Written by: Kathie Houchens
Date: July 29, 2015

welcome to the garden

The weathered driftwood sign has greeted friends for over twenty years. “Welcome to the garden,” it invites.  This garden, or any garden, welcomes with or without signage…color beckons, birdsongs summon, butterflies encourage my curiosity. Enter, follow, and observe bright wings on the pink burst of peony petals or the perfumed purple buddleia bush.  What makes a garden a place of peaceful contemplation and healing that it often is?  Do I slow the rhythm of my steps, or take a deeper breath of fresh and fragrant air?  I awaken to awareness that the creative process of all living things need not be hurried.  When I yearn for a place to reconnect with my best intentions, I head to a garden.


Many gardens provide paths that lead to a destination or simply to open space to explore. A slow walk may share wisdom of its own. The underfoot sensation may be unyielding flagstone or brick.  Soft mulch or sand soothes each step.  A sonorous wooden walkway echoes its presence.  Just plain dirt paths show the wear of frequent passage.  In an herb garden a little thyme along the pathway, releases invigorating fragrance.

Come, sit awhile to absorb the ambiance. What do you hear, see, feel in the shade of an oak, or at pond’s edge?  Watch for the furtive appearance of a chipmunk or squirrel.  What attracts insects, ducks, frogs or turtles? Child-like wonder may erupt when we give ourselves time to be in nature.

Gardens teach patience, both to guest and co-creator.  A gardener knows the pace of growth is not hers to control.  The cycle belongs to the universe – darkness, fecundity, birth and bloom, slowing to form seed, return to the earth.  It is a holy circuit all must travel, in due time.

The garden and the friends change and grow.  Trees fill out, become taller, require  pruning, offer wider areas of shade. I notice nesting birds from my window, and later enjoy maples’ autumnal golds and reds. I remember that my own growing and changing process is a mixed bag of the inevitable and the lovely.  The garden becomes a metaphor for life, and a resource for growing gracefully into maturity.   Life’s seasons, like a garden’s, invite me to be present to what IS.  Today I love what is blooming, even as I learn to surrender the withering experiences of the days now gone.  The unknowing that surrounds tomorrow’s possibility is both mystery and promise.

Consider a few ideas, lessons learned, observations made. This is just a starting place, so please join the conversation by adding your own wisdom in the comments at the end of this piece.

  • My garden needed help from the start!  Weeds were three feet tall when we moved in one August after the house had been empty for a month.  Neglect makes the task of restoration more difficult.  A little daily awareness and attention may be useful in self-care, in personal relationships, as well as the flower bed.  A morning inventory of body, emotions, and the day’s intentions may lead to choices that help me bloom where I am planted.


  • A little space is good in the garden and in life.  There are gardens that go wild with plants competing for space, light and air circulation.  Visually a garden design is more pleasing with some “blank” spots that allow the viewer to focus on a standout specimen.  For healthy personal growth and development consider some spaciousness in your environment and in your schedule.  A little time apart, whether in the garden, or just a walk around the block, can clear the mind, restore circulation, and renew the spirit.


  • When planting a garden I find it hard to resist the lush blooms of a tropical mandevilla vine or the fragrant exuberance of a plumeria or jasmine.  But I garden in the Midwest!  If I insist on choosing a cultivar that prefers a jungle habitat, I will probably be disappointed unless I am willing to invest time and energy in attending to its demanding requirements.  Just so, my life choices can fill my days with simple pleasures or with constant reminders that there is a regimen to be maintained.


  • A garden teaches me to embrace the complexity of nature.  Zinnias’ brilliant blooms attract butterflies and bees, but also the gold finch who pecks the center finding seed, sending every gorgeous petal to the ground.  I don’t have the heart to chase him from his tasty meal.  I plant enough lettuce and kale to share with the rabbits.  Thankfully the deer have not yet found my buffet.  Gardening, like life, encourages a generous spirit and sense of humor.  Can I be grateful for the abundance, enough for all?

Enjoy a moment on a garden bench where the buzzing and chirping, the scent of a fresh lily, the soft colors of foliage and flower, engage all the senses.  Inhale wonder, loosen the grip on life and exhale stress.  A gift of a little garden time is one you can give yourself.

Bench in the author's garden

There are marvelous public garden spaces in the Columbus area.  You may have a special place in your own neighborhood.  Or find an area of peaceful reflection on the campus of a local college, university, seminary or religious institution.  Where do you go to renew, refresh, restore your inner peace?  Do you sketch, paint, write in a journal, “receive” images (either on a camera, or in your memory) for reflection? Please share your garden wisdom.


Chadwick Arboretum (includes a labyrinth to walk)


Columbus Metro Parks


Franklin Park Conservatory

http://www.fpconservatory.org/  (outdoor gardens free, indoor exhibits admission fee)

The Gardens at Gantz Farm (includes a labyrinth to walk)


Goodale Park in the Short North


Grange Audubon Park and gardens


Inniswood Gardens in Westerville


Schiller Park in German Village


Topiary Park downtown Columbus


Whetstone Park of Roses


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