By Linda Wiggen Kraft


We mistakenly think we take care of gardens.   But in reality, it is the garden that takes care of us. Yes gardens feed our bodies, but the most important feature of a garden is that we are nurtured not only in body but also in mind, heart and soul.  We need gardens to help bring depth to our lives, to be sanctuaries where we find beauty, peace, rejuvenation and ourselves.


Some gardens are designed to help us remember to slow down and “smell the roses”, to see not only beauty but to also see our lives in the microcosm of the garden. One of the world’s most beautiful sanctuary gardens is in our own local backyard.  It is Seiwa-en, the garden of pure, clear harmony and peace, also known as the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden.


Seiwa-en is the largest Japanese style strolling garden in North America. The experience of this stroll garden is that of a journey.  A journey not only to discover the garden, but also to see life’s journey represented in the garden details.  Like our path through life, all is not reveled at once.  The paths around the garden reveal that which is hidden before we reach certain points.  There are resting spots along the way to stop and see a vista, or a small treasure.  We would miss these if we didn’t take the time to slow down and step off the main path. The resting spots allow us to contemplate and digest that which we have taken in through our senses, mind and heart.  The paths off the main one are designed to slow us down so we become alert and present. And by doing so we are rewarded with a hidden treasure now exposed.  The zigzag bridge, the stepping stones, the little paths all bring a different rhythm to our step, to take us to a more serene speed of life.


Each day and season brings new experiences in Seiwa-en, even if the same garden paths are traveled. All seasons are honored here. The lush beginnings of spring with bursts of spring azaleas are followed by the richness of summer’s growth, then autumn’s glow of blazing maples and winter’s simplicity of barren branches and sculptural forms.  In winter snow is considered another type of flower that blooms on the surfaces it falls on.  Just as in our own unique seasons of life, each revels its own beauty.


There are many symbolic features to this garden.  Paradise, Tortoise and Crane Islands in the large lake symbolize eternal happiness, immortality, longevity and a soul being carried to paradise.  Heaven, earth and man are represented in the Blue Boulder Cascade near the entrance.


The richness of meaning can be found at the website: http://www.mobot.org/hort/gardens /japanese/intro/index.shtml.  But the real richness is your own experience in this beautiful garden.

Take time to visit Seiwa-en many times, and in all seasons.  If possible spend an entire day and go alone.  Find ways to bring the experiences into your own garden.  This garden will inspire you to create your own sanctuary garden, for all seasons of the year and all seasons of your life.


Bring beauty and wildlife to your home by letting the rain nourish your gardens and landscape through some or all of these measures.  You will help the local environment and the Gulf’s environment downstream.