Peace Gardens and Sand Mandalas


As part of Circle of Enlightenment, a group of gallery staff and community members considered how we might incorporate plants, flowers, herbs and gardens into our effort to promote the ideas of mindfulness and healing that are central to the cultivation of the sand mandala.

We decided to distribute zinnia seeds to all participants of the sand mandala project as a way of extending our thanks for everyone's contribution to the exhibition, and as a way of encouraging our community members to remember the messages and feelings they learned from the entire experience.

We thank Mary Ann Cateforis, a Potsdam gardener, for delving into her gardening books and sharing her ideas about peace gardens. Mary Ann suggested herbs and flowers that she felt would best embody the essence of the sand mandala project. We'd like to share some of her thoughts and suggestions:

Why zinnia? Something easy and coloful and familiar and friendly and inexpensive. Something most people could plant somewhere around their own houses, big zinnias or small ones, and villages or cities could use them in public plantings.

My own idea of a peace garden is what I have done in my own yard. The peace is more important than the garden, in the sense that I grow whatever I like. And it's quite a hodgepodge of tame and wild flowers, herbs, edible weekds, vegetables; birdbath, frog puddle, lilac tree, compost pile. I have decided very firmly that I will not kill any insect or animal or I guess you could say anything in the animal kingdom. Every living thing is welcome and is not threatened, or even, so far as I can manage, not even resented. When I pull weeds, as I must, if it is to be a garden, I do it without anger, and I dry them so they won't take root again, and return them to the soil as mulch and compost.

So I feel peaceful in this place. And visitors sometimes feel it too. And it is not overrun with bugs eating everything. The idea is that if insects feel threatened, they eat all they can and have all the babies they can, in order to survive. If they don't feel threatened, they can calm down.

So--I would suggest that if there really is a peace garden established for any length of time, the garden is going to reflect the energy or the emotions that are put into it. If it is rushed in its planting and care, then its atmosphere will be less relaxing. If the people who work in it - and who plan it and plant it - can share some quiet time together before they begin working, and if they can focus on making it a peaceful place, then it may be more peaceful. So in a way, it doesn't matter so much what you plant in a peace garden as how you plant it.

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