A few years back, I decided to extend my living space outdoors and create a sanctuary garden. I LOVE working in the dirt, creating vignettes within nature, planting and waiting, and watching things grow. I am by nature a nester and a tender of things. But living at the coast on a quarter acre of sand and salal creates some unique challenges for a cottage gardener, and I was at a loss as to how to begin. So I called a local landscaper, who started the process by clearing the salal and brush, moving a few rhodies, and drawing me a Plan. Having a Plan was a strategic move on my part to help sell the concept to the Nice Catholic Boy I had the good sense to marry. I thought that if I could just get him to visualize what I had in mind, maybe he'd have a little enthusiasm for the project and get behind it (this is the same man who can't understand why I would want to paint over "perfectly good" white walls … but I digress). Before he became a surveyor, my hubby was a landscaper, and I knew I was stepping on his toes by bringing in an outsider to help me with this. But, doggone it, I wanted to get it done and … well … ten years had gone by and it just wasn't happening. (Anybody who is married to a plumber and has a leaky faucet knows exactly what I’m talking about here!)
I’d set aside a little money to start Phase I of the Plan … and then life happened. The economy took a nose dive, my husband’s business slowed to a crawl, and I simply couldn’t justify the expense of a personal garden against more pressing matters like health insurance and jobs for our employees. So I rolled up the Plan, stuck it in a corner in my laundry room, and went out and bought a hanging fuschia basket for my front porch. Maybe someday …
One day, my handyman, Phil, asked if I was ever going to do anything with my yard. I told him about my little dream for a sanctuary garden and why I’d put it on hold. “Hmmmm,” Phil said. “Mind if I think about this for a few days?” Really? Did I mind? Are you kidding?
I am absolutely certain there will be a special place in heaven for Phil, because over time he has created for me a little heaven here on earth. Little by little, he has built rock walls, dug out a pond, moved statuary, and transplanted plants I've salvaged from the clearance racks at local nurseries. It bears no resemblance to the initial Plan, and it isn't going to win any awards, but it is my own little sanctuary and I love it. I love sitting on my little bench that I found at a local antique shop, watching the birds splash in my late mother-in-law's bird bath, and listening to the water in my fountain (in the pond liner that I found on Craigslist). I love my hostas, and columbine, and astilbe. I love the way the Creeping Charlie does, in fact, creep over the rockwork.
When I was a young teen, I recall watching "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" on television with my family. One particular scene stands out in my memory … that of Quasimoto rescuing Esmeralda, taking her into the cathedral, and yelling to the crowd outside, "Sanctuary! I give her sanctuary!" I remember asking my dad, "What does he mean?" My idea of a "sanctuary" was a big room at church with pews and a pulpit and a choir loft up in front. Dad explained that behind the locked doors of the cathedral, Quasimoto was offering the young woman a safe haven and that the church would protect her from whatever danger she was facing. The idea took root in my young mind and began a process I've practiced throughout my life of creating a sanctuary everywhere I have lived. My home has always been my sanctuary, my haven, a place where I can rest and be restored at the end of the day, a place where I feel sheltered from the elements, the demands, and the uncertainties of an ever changing world. Because while I love my work and the crazy always-on-the-go life I lead, there are days when I crave the comfort of my home and the solace of my garden.
Christopher Forrest McDowell wrote, “Sanctuary, on a personal level, is where we perform the job of taking care of the soul.” My little garden sanctuary is the place I love to go at the end of the day to breathe deep. It’s the place I go in the early hours of the morning to spend a few moments in gratitude before I launch into my day. And, much like the sanctuary of my little Catholic parish, it’s the place I go to listen to the still, small voice that speaks to my soul and gives me rest.