Garden Alchemy For Spiritual Renewal
As the year turns and our part of the planet leans into the light, we are naturally drawn to contemplate (if not actually attempt) renewal of many kinds. For me, the new year promises to bring a new-to-me home, a structurally sound if cheerfully funky vintage mobile home that’s miraculously affordable despite its ideal downtown location. The mobile home park community is tightly knit, with residents who bonded over the hard work involved in creating stable and in-perpetuity affordable housing. I’ll be sharing this unexpected opportunity with my daughter, who is also in transition. Hers is partly hormonal, as her identified-male-at-birth body continues its soul-comforting shift into femininity. As her body reshapes itself, she is also doing deep work on her essential identity, examining every feeling and assumption and reaction and response in the new light of her new womanhood.
As I move deeper into retirement, I too am re-examining many of my own assumptions and expectations. Where and who did I think to be at this point in my life? How do I imagine myself developing from here? When I dream into what I might do next, the plot line centers on various projects or causes that might become my next passion. I’ve never been a big fan of the usual bucket list business. Such lists often seem more self indulgent than useful. Bias alert: being of use, of service, is a core value for me, now as much as ever. I think I fear being (or at least feeling) useless more than almost anything else, except dire poverty.
A Meditative Stroll
One project that has caught my imagination is the creation of a meditation garden. I’ve been invited to help design such a garden. which will include both a meditative seating area and a spiral walk. While such spirals can be effective even when a simple path is lined with stones, this client wants to feel lost in abundance while strolling. Since this is a summer home, I can focus on summery pants. As I started sketching, I remembered a long ago visit to Jardin de L’Alchimiste in Mas de la Brune near Eygalieres in Provence. Once the home of a renowned French alchemist, the grounds now hold a marvelous medicinal herbal garden based on a medieval design. Each kind of plant is enclosed in fantastic willow wand cages, some towering overhead. The herbs and flowers were arranged according to their magical properties, from roses for love potions to nettles to soothe the sting of jealousy.
My design is based on my recollections of the alchemist’s maze garden that echoes the transformational stages of life. Alchemists thought life begins with black work, the unaware stage in which we begin to define ourselves. Thus, the first section holds black mondo grass and black succulents grown in tall black containers set into black gravel and ends with a square black pool of still water and a single scrub oak tree. In alchemical terms, the oak and the still water symbolize the dream state, or unconscious living. When we dream by the black pool, we awaken into the light.
On To The Light
A bicolored path leads through an arch into the white work, which develops the emotions and refines the intellect. Here, walkers are surrounded by white roses and white striped maiden grass. Since both are about four feet high, the effect is utterly confectionery, like walking through vanilla ice cream. Paved with white gravel, the white section ends in a round white moon pool of bubbling water, symbolizing the energetic refreshment of the self aware spirit. The red work section is entirely graveled with rich red lava rock, through which grow dozens of blood red roses and fiery heleniums. A star-of-David shaped pool with a joyfully spouting fountain symbolizes the highest state of alchemical development, the spiritual state of knowing. Onward!
A Lively Winter Salad
This lively, flavorful beet salad also affords pleasant memories of that lovely French trip. Adjust the dressing to your taste; some like a stronger bite of mustard and a more vivid vinegar, while others may prefer a milder version. However you mix it, the dominant flavors celebrate the earthy flavor and natural sweetness of the beets.
Provencal Winter Beet Salad
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/2 cup fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup stemmed flat Italian parsley
1 cup toasted walnut halves
2 cups cooked beets, diced
2 crisp apples (Opal or Jazz), diced
In a jar, combine 1 teaspoon lemon rind, the vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper. Cover tightly, shake well to emulsify and set aside. In a serving bowl, toss the apples gently with lemon juice. Add beets and walnuts, toss again with dressing and serve, garnished with parsley. Serves at least one.