THE REFLECTIVE GARDEN
Re-flect – verb
- (of a surface or body) throw back (heat, light, or sound) without absorbing it.
- Think deeply or carefully about
Author Robert Fulchum mentions in his book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” that he spent time with at a monastery in Tibet. He had the chance to ask one question of the monks’ very sagacious leader and he took that rare opportunity to ask him “what is the meaning of life?”
Please forgive me for paraphrasing here as my copy of the book is long gone but the gist of the monk’s response was mostly non-verbal as he held out a small, round mirror. Boiling it down so I can segue into this month’s pitch, the monk alluded to Dr. Fulchum that sometimes the meaning of life is to try to shine some light (or knowledge) into places it would otherwise not be found.
Whew! That was a stretch and thanks for hanging in there. Now allow me to spend the next few minutes talking about reflection in a garden. What a fun word, refection, as it may be interpreted both literally and figuratively.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship you may have noticed how mirrors are used strategically to create an illusion of more space. This same technique is often utilized in beach or ski condos for the same purpose.
Ours is a very small garden. When I was teaching landscape design at The University of Tennessee, I often used images of it to reinforce different concepts about spatial layout and circulation. Occasionally, I would have the opportunity to give students an on-site tour. One comment that arose more than once was “this is smaller than it looks in the pictures”. Success? Perhaps. When you are limited for space, you should use any method available help to create feelings of both intimacy and expanse. The former is fairly easy with good planting design and well-placed site furnishings.
Expanse, on the other hand, may be a bit more of a challenge. One Way I’ve done this is with mirrors. Before my collection of years became so vast (I’m an old fart now), I would venture out on a very early morning run. On many Tuesdays (trash day in our neighborhood) I was amazed by the number of mirrors I would find carefully leaning against trash bins. People are extra careful, I’ve found, when getting rid of mirrors as no one wants to clean a mess or have 7 years of bad luck. And no, I wouldn’t run home with these finds but rather quickly grab an old blanket and truck keys and go back to the scene to claim my prize.
The result, on our back (south facing) privacy fence we have just the right collection of assorted sized light-catchers (mirrors) to create a feeling of another room beyond the property line. In the winter, when those long north-side shadows of the house fall on the pond, the mirrors reflect some sunny rays in places there would ordinarily be gloomy. Of course, you may want to use some caution so as not to toss bolts of sun into rooms you do NOT want brightened.
Those who know me understand I’m not a follower of rules when it comes to garden adornment. This is particularly evident in a birdbath moss garden where I’ve recently added some vehicular side-view mirror gems.
Of course, reflection in a garden goes beyond being crafty with repurposed mirrors. Any amount of water in the landscape will also capture light rays and create interest. This could be as simple as a birdbath or recently filled rain garden or as magical as light bouncing off a semi-frozen waterfall flowing into a garden pond.
Reflection in the garden may also be in the not so quite literal sense. Any well-designed garden should have a small sitting space or refuge where you can just go to reflect, meditate, ponder about both that which surrounds you and the dreams and goals that await.