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Creating sanctuary in your garden

by Timber Press on November 13, 2018

in Design, Gardening

We all need sanctuary. We need a place where we can feel safe, one that rejuvenates and refreshes us, somewhere we feel nourished and loved. Jessi Bloom, author of Creating Sanctuary describes why designing a home garden with healing in mind can make all the difference in your busy life.

Many of us look for that sweet spot in the wildness of a distant national forest or park, the aisles of a high-priced grocery store, or a trendy exercise class. Often we look to connect to nature anywhere that has more plants than people, more wildlife than domesticated or controlled life. It may be our habit to get into a car and drive somewhere in hopes of becoming ourselves again, especially after a bad day or during a rough period.

We acknowledge that when we eat better and exercise we feel good, and that the connections we find in nature help to restore our spirit, but what we overlook is how much of that we can find right in our own backyards. All of us can use our gardens, the earth, and spaces we inhabit as our personal sanctuary. This book is about creating sanctuary, every day, wherever we find ourselves.

The busyness of our lives can often distract us from making time to find relaxation or peace, to ground ourselves, and to really evaluate where we are heading. There is cultural pressure to do more, to have more, and to push ourselves too hard. We tell ourselves that the tasks and to-do lists we create are more important than self-care and quiet reflection. We often take care of others’ needs before our own, at the expense of our health: body, mind, and spirit. We see hardship and challenge all around us, in the news, on social media, in our own neighborhoods. Stress mounts until it consumes us, and then Western medicine encourages us to treat illness with drugs that mask the symptoms so we can resume the same routine that caused the stress in the first place.

How do we change? How do we get out of this rut and practice self-care regularly? How do we effectively create a way of living that allows us to heal, feel restored, and find peace within ourselves? We can do this by incorporating what is good for us into our daily routines and shaping the environments we find ourselves in every day so they inspire us too.

I believe that nature is the best healer. When we remember that we are nature and when we take our place there as one species among countless other species, we feel nature’s raw energy—water, wind, sun, sturdy trees, burgeoning blossom—and are able to forget about our own worries for a little while. The life force that runs through our own bodies can resonate with all of nature’s energy if we let it. But before we can, most of us have to learn to take care of our nervous systems and not to carry negative energy around in our bodies. By looking to nature, we can find simple ways to keep ourselves healthy. And when we take care of ourselves, our interactions with others improve, too, leading to overall societal well-being.

My intention in this book is to help  you transform your life by caring for nature in the space you already have and learning to use its simple, powerful gifts effectively. I hope to help you find a deeper relationship with and connection to the land you inhabit—no matter the size—and with all of its beings and elements; share my love of plants and my knowledge of all they can offer us; and help you find sanctuary every day by incorporating simple, nature-based routines.

My own journey to find sanctuary has been a lifelong adventure. I grew up in a small rural community close to the woods in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and with a view of the Salish Sea. My home was not always safe, however, nor were many of the people in my neighborhood. I would escape to the forest to find sanctuary, hiding there until I felt protected and whole. There, I could be me. Nature would hold me securely, letting me explore, learn, and feel supported.

My relationship with wild environments only grew stronger as I approached adulthood. My passion for nature expanded in defense of the sacredness I felt there. I wanted to protect and serve the resource that had kept me safe and nourished in those early years of my life. I tended to plants in nurseries, harvested their seeds for ecological restoration, pruned them, loved them, studied them, and ultimately found myself in a successful career as a horticulturalist, environmentalist, and landscape designer. I was drawn to this path because I’ve always been able to feel the life force inherent in plants, animals, earth, water, and stone. I often see myself as a connecting point between people and their own environments, an interpreter between humans and nature. My job has been to help people create sanctuary at home by developing and nurturing sacred spaces we shape together in their own gardens.

While my career was taking off, I was running a growing-too-fast business, raising two children, and volunteering in my community and industry to help with awareness and stronger environmental standards. Then came a tipping point. I simply ran out of energy. I had medical problems left and right. My body’s systems were failing me; I had respiratory issues from carbon monoxide poisoning, I needed surgery for my kidneys, and toxic diagnostic scans wreaked havoc on the rest of my body. I saw numerous specialists but eventually realized that underlying these mechanical failures was my failure to nurture my own emotional and spiritual health.

Another turning point was getting divorced. Picking up pieces of my life after it had seemingly exploded forced me to slow down and adjust my lifestyle. I began to wonder what had happened. How had I become so focused on the outside world that I had failed to create sanctuary in my own life, to take care of my own most basic needs? Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), searching for healing on every level, I made a dramatic shift in my life, and my journey took a new course.

I looked far and wide and kept my mind open. I discovered powerful healing in the teachings and modalities of many other cultures. I was especially drawn to the way plants were used as medicine throughout time, so I began to seek out and connect the dots between different plant-based methods. Interestingly, I found many parallels between folk medicine and scientifically validated modern medical uses of plants. People have been using plants for healing from the beginning of our species and around the globe—and our collective knowledge about the healing power of plants somehow survived without all the communication systems we rely on today.

My garden—its plants and the animals that visited it—was my sacred space while I healed during a period of several years. My connection to the land kept me going. I knew it was time to shift my life to focus on self-care and to turn to nature for remedies. During this period, I began asking myself many questions: What helps us function well? What makes us happy? What keeps us stuck in destructive or unhealthy behavioral patterns? How can nature help us heal from trauma? How can we live the best life possible in harmony with the world around us? I decided to focus on helping people find better and more resilient ways to live in a world that seems increasingly complex and at times irreparably damaged and hostile.

Sanctuary is becoming more important than ever before. The surest way for us to be able to live in peace and to be happy is for us to create a place where we can be in harmony with the natural world and where we feel comfortable in our own skin. When we achieve this, we restore our bodies, minds, and souls.

You can find everyday sanctuary in any patch of land that brings you into proximity with nature—including your own backyard. Just as you can decorate an interior space in a way that suits you and makes you feel happy, you can create a garden to nourish your spiritual and emotional well-being. All land is sacred. All life is sacred. Therefore, anytime you infuse a space with positive intentions and honor the relationship you have with the life and energy inside that space, it can become an everyday sanctuary for you.


Jessi Bloom is a best-selling author, award-winning ecological landscape designer, and speaker. She owns N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Services, based in the Pacific Northwest, which is known as an innovator and leader in the field of permaculture, sustainable landscape design, construction, and land management. Her work has been recognized by government agencies and industry organizations and makes headlines in national media. She lives near Seattle with her two sons on their permaculture homestead, which is full of functional gardens and rescue animals.


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