Bringing Serenity to the Garden

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My Mum has a saying; "A breath of fresh air will do you the power of good". She is right on many levels. No matter how tired or stressed I am even a few minutes walking around my garden helps to restore my sense of balance and perspective. I also acknowledge that there is power or a Power that exists in nature that is intrinsically linked to my well being.

Jan Johnsen says it far more eloquently in her new book Heaven is a Garden (2014, St. Lynn's Press) as she describes creating a serene space of our own regardless if our garden is merely a rooftop balcony or rural acreage.

Many would assume that designing a garden is primarily about deciding where to put the patio and choosing suitable plants, but there is something much deeper than that to be considered before drawing begins – it's how a space 'feels'. Jan guides us through six key elements  as we explore how to create a garden which nourishes the soul as well as meeting the more typical design criteria of play space and vegetable gardens.

Jan's photographs perfectly illustrate her narrative as she describes the roles that water, trees, shapes and color all play in transforming our state of mind, drawing on ancient teachings from several different cultures as well as her many years as a landscape architect. What I really liked was that having explained the concepts she gives lots of ideas on how you might interpret this in your own garden, including specific plant suggestions.

'Heaven is a Garden' photo by Jan Johnsen

This bench is carefully placed to face east to take advantage of the early morning light

As a designer myself I easily get bogged down in the details of a design – should it be a river birch or a paper birch? A square pergola or hexagonal? Jan reminds me to step back, close my eyes and envision how I want the space to feel. For example there is a wonderful section in the book on using Circles in the Landscape (p31) that suggests creating protected circular spaces for conversation. Jan has two lovely examples of reinforcing this  theme using concentric circles either by 1. adding a distinctive border to a bluestone patio or 2. installing a circular pool, backed by a curved wall and approached by two arcs of wide steps. Simple yet powerful – and it gives me an idea for my current project!

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A dry stone stream becomes a garden metaphor with plantings carefully selected in accordance of the Japanese rule of 30% deciduous and 70% evergreen

Whether you are a homeowner, a casual gardener or a designer you will find nuggets of inspiration throughout this book. It's time to re-define how we think of our garden; make it your heaven on earth.

All photos courtesy of Jan Johnsen

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