosses the ages and the continents.”

A state of mind
Creating this kind of garden is best approached with a meditative mind. “There is a
direct correspondence between the outer mandala of the garden and what we might call the inner mandala of the body and mind,” Mosko explains, so the first steps to creating your own contemplative garden are to spend time getting quiet, connecting with your environment, and allowing intuition to flow.

Working in silence is one way to show respect and be more receptive; it helps you invoke a private relationship with the garden and lets nature speak to you. “The landscape reveals itself to you as you reveal yourself to it,” says Mosko.

However you choose to enter this state of mind—sitting in silence, drawing a colorful picture of your surroundings, or singing aloud—allow the trees, rocks, light, and geography to speak so you can collaborate rather than imposing

Finding the heart center
When exploring a well-designed landscape, you’re naturally drawn toward what Mosko calls the “heart center,” the place where the energy is most attuned and gathered and where all else is organized around it. Many gardens’ heart centers incorporate water, but yours may be a special tree, a grouping of flowers, or a place to sit.

It isn’t necessary to have a lot of space to create a contemplative garden—small places can generate a sense of intimacy, privacy, and safety. You might intentionally create a small den just large enough for one to enjoy. If you prefer a broader area, however, you can include “borrowed scenery” in your composition. For example, if you have a view of a beloved tree or an ocean or prairie horizon, consider how to incorporate that vista into your landscape. And even if you have very little space, you can create a private garden refuge on a patio, for example, that inspires and invigorates the soul.

Seeking balance
Mosko often borrows design principles from his studies of Eastern thought. One system, described in his book, creates a balance of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Rocks, Mosko explains, are representations of earth, providing a permanent quality against which we mark all that’s impermanent and
ever changing.



Incorporating shapes and patterns into your garden can infuse it with layers of personal and universal meaning. In Feng Shui in the Garden, author Nancilee Wydra offers these ideas for
designing your landscape:

TRIANGLE shapes represent fire, activity, and action. “On a subconscious level when looking at a triangle, we’re warmed physically and emotionally.” Allow light through a triangular opening in the canopy of trees or choose plants with triangular leaves.

SQUARES, associated with the grounded earth element, invite security and can be created by square-shaped flower beds or by providing a view of your garden through a square window.


Rectangles in the garden symbolize growth

Rectangles, represented here by long stalks of plants, are symbols of growth and can encourage dreams.
Photo by Gross and Daley

CIRCULAR shapes imply wisdom and encourage acceptance of change. Round stones or trees with rounded canopies integrate circular shapes into the garden.

RECTANGLES are symbols of growth. Vertically, they encourage dreams and a sense of power. Horizontally, they suggest the ability to transform our present circumstances. This shape can be represented in a vertical arch or the long stalks of certain plants.


Naturally resistant plants work with the environmentTOP: Jim Goss planted this garden around his
cabin in the Catskill Mountains using plants that
are naturally resistant to deer and other garden
Photo by Gross and Daley

BELOW: Landscape architect Martin Mosko explains that rocks provide a permanent quality against which we mark all that’s impermanent.
Photo by Martin Mosko

The following principles, employed by landscape designer Martin Mosko, are helpful in arranging garden elements with respect to height and size.
  • In a grouping of rocks, the tallest represents heaven, pointing toward the infinite.
  • The most horizontal rock demonstrates theearth principle, “low and powerful andspreading.”
  • An intermediate-size rock—representing thehuman principle—joins heaven and earth.

It isn’t necessary that all three principles be represented
within each element, Mosko explains, as long as there’s a balance that unites the overall
landscape composition.

Rocks in gardens provide permanance

Water is fluidity, clarity, purity, reflectivity, and connection; its container determines its
shape as it relates and cooperates directly with its surroundings. If you have a pool with a dark bottom, the surface of the water can also represent space, offering a reflection of sky and skimming clouds. The sound and movement of water also have an energetic effect.

Plants symbolize fire as they require sun and energy to grow. They’re also reminders of change as you watch them grow, blossom, and fall away each season. “By sensing how time passes, we also sense the unceasing nature of life,” Mosko explains.

Pathways represent the flow of energy through form—or air. Create pathways that
invite mindful awareness, Mosko suggests, by incorporating steps, walking stones, or
meandering curves. Integrate views, unexpected sculptures, bridges, arbors, or found
objects along the way.

The space between rocks, trees, and other structures is a representation of the eastern idea of creating emptiness—emptiness from which creativity grows. You can emphasize negative space with contrasts between sizes and shapes and by allowing light to move in specific ways through the space. For example, from an enclosed intimate location you might offer a glimpse of light as it filters through a nearby opening in the canopy, or contrast smooth, low shapes of rocks and pathways with the sharp, vertical lines of an archway.

Good boundaries also provide a sense of space. To create a refuge-like quality, you
might enclose a portion of your garden with a high wall of wood or stone. The types of
border you choose will also influence how you enter your space, setting the tone for the contemplative experience to follow. The entrance to your garden, like the pathways, should invite the senses to follow.


Color can infuse your garden with energy and beauty. Consider these ideas from Feng Shui in the Garden by Nancilee Wydra.
  • Red: Ignites, stimulates
  • Yellow: Clarifies
  • Gold: Expresses abundance
  • Green: Promotes expansion and tranquility
  • Blue: Expresses self-esteem
  • Lavender: Encourages freedom from cravings
  • Magenta: Sparks higher mental, emotional, and spiritual processes

These “archetypal elements” may add dimension to your garden, as described by Elizabeth Murray in Cultivating Sacred Space.
  • Arch: This rainbow shape represents integration
    of power and love
  • Altar: Offers a place for receiving and
    making offerings of gratitude
  • Bells: Invitations to the wind, reinforcing dreams, prayers, and visions
  • Bench: A place for restful awareness
  • Bridge: Offers connections; represents crossing from one state of mind to another
  • Fountain: Symbolizes flow of prosperity and abundance
  • Gate: An invitation to go deeper
  • Labyrinth: Used for walking meditation, moving toward one’s center
  • Path: Represents personal life journey
  • Wishing well: Place to envision dreams

  • Cultivating Sacred Space by Elizabeth Murray (Pomegranate, 1998)
  • Feng Shui in the Garden by Nancilee Wydra (McGraw-Hill, 1997)
  • Garden Retreats by Barbara Blossom Ashmun and Allan Mandell (Chronicle, 2000)
  • Gardens for the Soul by Pamela Woods (Rizzoli, 2002)
  • The Inward Garden by Julie Moir Messervy (Little Brown, 1995)
  • Landscape as Spirit by Martin Hakubai Mosko and Alxe Noden (Weatherhill, 2003)
  • The Sanctuary Garden by Christopher Forrest McDowell and Tricia Clark-McDowell
  • (Fireside, 1998)
  • Spiritual Gardening by Peg Streep and John Glover (Inner Ocean, 2003)

Reprinted with permission from Natural Home & Garden, May/Jun 2005 issue. Deena Wade, author. Full text, partial images.

Soul Garden as PDFSoul Garden as PDF. Get Adobe Reader.