A Buddha statue serves as a singular focus in a garden behind the Krause Music Store building in Lincoln Square.

 Q: How would I go about designing a meditation garden? 

   A: The first thing many people picture when they think of contemplative outdoor spaces is Japanese-style gardens, which traditionally include large rocks, manicured plants, and raked gravel or sand. A classic example is the courtyard that Julie deLeon, a designer with Chicago Specialty Gardens (688 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-243-7140, chicagogardens.com), created behind Lincoln Square’s Krause Music Store building, famous for its Louis Sullivan façade.

The owners of the building, whose design firm occupies the first floor, craved a meditative escape where they could regroup during a hectic workday. They also wanted a garden that adhered to the principles of feng shui, which meant sticking to natural elements—ipe benches, reed grasses, and a small waterfall. Wide stone paths allow positive energy to flow through the space—and provide room for parties and events. A Buddha statue serves as the garden’s singular focus—“too many focal points can take away from being still and calm,” deLeon says—and underscores the Asian vibe.

A limited palette makes this Winnetka garden soothing.

If your tastes run more Western, you can still create a serene space by being mindful of scale and color. For a client’s Winnetka home, Sara Furlan, design director with Mariani Landscape (300 Rockland Rd., Lake Bluff, 847-234-2172, marianilandscape.com), created a meditative outdoor room that is almost pastoral in style. A strategic massing of low, midsize, and tall plantings allows the eye to relax. “If you’re missing the midrange, it’s immediately evident,” Furlan says. For a similar equilibrium, she suggests working with ornamental grasses, hostas, and dogwood trees. (Layer hostas and then grasses in the foreground, tall plantings in the background.) Because cool colors are particularly soothing, Furlan stuck to a palette of mostly green and white. The resulting space is “a big sweep of calm,” she says. 

A symmetrical jewel box of a garden in Glencoe

Well-placed small touches can make a large difference. For a Glencoe garden, Furlan included a planting of ajuga squarely in the center of a wide gravel path, encouraging visitors to move slowly through the space. A stone bench provides a place to relax and ruminate.

When building your own garden, Furlan says, remember that multiples of a few plants are more soothing than many different one-of-a-kinds. Pay attention to aural qualities (crunching gravel, running water) as well as visual ones. And, most important, fill the space with things that calm you. “Everyone’s running around like a nut these days,” Furlan says. “A garden is a place to decompress.”

Photography: (Krause) Julie Deleon; (Winnetka,Glencoe) Linda Oyama Bryan


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