Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

For background on this meditation, go here.

You are a tender plant, all soft, green stems and leaves.  As the days grow shorter, you send all of the nourishment collected from the summer sun down into your roots, and you prepare to wait.

dandelion seeds blowing off flower

“Moving On” – Dandelion Seedhead (c) Jesse Edsell-Vetter

Your leaves yellow and crisp, until the Gardener chops them back. You are sad without your leaves.  Then, you realize that they were dead anyway. What had kept you alive no longer serves you. You let your once-beautiful leaves go.

ripened sunflower in fall

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) in fall (c) Jesse Edsell-Vetter

The Gardener comes back and tucks you in with a blanket of straw. You nestle your roots down into the soft earth, grateful for shelter from the cold, harsh, scouring winds.

You sit in the darkness. You wait. Some days, you dream of pushing your shoots up through the soil. You hunger to feel the sun on your face, to feel your flowers opening, your seeds ripening. But you know that to spring forth now would be unsustainable. To burst out in abundance now would deplete the stores you worked hard all summer to nurture.

oriental poppy seed pod

Seed pod of Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientalis) (c) Jesse Edsell-Vetter

So for now, you rest. You dream. You sit. You dwell in your own Be-ing, grateful for the protection of the dark earth. You trust in the Gardener who sheltered you with straw, and who will keep the rabbits from your tender, new leaves when spring returns.

You don’t have to do anything to bring the spring. It will come. The Gardener loves you, and she will come, too. So, for now, for winter, you rest and you dream.

Queen Anne's Lace in snow

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) in snow (c) Jesse Edsell-Vetter

Some days, you dream of summer, and it makes you sad for what is lost. Some days, you dream of spring, and feel lonely without the robin and the worms.

Then, you remember that it is winter, not spring or summer. And winter cannot be rushed. Only when the earth turns back to the sun will it be your time to stretch forth into the open air once again.

Queen Anne's Lace against a blue sky

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) (c) Jesse Edsell-Vetter

But you remember that, after your long rest, after months of nearly imperceptible changes within you, a time will come when you are ready to unfurl your leaves and bloom once again.

poppy in bloom - close-up

Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) (c) Jesse Edsell-Vetter

About this post:

Across cultures and religions, residents of the northern hemisphere have struggled to make meaning of these final weeks before the winter solstice — weeks of cold and darkness before the days start to lengthen again. The seasons of Chanukah and Advent/Christmas both contain symbols of this progression from darkness into light. Whether we are religious, spiritual, or simply aware of the movements of nature, this time is an opportunity to reflect on the role of darkness, stillness, quiet, and waiting in our own lives, as symbolized by the plant world around us.

About the author:

Carolyn Edsell-Vetter is a former student of comparative religion and M.Div.-turned-horticulturist. She usually blogs on the more mundane topics of sustainable design and organic landcare.  Carolyn wrote this meditation as part of a Shabbat service she led during the lead up to Chanukah. Photos are by her husband, Jesse. More about him at JEVPhotography.

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Tree peony

‘High-ranking Official’ Tree Peony (Paeonia suffructicosa)

I had a brief window this afternoon between my last appointment and daycare pick-up, so I paid a visit to Mount Auburn Cemetary in Cambridge.  Opened in 1831, Mount Auburn bills itself as the oldest large-scale, designed landscape in the United States.  It is a great place to see mature specimen trees, and much of the plant material is labeled.  It’s also a quiet oasis right across the river from hectic Boston — this afternoon, all I heard were the cardinals and robins delighting in worms fleeing the moist soil.

Beech with lamiastrum

European beech (Fagus sylvatica) with yellow archangel (lamiastrum)

With their shallow, thirsty roots, beeches are notoriously difficult to plant under.  Lamiastrum can be aggressive to the point of weediness, so this is a match made in heaven.

Landscape scene of mature trees

Purple beech, Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata), and English holly (Ilex aquipernii)

Landscape scene

Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) above slope of Russian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata)

Hardy geranium

Hardy cranesbill (Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’)

Spring blooming landscape

Lilac, azaleas, and native dogwood (Cornus florida) in bloom

Lilac blossoms

Lilac blossoms (Syringa vulgaris)

Azaleas in flower beneath a green Japanese Maple

Azaleas in flower beneath a green Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

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Healing Spaces

Koletta & I went to a talk by Dr. Esther Sternberg, M.D. yesterday on her new book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being yesterday at Trinity Church.  She presented a sampling of scientific evidence on (1) the connection between stress and negative health outcomes, and (2) the stress-reducing potential of well-designed therapeutic spaces.

Sternberg explained how simply looking at a beautiful view or image activates endorphin and opiate receptors in the brain, giving us a sense of well-being and relaxation similar to that found in meditation, prayer, yoga, or exercise.  This relaxation response has been linked to reduced infection rates, faster wound healing, and slower chromosomal aging.

But isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?  Sternberg drew a few cross-cultural commonalities.  Interestingly, our eyes are wired to prefer the color green, with most of the rods in the eye tuned to see green.   Humans also seem to prefer things that have repetitive patterns at all scales, like the fractal organization of tree, branch, twig, leaf, and vein.  So, nature is a powerful force in grounding our physical and mental health.

While I was hoping for more of these sorts of concrete how-to’s for therapeutic gardens, some of the stats amazed me.  According to the Center for Health Design’s Pebble Project (think: ripple effect), design innovations in healthcare facilities led to:

  • 75% fall reduction in a cardiac critical care unit
  • 30% reduction in medical errors and 20% reduction in nurse attrition in an in-patient cancer facility
  • Recovery of $1.68M renovation costs within 2 years as a result of reduced patient handling injuries at a regional medical center.

Many of these innovations were focused on noise reduction, adding green space or green views, making rooms feel more home-like, reorganizing space for more social support, and improving natural light and air flow.  One design for an Alzheimers facility created a Disney-like indoor “Main Street”, which reduces patients’ stress by mimicking a familiar organization of pace.  Large landmarks (a clock, a lamp post) serve as “mental prostheses”, making the space easier to navigate by pulling patients from one focal point to the next.

Green, focal points, patterns, noise-masking… hopefully these already have a place in the healing garden, but now we have a better idea of why.

Want more?

Therapeutic Landscapes Network is a knowledge base and gathering space about healing gardens, restorative landscapes, and other green spaces that facilitate health and well-being.

Hope in Bloom is a local (MA) organization that plants gardens free of charge at the homes of women and men undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

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As the landscaping season winds down, there are many opportunities to start dreaming and planning for next year.  Imagine a space that will nourish the body and soul, while reducing utility bills!

Healing Spaces:  The Science of Place and Well-Being – Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. Trinity Church (Copley Square), Boston.  Ester M. Sternberg, M.D., National Institutes of Health, will explore how surroundings—a theme park, concert hall, cathedral, labyrinth or garden—can trigger or reduce stress, induce anxiety or instill peace.

“NOFA Nourishes Massachusetts” – Saturday, Nov, 14, 6:00 pm, The Bull Run Restaurant (215 Great Road/Rt. 2A, Shirley MA) to raise funds for The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). Local organic meal, silent auction, and more.  More details here.

Pollinator-Friendly Landscaping – Nov. 17 10 am – noon, Tower Hill Botanic Garden.  As New England’s landscape becomes increasingly developed, backyards are becoming a “final frontier” in providing essential habitat for at-risk pollinator species that play an integral role in the health of our environment. Garden Coach and Habitat Naturalist Ellen Sousa will explain how to help sustain and restore pollinator populations in your own back yard, regardless of its size or location. Learn to choose the best plants to help feed and shelter pollinators, and some best practices for encouraging biodiversity in your backyard.

Charles River Watershed Association: Frontiers in Sustainable Design – Friday Nov. 20th, 6:00 pm, Boston Architectural College, (320 Newbury Street, Boston) Cascieri Hall.  Sponsored by the BAC & Boston Society of Landscape Architects.  “Going beyond green cities to blue cities: How can architecture, landscape architecture and urban design effect water quality and quantity?”

Designing an Ecological Home and Landscape – Wednesday, Dec. 2,4:00-6:00 pm, Nordic Hall of the Scandinavian Living Center, 206 Waltham Street, West Newton, MA.  Join Marie Stella and Aran Byrnes for this Ecological Roundtable to explore the process of creating an ecological and sustainable home and landscape that features environmental awareness, reduced energy consumption, sustainability, and innovative uses of plant material.

NOFA/MASS Winter Conference: Food From Farms For Families – Jan 16th, 2010, 9am-5.30pm, Worcester Technical High School, Worcester, MA.  Over 40 workshops on organic farming, gardening, landscaping, and sustainable living!  Includes children’s programming, expo of organic products/services, and local, organic lunch.

Join Carolyn Edsell-Vetter of A Yard & A Half for her course on Gardening in Small Spaces:

Living densely has many benefits, but may come at the price of growing our own food or relaxing outdoors.  Yet, we can nourish our bodies and souls using space afforded by a roof deck, patio, or small yard.  Learn about small space design, edibles for containers, and vertical gardening, plus small-scale bioshelters, composting, and rainwater harvesting.

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