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GARDENING: Reflecting on the gentle

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As the year winds down, consider designing your own personal peace garden, with plants and design elements which are traditional symbols offering calm and tranquillity

After a busy year, many of us are looking for ways to relax. Consider combining elements that will turn a space in your garden into a tranquil haven of peace and serenity.

With South Africans this weekend commemorating Reconciliation Day, first celebrated on December 16, 1995, to honour the peaceful 1994 elections, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to “peace gardens”. 

A personal peace garden

What are important elements?

A quiet space

Find a secluded spot that blocks out noise such as a courtyard alongside the house or set among the foliage. For a long-term solution, consider planting suitable trees on your boundary. They filter noise and pollution. A hedge would be suitable in a smaller garden. The idea is to create a space where you can exhale.

A journey

Stones and gravel are elements found in a peaceful Japanese Zen garden. Picture: Supplied

Peace gardens often convey a journey – a call to leave behind the baggage of the past. A pathway which leads to a place of rest, with a statue, water feature or sundial at the end encourages one to reflect, then rest awhile.

In a larger garden, a labyrinth or spiral pathway encourages a reflective or meditative walk where you can clear your mind and let go of stress and tension. Unlike a maze where the hedges are high, a labyrinth is open and low to the ground. You can construct one using stones.

In a smaller space, consider a Japanese Zen garden or dry landscape, named a karesansui. The process of raking the gravel is said to take the gardener’s mind off concerns and promote calm thoughts and mindfulness.

A place of rest

Add a garden bench under a shady tree or a small patio out in the garden where you can enjoy a pot of tea or a glass of wine. Japanese pavilions are constructed in a quiet area of the garden as a place for the traditional tea ceremony. In modern gardens, they provide a place for mediation and yoga.

Plants as symbols of peace

What plants should you consider for your peace garden?

There are numerous plants which include the word “peace” in their common name such as the peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) or peace-in-the-home (Soleirolia soleirolii).

However, the following plants are associated with remembrance, unity and peace in society:

Olive tree

Token of peace. Olive branches were gifted to winners in the Olympic Games in ancient Greece. Picture: Loren-Shirley-Carr

The use of the olive branch as symbol of peace dates back to ancient Greece where winners of the Olympic Games were gifted with olive branches. Olive trees grow best in full sun in gravelly soil that drains well. They are drought-tolerant trees that are also able to withstand strong winds. In small gardens you can grow an olive tree in a container. Fruit takes about four years.


Symbol of peace. A mix of white and pastel poppies (Papaver nudicaule) bloom in late winter and early spring. Picture: Supplied

The red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) grew on the battlefields where soldiers fell in World War I, as depicted in Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields. The red poppy is traditionally worn on November 11, Armistice Day, in remembrance of World War I.

White poppies where introduced in 1933 by a women’s anti-war movement to symbolise peace and pacifism. The poppy, Papaver nudicaule, commonly known as the Iceland poppy, is by far the easiest poppy variety to grow locally. Their crèpe-like flowers come in pastel mixes of white, yellow, peach and pink as well as traditional mixes with orange and red flowers. Plant seedlings in May to bloom in spring and choose an east-facing sunny bed.


Mediterranean romance. Experience the aromatic smell of French lavender (Lavandula dentata), planted alongside a pathway. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Lavender is an international symbol for romance, protection and peace. It thrives in a climate with hot summers and wet winters, making it an ideal candidate for local gardens. Plant lavender in a sunny position where it receives morning or afternoon sun. Soil should be well-draining. Lavender is a great hedging plant along pathways.

Peace rose

The famous hybrid tea “Peace” rose was launched at the end of World War II and over 150 million Peace roses have been sold worldwide since then. The rose was coincidently named on the same day that Berlin fell in 1945. The Peace rose has large blooms in a mix of cream and yellow with pink blush tips. Foliage is healthy and glossy and blooms are strongly fragrant. Plant roses where they receive at least six hours of sun daily


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