An artist shares her experiences on creatively developing, tending to and nurturing her garden as spiritual sanctuary for herself, her friends and family. Gail Allen contributes her thoughts on creating a sacred space as an oasis for soothing your soul in today's busy world, enticing your senses and and fostering your own personal growth

Sunday, May 13, 2012

 Happy Mother’s Day! From one Mother to Another…
Mother Earth that is!

The Rose Trellis Painting by Gail Allen

Through the years, my gardening philosophy has developed based on my knowledge of the Taoist garden principle of creating a reflection of heaven on earth; a quiet, intimate haven for nature lovers, of naturalness and simplicity. 

It is the development of a magical place, exhibiting life’s breath, that is ever changing along with the light and shade, and rhythms brought about by the contrasts in weather as the seasons evolve. 

The emphasis being that in a well-designed garden, it becomes difficult to differentiate the work of man and nature. One of the nicest compliments I was ever given was by a friend who frequently visited. One day, after years of visiting, as she walked up the stone pathway to the front door she said:
 “You know, this looks so natural, like the flowers just were all seeded here, but there is clearly a pattern, rhythm and layout, isn’t there?” 

Even upon seeing it many, many times, and noticing repetitions of elements as it aged, she was still not quite sure, there was that sense of mystery. That is what I strive for in my designs.

Spirit Rising Painting by Gail Allen
While painting my landscapes tends to characterize the vastness and grandeur of Mother Nature, our garden at home reveals her more intimate characteristics. The core of the design of our garden is based on on a Feng Shui Bagua, emanating out by removing the site of any definite boundary, thus depicting expansion and rhythm, a perception of unlimited time and space. This incorporates use of hills, levels, water and rocks to achieve the ultimate goal of the garden, never to be viewed all at once, (as is the case on a flat expanse)

The winding paths lure the visitors beyond the immediate scene where even the smallest of spaces may be converted to give the effect of mysterious distance through the use of groves, bushes and placement of rockeries.

 My use of these principles of gardening entices the imagination rather than appealing to the reasoning faculty of the beholder, through the creation of unexpected features and the use of irregularity of line, which suggests movement and life.

This Taoist garden design style was thought of as a symbolic Paradise, where all life was protected and sheltered, in a quiet intimate garden setting. Its creation was during the time of the SixDynasties and the T’ang. Like all of life, although to the untrained eye it looks simple, there is an incredible amount of knowledge behind the development of all the elements into a unified whole, right down to the positioning of the rocks.

As I gather with my family today, in our peaceful garden - built together over our lifetime together, I am filled with gratefulness, for a life well celebrated. Here, the life breath of each of us is an incorporated element. May you find a place for special retreat today, in your garden or elsewhere, where you feel connected, protected and sheltered along with your family, as you celebrate your 
Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Fall in the Garden and The Road Not Taken

Happy Fall in the Garden!

Autumn Pathway painting by Gail M. Allen
The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

"Grow what you love. 
The love will keep it growing."  by Emilie Barnes

Gardening is part of your soul. Like music, dance and painting, it is your soul's innermost expression. This spring as my gardens flourished, the rains brought a new crop of invaders. Weeds like we have never before seen … not just wildflowers that had seeded, but strange deadly weeds which  began to take over and get ahead of our maintanence capabilities. One of those weeds has spiny thorn-like barbs that turn your skin burning, hot, itchy and very red - somewhat like the feeling in your mouth when you are eating a habanero chile pepper.

 Usually I can tell what my soul is needing by the wildflowers that appear all around our home. An old sage of a gardening friend once told me that the herbs and wildflowers that are invading our gardens are exactly the homeopathic remedies we need for the maladies in our lives. If we pay attention to this, we can resolve the innate issues we are dealing with at the time.

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul." 
Luther Burbank

I was too busy to notice, but the signs were there. The symptoms of Lyme Disease were once again beginning their assault on my body, as I battled the weeds and otherwise stayed busy with my painting and family commitments - too busy to pay attention to my own body's invaders. 

Before long there was no avoiding it, the symptoms had taken hold and done their damage. I began the long road of fighting this horrendous disease once again.  We decided no matter what the outcome, it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream, to help nourish all of our souls during these crazy times. And so our family embarked on a long awaited vacation to the West Coast and Yosemite National Park during this past summer - a trip I have always held dear to my heart. It was beautiful, breathtaking and regenerating. At times, I could only walk with my cane, but in the end we had all had a wonderful time! 

Although this summer I did not get to write much on this blog, I did want to take the time to mention that a garden, like our own body, is usually able to regenerate after neglect, even when you need to let it go for awhile. And then again, there is a larger, more beautiful garden we all share that surrounds us in our cities, parks, and countryside that we can get the same soulful fulfillment from, on a daily basis - if we simply open our hearts and eyes to the beauty of the natural gardens nature has given us, which we interact with daily. 

Anyone's life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit. 
Lilly Langtry 

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. 
Louisa May Alcott

May you have a great Fall season in your garden…

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Summer's Garden Walk...

Let's take a walk ... through Beaver Brook's Summer Garden,
It is in full bloom.

The arbor leads into the herb garden.

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile
~ e.e. cummings ~
 (Complete Poems 1904-1962)

Clematis in bloom.

Echinacea (Cone Flower)


We can complain because rose bushes have thorns,

or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. 
~ Abraham Lincoln
The Rock Garden

The Welcome Garden
Gardening is the art 
that uses flowers
 and plants as paint,
and the soil and sky as canvas.

 ~ Elizabeth Murray

Monday, June 6, 2011

June...A Little Breathing Time In the Garden

Around here, June is a great month in the garden. 
This is when it shows its glory, beauty and abundance; weeds and fungus have not taken over yet and usually there is enough rain for the lush greenery to make you feel like you live in a tropical area.(At least in this area.) Thus, June is a time for relaxing, breathing and enjoying the outcome of all your hard work from the previous year - cultivating the fruits your soul has to offer and bringing them inside to savor in your home. It is a time of  taking a retrospective assessment of what you love and any possible changes you may want to make in your gardens for next year.  

I awake, thinking of taking a soulful daily stroll through the gardens as the dogwoods, iris, peonies, roses, clematis and even some late blooming poppies burst into bloom.  For me, although I have some breathing time from the gardening chores, it is a time to quickly set up my easel and do some daily sketches or plein air paintings of the gardens and take the photos of flowers which will sustain my studio work, through the long winter months in this area.  Every few minutes it seems, I am reminded to take a deep breath, smelling the last of the  sweet woodruff scent as it mixes with the rose perfume wafting on the light wind.  I step away from my painting,  and  feel a new burst of creativity as my soul is rejuvenated. That is what deep breathing can do for us all. Soulfulness is taking the time to notice everything around you. It is keeping all of your senses aware of the beauty in everything you encounter. 

Breath work is great for the soul....if you are doing it right. These days, so many of us are struggling just to make it through today and on to the next. The evening news can cause enough stress to make you hyperventilate, if you let it. Enter the garden...a place for quiet contemplation and relaxation, breathing space. Just a few highly scented plants, like jasmine or heliatrope, (a vanilla - cinnamon - fruit scent, noticeable in early morning and evening) in planters on a porch or balcony, can send intoxicating smells to apartments next door. 

Years ago I had read a great book by author Nancy Zi.   In it Nancy writes, 
is our most important act -- 
we do it every moment of our lives, some 20,000 times each day.  Breathing incorrectly can produce tension, exhaustion and vocal strain, and can interfere with athletic activity and encourage aches and illnesses. Breathing correctly, however, nourishes every fiber of our body and soul. Breathe correctly and you can melt away tension and stress, improve energy or simply relax and unwind." 
Her book: The Art of Breathing  may be found at: .  

During June, try to learn some of Nancy's Zi's techniques, or just practice slow, deep breathing and sensing all that is around you. Take a moment, each day, (even if only once a day), to stop and do some deep breathing outdoors - shutting out every other intrusion in your life. Listen, smell, feel the wind, stop and look for a new sight you have overlooked in your daily travels. It will change your life in one week. The second week, practice again daily, as you stroll through a garden -  you will see things in a new light.  If you are not near a garden, purchase some highly scented flowers place them in a relaxing spot in your home and practice the art of breathing near them.

Take advantage of June's gift to relax and is a step toward cultivating  and enhancing your soulful life.  


Yellow Rhododendron
Pinwheel Mountain Laurel buds with Colorado Blue Spruce and  Pineapple Mint variegated groundcover
The entrance
Honeysuckle vine about to burst into bloom
A perennial succulent planter
Otto ... The art of breathing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Tribute to Military Veterans and Their Families

My Dad World War ll
Poppies always remind me of my dad, honoring those who fought for our freedom, as well their families who have given so very much and especially, the Memorial Day holiday. Whether in my garden, or the crepe paper kind you may purchase outside of stores that are usually being sold by Veterans around Memorial Day, they will always hold an endearing place in my heart. They will forever symbolize a remembrance to pay tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price and sacrificed for our freedom.

At seventeen my dad joined the army to go fight in World War II. He worked in Bermuda on the railroad that is no longer there and then shipped out and fought in Europe; stationed there for years, when the announcement came that the war had ended. Although he told us a few things, he never really discussed the details of what he went through. Growing up, we would always watch old war movies with him, knowing it meant a lot to him that in some way, we had a small glimpse into understanding the hell that they experienced and the camaraderie of military life. He had terrible memories and nightmares that haunted him until his death in 2003. He had hurt himself a few times, during those nightmares of reliving diving into a bunker for safety, when incoming mortars were heading their way.  Throughout his life, he had a special place in his heart for his fellow countrymen who he would see at the VFW and at the many reunions he attended. Every Christmas, cards came from people my sisters and I had never met, but we knew how dear they were to my dad,  - these were from the families of these men who had served with him all those years ago. One by one, we were sent the news of their passing on.

Recently, my father in law was given the gift of going to view the World War II Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D. C. through a new program for veterans. It meant so much to him, as well as all of these veterans to finally be recognized. I am sure my dad would have loved it.

On this Memorial Day, please remember to pay tribute to those in our military services who have sacrificed so much for our freedom over the years, serving in many different wars. From now on, whenever you see a poppy may you be reminded of the young men and women who deserve our thanks and praise today, and everyday that we encounter them in our daily lives. Don't let an opportunity go by to honor, or personally thank them for the gift they have given us all - freedom.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Garden as a Metaphor for Life

The garden is a metaphor for life, and gardening is a symbol of the spiritual path."~ Larry Dossey 

Full Moon by Gail Allen
Paying very close attention to who you are and what you are wanting is almost unheard of in these crazy, busy times we live in, but none – the - less is needed. as much, if not more so, than ever before. We are living in a new era where the world around us changing minute by minute, in unparalleled ways.  The need to keep ourselves openly aware of the subtle intuitive realms within us and hold fear and loneliness at bay is a lofty goal, to say the least. Doing this will undoubtedly though, uphold the important evolution we are all experiencing.

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.
                                                                  - Elizabeth Lawrence
Yakima Dwarf Rhododendron

  This is spring in the garden, as we grow older. A yearly reminder of what we once knew -  the magic that is there, if we pay attention. Chartreuse greens bright with wonder and an array of beautiful color bursting from blossoming trees, flowers and shrubs. Scents abounding; even the spring rains have an distinct smell to them. Nature is calling.

"All my hurts my garden spade can heal." 
                                                                            -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Grape Crab Apple
Japanese Maple,
  The moods we have are not the important factors in our experience. Instead, how we interpret, deal with and express them, on our own very personal level, whether it be through writing, gardening, painting, building, sculpting, acting, decorating or through interaction by way of sports. Healing the wounds of the past comes from acknowledgment that whatever you are needing, be it solitude, a lovely place of romanticism in the garden, a tribute to a memory with a meditative spot, a magical garden or just a bright, joyful, playful garden to appease the child within you, - that the place you create is a place of comfort to your soul. It should feel soothing to you like a warm blanket by the fire, or a child wrapped in his or her mother’s arms. The messages of the soul have no judgment factor to them…they are simply making you aware of what you need to resolve to open and walk through the next door.

"Show me your garden ... 
  and I shall show you what you are." ~ Alfred Austin 

Honeysuckle Vine on Arbor
White Crab Apple

It is our conscious mind that takes that message and turns it inside out, analyzing the why, what about, what for and how, etc. The soul simply states this needs to be attended to, pay attention so we may understand and move forward.
By intuitively honoring its messages and creating a place for us to interpret and observe our own soul’s landscape: the attributes, characteristics, feelings, fragrances, sounds and colors, as well as the plants that grow there and any sort of means required to rest in this spot, we are honoring those aspects of our self and giving ourselves permission for them to come forth in a safe place and time that we have created.
It's Spring...a time of new beginnings...eggs hatching everywhere around us in nature. Why not create your own chance at hatching a buried treasure, or idea deep inside of you that has been waiting for this moment to arrive. Whether on a city balcony, in a cooperative garden setting, or on your own is a time of new beginnings .... enjoy the beauty of Spring!
Virginia Snow bell, Blue Spruce, Yellow Cyprus

Water garden, Japanese Maple, Japanese Iris, Sedum

So get some paper and a garden catalog, or two. List (or cut pictures out of) the colors, textures, flowers, shrubs, trees and grasses that appeal to you. Look in magazines or on the web and find examples of gardens, follies, benches, chairs, tables, stumps, rocks, shells, statues, etc, that call out to you…"pay attention to me". What does the garden of your soul look like? You will be amazed at the beauty you will create and this in turn will help heal our planet. Springtime is full of the creativity nature offers unfurling into a beautiful creation right before our eyes. Now is the time...Enter the garden!

A healthy garden is a reflection 
                                     of a healthy soul.” ~Anonymous

Monday, May 16, 2011

More Spring Surprises....Unfolding Before Our Eyes

Grape Hyacinth(Muscari) under Bradford Pear
"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

This time of year can sometimes feel overwhelming in the garden. So much to clean up from the winter and pots, arbors, follies to move and plants to put in anew. For me it is a constant struggle... garden or studio. Because of the fact that my work in the garden seems to inspire my artistic senses and muse, it is best for me to give the garden some extra time now, which pays great dividends in the heat of summer months. This is a time of pacing ones self. Stopping for a glass of ice cold tea, or water and some fruit every few hours. A few hours seems to be my limit right now. My strength has not quite returned fully. So in those times, I head to the studio, or my trusty sketch book for a well needed break away from the garden.
A sketch of the house done for a new painting currently in progress.

It is the season of white blooms in the lower area of the garden. The Bradford Pears line the driveway and remind me of lacy bridal dresses. There are six quite large ones around the perimeter....recently it rained for days and their blooms came down quickly, before I was able to capture them...they will have to wait until next year to show their splendor to you.
Bradford Pear

Bridgewood Gardens is one of the sources we have purchased plants from, that have been unbelievably hardy and grown great. They come carefully packaged and have all done very well in my gardens. I have purchased hostas and a number of delightful ferns from them for the woodland gardens. This particular hosta has doubled in size, (twice), in the few years since we purchased it. I now have four and will be subdividing again soon. Its lovely spring color stands out in the shade as it is yellowish white, then it turns green later in the season. It is a great complement when put under or next to Blue Spruce as we have it in our gardens. It seems to love the shade below a japanese bosai cut spruce, facing toward the East where it gets morning sun and then shade from noon on. I have some variegated iris with the similar yellowish white color very close by, the hosta being horizontal and the iris a strong verticle, which keeps the eye moving on. 
I love this beautiful Hosta we had purchased from Bridgewood Gardens a couple years ago!

Foamflower (Tiarella) along the magical woodland path.  I believe this is pink skyrocket. It accompanies a golden leaved Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Gold Heart), Japanese Jack In the Pulpit, Coral Bells (Purple Heuchera), Fire Chief Coral Bells (Heuchera), Bloodgood Japanese Maple, Sweet Woodruff (Galium Odoratum), Epimedium Grandiflorum (Bishop's Hat)Night before Christmas, Patriot and White Christman Hostas as well as an evergreen Viburnum (Viburnum tinus 'Compactum' Spring Bouquet and Yakima Dwarf Rhododendrums. This is a winding path walking toward the swing set and is for the child in all of us. This path feeds the senses with exhilarating scents, sights of butterflies, sounds of birds and feeds the muse of inspiration and creativity. 
The smell of Sweet William is intoxicating.
It is a lovely ground cover that spreads quickly under the Bloodgood Japanese Maple.

This viburnum, bleeding heart and hosta are next to the foamflower. The colors repeat themselves over and over along the path. There are also purple leaved coral bells later on throughout the summer, which are just coming up right now.
Boxwood hedges around the garden shed.
The garden shed with an old sundial from an estate sale.

Lilacs about to come into full bloom.
There is so much more to see  here ...   as the seasons go round and round.
Thank you for coming. Hope you enjoyed the visit.
Come again soon.