Recognition of earth as one of the four classic elements is the basis for why earth is sacred. In the context of garden design it would seem almost obvious in the fact that all gardens are inherently “outside” and already “of the earth”. Hence, all gardens are earthly by the nature of their physical proximity to the ground.

Earth can be seen as the home of all the aspects of nature, the ground, the soil, the plants, water, fire and air. Earth is our home into which we grow roots and plant seeds of aspirations and desires. We are anchored and nurtured by its solid foundation reinforcing our beliefs to justify why earth is sacred.

Mother Earth is a term derived from ancient cultures and religions including Native American and Pagan beliefs. Father Sky and Mother Earth are seen as entities that are revered because of what they provide all living things whether that be warmth, shelter, or food. The earth as a mother figure is the feminine energy of the planet — nurturing and supportive.

So in regards to designing with the four elements, earth can be represented in a number of ways while its manifestation in a garden may be obvious or symbolic.

One must have an appreciation of what earth means to them and revere its inclusion in the physical design of a garden for it to not lose its recognition. To consider earth a being rather than simply an element of nature is to support why earth is sacred and give cause to revere its existence.

Its manifestation may be so subtle that one may overlook its use as in looking upon a typical Zen style dry garden without using your “symbolic eyes”.

Our physical bodies are born into the lifecycle of a three dimensional existence that we call planet earth. Hence, life on earth is part of a larger cycle of birth, growth and death.

The earth as a physical form is grounding. Its surface contains an abundance of electrons that heal and stabilize life forms. When we lose that sense of being grounded, we feel disconnected with nature and yearn to renew that connection. By simply standing barefoot on the ground, we can rejuvenate the healing forces between our bodies and the earth.

A Medicine Wheel Garden is a good example of a garden theme celebrating the earth in a way that connects us as beings of the earth, the Creator, the Heavens and the spirits of the four directions. The Native peoples of the planet know why the earth is sacred evidenced through their ancient teachings and traditions.

earth Poland formal gardenRaw nature is by virtue, a natural garden so to speak. The Garden of Eve was considered to be a kind of paradise or Heaven on Earth. But then man began to manipulate his surroundings by creating spaces within nature to accommodate his needs. He later became more ambitious with his creative abilities to the point where the creations were not seen so much as natural beauty, but as aesthetic creations by man and referred to as artistic expression.

The picture above is quite impressive in its complexity and visual appeal, yet what is it accomplishing in terms of reverence for nature or the earth? Some people find order and balance in such a design while others see the control over natural forms. Just because it is not natural (manmade) does that make it less remarkable?

 

water as a powerful element in garden designWater as a sacred design tool is one of the four classic elements along with air, fire and earth. It can be represented in the form of fountains, pools, ponds and a variety of waterfeatures. Water is the essence of life. Think of the “fountain of youth”. But in the context of garden design, the symbolism is not as important as the physical presence of water including its movement and its sound or sense of tranquility.

We all enjoy swimming pools, but not everyone wants them to cool off in the summer or to swim.  From a spiritual standpoint, a negative edge pool is looked at as an element of water that merges with the landscape beyond and not so much for its use as a pool for swimming.

This pool was integrated into the natural landscape and gives the illusion of water falling over the edge of a cliff as a waterfall. Its just as effective as a visual point of interest as it is as a place to cool off, relax and enjoy the weather.

bird bath fountainSince water adds a dynamic quality to the garden, it must be visible whether that is in the form of a bubbling fountain, a pool of water or flowing as in these tiered bird bath bowls.

Water adds movement to the design and the speed at which it flows can have an invigorating effect or provide a sense of tranquility as in a still reflecting pool.

Waterfeatures and fountains will attract wildlife if they provide access and platforms so they can drink.

Birdbaths as Sacred Drinking Fountains

Birdbaths not only provide perches, but they are shallow enough so birds can drink, take a bath and rinse their feathers. Thus water as a sacred design tool is evident in birdbaths as well.

Butterflys will be attracted if there are shallow stones placed just above the water surface.

The Use of Water Without Water

earth 1024px-Japanese_Zen_gardenSymbolically, sand, gravel or small pebbles can be used to represent water in the form of a lake, dry stream or ocean. The sand can be raked as shown in this picture to represent waves on the water’s surface.

Natural Boulder Waterfeatures

Red rock Sedona waterfeature

                                              Red rock Sedona waterfeature

Natural boulder waterfeatures mimic the way water flows in nature and thus forms a connection between us and nature. This sacred bond is something inherent in us as we attempt to connect Heaven and Earth. Water purifies our soul. Water washes away the negative emotions of our mind. Water removes the toxins from our bodies. Water as crystalline structures are sacred geometry.

Water is sacred no matter how you think about it. Water as a sacred design tool just makes a garden that much more interesting and provides that connection to nature beyond the plants, soil, wildlife and sky. It balances out the other essential and classic elements of air, fire and earth.

Firepits are very popular element in a garden

Firepits are a very popular element in a garden

Fire as a sacred design idea is most often reflected in the use of firepits. Fire is one of the four classic elements in addition to water, earth and air.

In this picture to the left, the fire pit represents fire, the stone patio and boulders represent earth, the spa represents the water element while air can be either the ambient breeze, sound or the oxygen that feeds the fire.

Waves O FireWe all have an inherent attraction to fire and feel the connection to nature in a subtle way. Used in a spiritual design, fire can be a powerful design feature including its symbolism of being transformative and purifying. Rituals can be performed around fire’s ability to change things, release things and transform not just what is burning, but the thought that is being symbolically burned or released as a kind of cleansing. Hence an example of fire as a sacred design idea.
Red fire burner

Fire as one of the four elements can be represented not only by actual flame, but anything that has a triangular shape or even the color red which is how fire is represented in the 5 Element Theory of Feng Shui.

Fire pits and fire places can be used symbolically to represent the element of fire as well as provide warm and ambiance which is the mundane reason for a firepit. The transcendental meaning for why a firepit may be used is to reflect fire as a sacred design idea.

Air is one of the four classic elements (also Fire, Water and Earth).  Air as a classical element in the garden can be reflected in several ways namely through wind, sound and movement. Air gives life through its component molecules of Carbon and Oxygen.

Air has a close connection with the “etheric plane”, which is an unseen, unsensed aspect of our surroundings and more associated with the etheric body or the human energy fields represented through the auras surrounding our bodies.  Prana or Chi is the cosmic breath of life in Chinese and Hindu philosophies. Conscious breathing as practiced in meditation and yoga connects this vital energy of our physical bodies to our higher energy bodies.

This is the essence of air albeit a metaphysical description yet as an example of one of many sacred design ideas, air can be used in the garden in a number of ways as explained below.

Sound

air wind_chimes

Air in the form of wind provides an energy force that has tremendous power. Its slow moving form creates gentle energy for wind chimes. The chimes in turn produce melodic soundwaves which travel through the air. Thus sound is an aspect of air.

 

 

 

 

 

air prayer-flags

Wind

Flags and banners or anything else that captures the wind like swaying bamboo or tall grasses reflect the element air and are easy to include in any garden design. But the symbolism of air and wind reflected in the use of Tibetan prayer flags is most auspicious. It is believed that the prayers inscribed on the surface of the flags when hung outside will transmit the blessings and prayers to all beings of the world carried upon the wings of the wind.

Movement

air kinetic sculptureKinetic sculpture is another way to reflect air as a classical element in the garden with the design principle of movement being the key. Without the wind, these sculptures become static and stoic always waiting for that little breeze to make them come alive with the spirit of the wind.

 

 

 

A dry rock garden is typically uses boulders, gravel or pebbles to simulate a dry stream bed. The texture and form of the stone is featured so as to convey the theme of the garden. Dry rock gardens typically are not lush with lots of vegetation and are often designed as minimalist requiring very low maintenance. What makes a dry rock garden a type of Sacred Garden you may ask. A “zen garden” is what most people think of when designing a dry rock garden that has a sacred component such as meditation or contemplation. Below is an example of a dry Japanese Tea Garden I designed and built. To read about its construction see my post A Japanese Garden From Design to Completion

Dry rock garden with a Japanese Tea Garden theme

Initially designed to have a body of water, this dry rock garden a part of a tea garden ended up being a river rock pebble stream and gravel pond.

ABOVE: This small covered structure is called a Komiachi Machai or “waiting area” in Japanese. The waiting area is part of the experience of strolling through a Tea Garden prior to entering the formal Tea House where the Tea Master conducts the tea ceremony. The Roji or pathway is a key component that leads from the entrance and throughout the garden allowing guests to quiet their minds.

BELOW: This dry rock garden stone arrangement was designed and situated to be viewed from the Tea House. The river rock stones mimic the beach shoreline while the stone represent mountainous island landforms in the ocean. The gravel can be raked to simulate waves on the water and provide an interactive form of meditation. A bamboo fence was used as a backdrop to simplify the view and be more conducive for meditation.

Dry rock garden is often thought of as a traditional Japanese zen raked sand garden designed and built by JSL Landscape

For a more thorough explanation of this Japanese Tea Garden see my post Scottsdale Japanese Tea Garden

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