The Inward Garden

This is my book review of “The Inward Garden: Creating a place of beauty and meaning,” by Julie Moir Messervy. It is one of my favorite design books, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

This book was an epiphany of sorts for me. It explained why I am drawn to certain gardens and to certain homes, but not to others. As a designer, understanding what I like and what I am drawn to is step one when working with clients. I want to make sure that I am not just recreating what I like in garden design, but creating what the client wants. Understanding what their garden dreams are is the success to creating a design the client will love.

According to this book, a garden is a place, but also a state of mind. What does being in the garden make me feel like? When I look at a garden, do I feel calm, happy, or scattered and uncomfortable? For me, the perfect garden is one surrounded by trees. When I look at my own garden, it is a house in the trees. I love feeling safe and surrounded by the greenery – it brings me peace – like being surrounded by the sea. I vividly remember when I was younger, sitting and reading books in a pine forest. This is my type. This book states that the beloved memories from our past are what we are trying to recreate in our gardens. “Adults remember vividly their childhood contemplative places, and long for such spaces in their own lives. These images from our early lives carry strong physical, psychological, and spiritual meaning forever. The types of gardens we are drawn to are called Archetypal places – the first gardens of our lives.

Archetypal Places: The first gardens of our lives. The author breaks them down to spaces that translate to emotions.

  • The Sea – “Withinness,” like being in our mother’s womb, feeling blanketed. Other examples are pea soup fog, snowstorms, middle of a pine forest, or a house or garden entirely forested by trees.
The Sea: Suzanne walking on a path through a botanical garden – in my happy place!
  • The Cave – Nooks, crannies, places to hide and feel surrounded by walls. Remember finding that hidden tree fort or just hiding under the fort you made with pillows and blankets?
The Cave: A secluded area to sit or stand in the corner of a garden.
  • The Harbor – Enclosures, fences, patios, all with a view of some sort. For example, sitting in parents’ laps on the porch, while viewing everything around you. Safe, but can see what is going on.
yard in Gainesville GA
The Harbor: A house behind a fence. Often in neighborhoods with houses close together – people can sit on the front porch and look out past the low fence to see what else is going on.
  • The Promontory – At the very edge. Examples are cliffs, balconies, standing at the very edge of something.
The Promontory: Photo taken in Portugal, on a hillside, looking very far down to the rocks and beach below.
  • The Island – “Awayness,” like isolated retreats that are safe and secret havens to retreat from the rest of the world. Can be a large specimen tree surrounded by lawn, a platform in the middle of a forest, a picnic blanket in a field, or open and grassy. For instance, houses that are surrounded by grass and visible from all directions.
house in Dahlonega GA
The Island: This house is visible from the road and most sides.
  • The Mountain – “Upness,” like a turret, high, remote, cupolas, treetops, towers, mountain tops, etc.
The Mountain: This photo was taken while visiting a Japanese style garden. These boulders represent islands and mountains.
  • The Sky – “Beyondness.” A feeling of flying, being free, or by a lake.
The Sky: Photo taken on our recent vacation to Portugal. Looking out over the Atlantic Ocean…

All these spaces can be in your garden, depending on the size of the property. As the author mentions, one of her friends had tried in vain to create his garden, but it never ‘felt’ right. Until he wandered his property and found the perfect nook. His archetypal type that brought him peace was the Cave.

I visited a new client today. He has a home with an established plant bed in the middle of a sea of grass. What he wants is to increase the size of the woods and decrease his sea of grass. Although I did not ask him, my guess is that he prefers the feeling of being in a Sea vs. on an Island.

Below is the link to view or purchase the book on Amazon:

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for our monthly newsletter of gardening and stonework tips from our blog. You may unsubscribe at any time and we will not add you to any other mailing list.