story and photos by K.C. Fahy-Harvick

sanc•tu•ar•y  /ˈsaNGk(t)SHəˌwerē/

The word sanctuary, from the Latin sanctus meaning holy place, may evoke thoughts of consecrated spaces like churches, monasteries, or temples, but some may be drawn to the definitions that speak to reserves (as in bird sanctuaries), to places sought in times of trouble, or perhaps retreats. When I think of the word sanctuary, I feel an aura of security and peacefulness as in a safe haven. While the world whirls around us and tries to suck us up into the jet stream of work, news, kids, politics, what’s for dinner, the din of everyday life, try to remember that the earth is like our anchor that slows the currents. The stillness in this earthly state replaces the noise in our heads with peace. The true challenge is how to disconnect from the stressful atmosphere surrounding us. Some find the teachings of ancient philosophies to be helpful; learning to use a mantra to focus their thoughts, slowing their heart rate, breathing deeply. Perhaps this is why we see ‘meditation gardens’ popping up around hospitals and corporate headquarters where the stress is palpable.

Before you start choosing your mantra, I have a much simpler idea, a challenge really. Plant a seed in a cup of dirt, and watch as it miraculously pops out of its tiny vessel. Check on its progress growing up into a delicate leafy plant. If it wilts a bit, you water it, and it comes back up as if gratefully returning the favor of your care. This process continues, all the while your attention is drawn back each day. Notice that the strength of your connection is in direct relation to the vigor of your little plant. If in these moments you are not transplanted to a place where the peace of the earth helps you to breath slower, and de-stress, then there are other techniques you can try.

At the core of my being is a gardener, my sanctuary is my garden, and my mantra is “don’t look at the weeds.”

But you don’t need a big yard, or a perfect garden in order to create the feeling of sanctuary. No matter where you live, how large your space, or what gardening abilities you have, these activities will bring feelings of calm and peace to your everyday life; plant a container next to your chair on your little balcony, grow a pot of sweet basil on your kitchen window sill, dedicate a little tree in memory of a loved one.

It is well documented that gardening activities are very beneficial to your health, but as we age many aches and pains restrict our movements. One thing I know for sure is that pain can really focus our brain, so finding alternate methods to distract our minds from the pain can be extremely helpful. Many gardeners consider weeding in their gardens to be an almost meditative exercise. Reaching the ultimate goal of the neat and tidy garden is a kind of nirvana for the peace-seeking horticulturist. Just watch the garden center shoppers as they walk through the sea of flowering plants.

They touch, they smell, and they become captured by their senses. Suddenly these gardeners are unaware of the world around them, and they are enraptured by the whole experience of choosing plants for their gardens. If you look closely, you will notice a certain look on their faces. It’s the look of euphoria.

Gardeners find enjoyment in many different ways. Some are thrilled by the friendly competition with their neighbor, seeing who has the newest or most unusual plant. For me the deepest feelings of enjoyment come while walking through my garden, and I am struck by the significance of two particular plants. They aren’t rare or unusual, but one is a large clump of Trillium my mom gave me from her woods. I have transplanted and taken them with me each time I’ve moved, and I plan to will them to a family member. The other is a beautiful German Iris from my grandmother’s garden. I have shipped pieces of these plants to Massachusetts and as far as California, giving me the special joy of sharing the family’s legacy of gardening through plants. Each time I walk by these plants I think of the people who loved them before me, and my heart is warmed by the thoughts of future generations enjoying them after I’m gone.

These days our so-called ‘smart’ phones suck us into the fast pace of emails, texts, voicemails, tweets, instagrams, and facebooks until we find ourselves unable to function without them. There are even meditation apps for our phones that will tell us how to relax, how many deep breaths to take, until the noisy little signal goes off. You can use your phone to put yourself in your zen place, until the phone alarm tells you to UN-zen yourself, and go back to your desk. Seriously?

The pleasure of gardening is often described as an addiction for which there is no cure, but because this addiction is based on relaxation instead of adrenalin, these earthly activities bring a completely different kind of high. It is a long-lasting feeling renewed each morning when we wake up to nature’s bounty of stimulants for all five senses. Sanctuary is the feeling created in this space where a small piece of earth connects our senses with our emotions, and takes root in our soul.

K.C. Fahy-Harvick, a landscape designer, is a sought after lecturer. Her workshops feature her love of perennials, bird gardening, and water features. More about Fahy-Harvick can be found at or by email at

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