Thursday, July 15, 2010

It is our sanctuary, our special place, an area of safety, solitude, and serenity

When a friend of one of our children, led by our older son, followed the sidewalk from the front of our house around and through the gate into our backyard, his first reaction coming upon our pond, gazebo, and round brick patio in front of both was to exclaim, “Wow, this is a real sanctuary!”  It was clear to him—having seen our backyard for the first time—that this was, indeed, a special place. 

We have lived in our house for over thirty years, and for every one of those years, we have done something—mostly add plants, bushes, or trees—to our yard. 

Our three-fourths of an acre was but a field when we moved in, and we were the second or third house constructed when the rear plat to our subdivision was built.  Because we were among the first, we selected the largest piece of property on a cull-de-sac so that our children would have a large, safe area in which to play.  Being on a cull-de-sac, the front of our property is only about 50-feet wide, but the rear lot line covers a full two properties plus it touches a drainage ditch in one far corner—a lot line somewhere between 250 and 300 feet in length. 

There were no trees, so our first goal was to plant them.  Our intention was to frame our property in trees rather than use fences, and in the beginning that worked well.  A couple of problems, however, developed.  First, the right of way behind our house which contained all the electric, telephone, and cables for television was a drainage area for all the houses built behind us and at least a half dozen others.  The excess rain from all of those properties came through our right of way—part of our property—to reach that drainage ditch.  When it rains, it fills. 

That has never been a major problem, however, when we tried growing blue spruce trees on the inside of the right-of-way, they were dying quickly from too much water, and we immediately moved them to both of the edges of our yard that lead to the right-of-way.  Then we tried lilacs, and the same thing happened, and we had to move them to another portion of the side of the yard leading to the ditch.  When we tried forsythia, the same thing happened a third time, and we had to pull them all out before they died.  Our final effort was to put in 50 or 60 Russian Olive saplings, and that worked.  The saplings have grown into large trees along the inside of the right-of-way, and nearly every year of the 30 here, we have had to trim or remove them.  

All of our early efforts were designed to provide shade as well as some privacy from the four homes that border ours.  In the back, our property is now enclosed by blue spruce, 20-foot high lilac bushes, and Russian olives.  Inside the Russian olives we have planted arbor vitae to add to the privacy along the back right-of-way. 

In addition to the quest for privacy, we have always had a large garden.  The garden was enclosed by landscaping ties, and we used chicken wire to keep out the rabbits and woodchucks.  

We have always used annuals to add color and variety to our other plantings.  What has happened—and it is particularly evident this year—is that because of our early interest in shade trees, we now have an enormous amount of shade provided by oak, maple, and pine trees as well as an enormous bradford pear tree. 

For many years, my goal has always been to reduce the amount of grass I have had to mow.  So, using cypress mulch, I have continued to mulch in areas and build hosta gardens or areas for our birdbaths or other bushes and plants.  Along the back right-of-way, I used mulch around all the Russian olives and arbor vitae so I would never have to weed-whack.  Then we added lamb’s ear as well as Japanese spurge (pachysandra) as ground cover.  

All of the people occupying the homes surrounding our property have added fences around their yards.  To fence in our yard  meant that we would simply have to add to their fences, include a small one along the rear ditch, and then, from their fences we could add one that came up to the sides of our house.  We made the final one a white picket fence, and I added a small cover over the gate, so that when you enter our yard on either side, you have to come under this small portico.  Thus, our backyard is now fully enclosed by fences with gates on either side. 

Because of the shade from the trees we planted early on, it has been difficult to keep grass growing in many areas.  On one side, under a silver maple tree, we made a large hosta garden with over 30 different kinds of hosta as well as ferns and other ground covers. 

One of our sons found a brick pile, and we brought home two large loads of bricks in our truck.  From those, we fashioned brick walkways from the front of our house to the backyard (under the porticos), and around the two front blue spruce trees (one on each side of our lot), we built a small brick wall to enclose circular hosta gardens around those spruce trees. 

We have added a rear barn that measures 10' w x 20' l  x 14' h, and we bought an 8-foot in diameter gazebo from the Amish who came in and installed it. 

When I put in the patio in front of our pond, which my son and I built and which includes three small waterfalls, I buried the dirt from the patio foundation in the garden, so I changed the landscaping ties to 6" x 6" treated timbers to box in our two 10' x 15' plots.  Then around the patio, I used our annual accumulation of leaf mulch to landscape the area and added hydranga, sweet William, and viburnum to fill out those areas. 

This year (it was yesterday as I am writing this), the friend of one of our family members who called our backyard a sanctuary, gave us four flats of Impatiens and begonias in reds, oranges, and pinks.  Today, I planted all of those plants which has added a great deal of additional color to our yard.  We had three double hanging metal plant holders that already had full baskets of pink Impatiens plants, and then with the other blooming plants—yellow snap dragons, white hydrangas, and pink blossoms on several other bushes—our place has truly taken on the feel of a sanctuary. 

Our yard is and always has been a “work-in-progress.”  It was never planned; we are never finished with it; and we never stop purchasing more plants—some that we have no place for—every year.  But when you enter the backyard now, with the songs of the many birds, the sounds of the water from our pond, and the incredible smell of fresh air, it is truly a joy to behold.  It is our sanctuary, our special place, an area of safety, solitude, and serenity. 


At LearningMeditation, there is a fun, short essay, “Sanctuary-Safe,” on how to build a sanctuary within your home.  It is similar to what we have done in our backyard, however, it is inside.  Just a short, pleasant read. 

At, under the subheading, “Interior Decorating,” there is another brief essay, “Create Your Own Private Retreat in Your Home---Escape to a Comforting Space You Really Love.”  Here, Coral Nafie writes about all the essentials needed to create that special place.  It is a longer essay, but it certainly discusses the importance, the needs, and the requirements for an interior space. 

At, the essay is entitled, “Creating a Personal Sanctuary - To Moat, Or NOT to Moat,” in which DeAnna Radaj discusses a number of requirements (and possible elements) for an outside sanctuary.  This is, by far, the best essay I have discovered on creating an outdoor sanctuary. 


Copyright July, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

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