The Sanctuary Garden: Creating a Place of Refuge in Your Garden
by Shantree Kacera
All life is sacred, and treating life as sacred changes our behavior to preserve and caring for living ecosystems and the species that comprise them. Human life is also sacred and our lives should be lived with intention, awareness, and a desire to learn and grow.
A sanctuary garden is ideally designed to reflect one’s inner emotional needs. The garden can be a source of strength, renewal, contemplation, appreciation of nature, peace and joyfulness. A sanctuary having the purpose of functioning as a retreat from a hectic world and supporting regeneration is easier to design because it has a specific purpose and intention. All your design and material decisions need to be based on how does this contribute to the sense and feeling of a sanctuary, and how is it special for your needs and tastes?
Assessing Your Microclimate
Map out your backyard and identify those elements that affect the surrounding microclimate. Be aware that some microclimate elements may cancel each other out. One example is an area that has shade from east and west, but a south-‐facing fence or wall on the north side is white, any plants in that location will be hit with high temperatures during the heat of the day. Also, slopes may amplify or cancel temperature and moisture situations.
Microclimate elements and some impact areas:
- Wind-‐Cladding and structural loads, pedestrian level comfort, natural ventilation, energy production.
- Solar-‐Day lighting, solar heating, cooling load reduction, energy production and conservation.
- Temperature and Humidity-‐Natural ventilation, thermal comfort.
- Noise,Vibration & Acoustics-‐Sound and vibration isolation(external and internal), performance of acoustically sensitive spaces.
- Air Quality-‐ Exhaust-‐entrainment, ambient pollution levels.
- Air Distribution-‐Thermal comfort, indoor air quality, condensation control, smoke management.
- Snow-‐Structural loads, sliding ice and snow, The Power of the Elements
Each plant community has a set of factors that cause that group of plants to be found together. These include sunlight and shade, slope of ground, wind exposure, moisture, soil quality and temperature. Taken together, these factors are called a microclimate. Often when we refer to a microclimate we are talking about a small area, possibly as small as a few square meters. In other words, a microclimate is simply the local climate on a small scale. This small area has elements that cause it to be slightly different than the overall climate of a city or county.
It is possible to create a microclimate to improve the growth and success of one or more plants. However, whether you simply want to make the best use of the natural microclimates of your property or create a special situation for a selected plant, you should know how to recognize and modify the elements that create one.
The elements of air, fire, water, earth and space create microclimates. Ideally you want the elements of the system to work in harmony with each other to minimize waste and work. Match your inner landscape with the outer landscape.
The Power of Air/Wind
Sinking cold air can form frost pockets in basin areas in the wintertime. Look around your yard on an early morning when the temperature is below freezing. Where there is frost on the vegetation there is a low spot in your yard. If frost is a problem, provide air drainage just as you would water drainage.
Wind affects a microclimate by drying and heating or cooling plants depending on the relative air temperature. Be aware of trees, hedges, walls, paving and dirt roads that channel wind. Groves of trees or shrubs create “outdoor rooms” with reduced wind velocity. Stonewalls and tall evergreen hedges can protect from wind year round.
The gentleness of a warm breeze relaxes your nerves and soothes your emotions. It can revitalize and imbue you with life. Since Air relates to the human intellect we want to create a garden that calms the intellect and thinking process. This can be achieved by planting plants that have a subtle colors and fragrances that relax our emotional state.
The Power of Sunlight/Shade
Sunlight and Shade
Temperature is affected by the amount of sunlight an area receives. Areas that get little or no sun tend to be cooler than those that receive a great deal of sun. The physical elements that affect the amount of sun an area receives include houses, walls, fences, mounded earth works, slopes and even where you park your vehicle. Reflective surfaces such as windows and pools can add extra light and heat to an ecosystem. Biological elements that provide shade include trees, shrubs, ground cover, grass and mulch.
The amount of shade an area receives depends upon the season. Seasonal shade is also provided by deciduous trees that provide shade in the summer and allow winter sun to warm the ground and nearby structures. The radiance of the sun gives life and growth. We all need solar energy to thrive and stay vital. Without enough solar energy we can get depressed and overwhelmed by the state of the world. Fire is an element of transformation and regeneration.
The Power of Water/Rain
A major purpose of rainwater harvesting is to spread rainfall water out over a larger area and slow it down so that it sinks into the soil, becomes available to plants and does not cause erosion. Roofs, patios, sidewalks and paving create areas of high water runoff that can be collected in large containers for later reuse. In addition to collected rainwater, channels can be dug on slopes to manage rainwater flow and divert it near trees and shrubs needing water. Rock beds in channel bottoms, rock dikes and rock edging can be used to slow and direct water flow and give it more time to sink into the soil. Trees and shrubs that do not tolerate flooding can be placed above low areas where rainfall is allowed to collect.
Plants compete for water, some with shallow roots and some with deep roots. A few plants will dry out the soil around them, leaving no moisture for neighbors. Know which plants need moisture and what distance is needed between the various plants in your garden.
The fluidity and flow of water is a way of soothing our bodies and emotions. We need water to sustain our gardens and to absorb the gifts of nature. Without water our creativity and imagination dries up. Create a water garden with edible water plants, perhaps even a flowing waterfall.
The Power of Earth/Soil Fertility
Modifying pH-‐neutral to alkaline soil is essential for many plants to thrive. We need soil fertility to thrive especially in today’s world. The healthier the soil, the healthier the plants are; which means the healthier the ecosystem is able to withstand harsh climatic changes. Our garden microclimate is as healthy as our soil. Our soil is our foundation to creating peace. This peace starts and ends with the health of the life that emerges from the life of the soil.
There are several things that are vital to a healthy plant besides sunlight, food and water, and these things are referred to as “the soil food web”. It’s those microorganisms and beneficial fungi that not only live in the soil but also in and around a plant. Earthworms are also vital to healthy soil and plants; if there are no earthworms or few in number, you have a problem, and you cannot hope to have a healthy garden till you have good worm populations.
The governing principle of slope temperature is that warm air rises and cool air sinks. The tops of slopes are warmer, the bottoms cooler. Slope moisture and soil structure varies with location and steepness. On the top of a slope the soil is usually rockier and courser. This type of soil drains well and holds less moisture. At the bottom of a slope, because of rainwater runoff and erosion, the soil is moister, finer and higher in nutrients. Furthermore, the steeper the slope in the middle, the drier the soil.
Installing retaining walls or rock dikes crosswise to a slope, creating terraces, helps reduce runoff. Wildflowers are known to spontaneously appear on these terraces.
The Power of Space/Sound
Savor the Solace of Sound
One of the goals of creating a garden of tranquility is to distract us from the stresses of daily life by stimulating the senses. For this intention, fountains, pools and other water elements are popular features in gardens of peace because nothing soothes as quickly as the sound of burbling water and songs of birds. Wind chimes and bells are another way to add the element of sound. Or you can create the illusion of water with a dry stream bed decorated with pretty stones or colored glass. Have space in your garden where it is simple and uncluttered.
There’s nothing quite like a hummingbird to stop you in your tracks, which is why forest garden designers often choose plants that attract birds, butterflies and pollinators for creating that sense of awe and wonder. Other strategies include planting abundantly of aromatic plants and herbs as well as plants that reverberate the history of the ecosystem around you.
Whenever possible, choose plants that are native to your region, because it helps people to reconnect with the past and with a sense of place. Being surrounded by nature that’s familiar makes a mind-‐body connection that relieves anxiety and restores wellness.
Forest Gardening as Spiritual Practice
I have seen transformation occur with folks who choose to do the majority of the installation of their forest gardens themselves. Many of my students come to me to collaborate and are guided through a process that proves to be restorative and healing in and of itself. This is both an act of self-‐renewal and planetary renewal.
“People are discovering that they want to bring balance, wholeness and serenity into their lives, and a forest garden is one of the finest ways do that.”