The Healing Garden | Midwest Living

The Healing Garden

A Michigan woman's decision to listen to the land led her to create a special space that heals with natural beauty.


Sweet autumn clematis and alyssum surround an iron chair.
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A small bronze statue rests in the pond.
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When birds plant sunflowers in unexpected places, Nancy enjoys the serendipity.
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"Working in this garden is kind of like working with watercolor paint," Nancy says. "You have this idea in your head of how it's supposed to be and then nature happens, or the watercolor bleeds, and you have to go with the flow. Like sunflowers planted by the birds, you have to have enough faith in nature to allow it to create."

For now, the garden is private, though it has been part of local garden tours. "I don't want to turn everyone into a gardener. That's not my purpose," says Nancy. "But I want people to rediscover themselves."

That rediscovery often comes with a connection to nature. A survey by Roper Report showed that nearly 60 percent of Midwesterners rate being outdoors as "very important" when spending their leisure time—slightly higher than other regions. Connecting to nature, as Nancy learned, can be done in your own yard.

"For me, the garden is a serenity slowdown," Nancy says. "To be able to sit and watch a hummingbird land on a mimosa and just experience that is important. I feel when I'm in this garden that I'm not separate from it, I'm just another animal, another creature. And it heals."

Panda and Pippi, the family's two dogs, romp in the yard. The koi, seeing her approach, swim toward Nancy for a handout. The lotuses she planted in the pond raise fist-size pink flowers a couple feet above the pond's quiet surface. Cannas, ornamental grasses, ferns, hostas, and the sheer number of other plants added to a space that once held only lawn could seem overwhelming. But it all happened one bit at a time. Anyone, she says, can experience the peace of Zoie's Garden.

"Quiet is important," Nancy says. "Your space can be small and intimate. It doesn't have to be elaborate; it just has to be soulful."

Now, when Nancy takes time to listen, when she acts out of giving rather than reacting in fear or depression, she is always shown what to do—though not necessarily in a way she could have predicted. "If your spirit is right and your attitude is truly wanting the best for everyone else, to give rather than receive is what it's about."

So she listens. And the land responds.

Healing Garden Design Ideas

A SPECIAL ENTRANCE A beckoning gate, arbor or other opening creates a feeling of welcome—and anticipated, yet-to-be-revealed delights.

WATER Whether it's a small, still birdbath or a rushing waterfall, the sight of water is soothing and relaxing. The sound of moving water mutes traffic or other noises.

COLOR AND LIGHTING Visual cues change a viewer's mood: Cool colors (blues and greens) soothe; reds, vibrant pinks, yellows and oranges excite. A spotlight or candle can transform a dark space into something mystical or cozy.

SITTING AREAS A simple log, a chair or an ornate bench offers space for rest or quiet contemplation. Add pillows, smooth surfaces, or a corner to nestle in if you expect to linger.

GARDEN ART By adding something that inspires you, such as a simple piece of art, a sculptural stick or rock, a birdhouse or shrine, you turn your garden into a thoughtful gallery that reflects the things you most treasure.

WILDLIFE HABITAT Plants that provide cover or food for wildlife also are attractive to humans. Deliberately sharing space with other beings connects you to a larger environment.



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