My Journey toward creating healing landscapes
Have you heard of the recent ground-breaking scientific research by the Canadian forester Suzanne Simaud, which shows how trees communicate with each other? This fundamentally changed my idea of trees as single, self-reliant entities to connected, co-operative entities, which actively contribute to the well-being of their communities. Thanks to Suzanne’s Tedtalks Feature Peter Wollhenben’s book, ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’, it is becoming widely known and accepted that trees can and do communicate with each other. Their observations, on two different continents over many years, have revealed that trees exchange carbon, nutrients, water and defence signals (among other things), through fine underground networks of fungi called mycelium, which colonises and connects the trees’ root systems. These findings raised my appreciation of trees to a whole new level !
These pathways of communication or ‘wood wide web‘, as it has been coined, shows how they are co-operating within a group rather than surviving independently. This discovery transforms our now superseded Darwinian concept of plants as separate from one another – ‘fighting for survival of the fittest’, to interdependent and intelligent entities generously supporting each other. The evidence also shows that the larger, older trees, which Suzanne calls ‘Mother trees’ send surplus nutrients and water to support their young – who may be struggling to grow under their shady canopy for example, and in this way, they nurture and favour their young …… much like human parents.
If you would like to find our more, have a look at Suzanne’s Ted talk : Nature’s Internet: How trees talk to each other in a healthy forest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=breDQqrkikM
The question that arises for me with this new understanding is: how do we (as humans) consciously connect with plants and can that improve our increasingly challenged sense of well-being and belonging. Research has shown the manifold benefits of spending time in nature, from relaxing your mind to boosting your immune functions and decreasing your blood pressure. The Japanese endearingly call it forest bathing, ‘shinrin-yoku’ and they believe it is not only profoundly healing for us, but also for our beleaguered ecosystems. By taking the time to open up and allowing ourselves to tune into the subtle energy of nature, we can broaden our awareness of the extent of our earthly family to become much larger than it presently is, to include all beings that share the vital life force.
Science has proven our connection with all life
This understanding of the interconnection of trees is supported by the entanglement theory of quantum mechanics, which illustrates the fundamental connection of all things through time and space. At its basis, quantum mechanics confirms that nothing is separate, no matter how great the distance or time frame.
This is quite an evolutionary step from what we were taught during our Landscape Architecture course at University of NSW about thirty years ago, when the most wholistic approach to understanding and analysing natural systems was our prescribed bible Design with Nature by Ian McHarg.
Even though it was a significant step in the right direction, it’s emphasis on integrated ecological planning, which was achieved by collating all the natural physical data for a site together, such as: climate, hydrology, soil, services and transportation routes, to inform the context in which we designed, didn’t go quite far enough. I believe the next step is to engage intuitively with the underlying energies of nature, not only to facilitate our ability to design something meaningful, but more importantly, to help us heal our misperception of separation from nature and consciously support our natural systems in the process.
At the beginning of each project, you are briefed on what the client wants and can integrate this with your knowledge of sustainable ecological principles, to achieve a particular goal. But how often do we ask: “What does the earth want” ? To invite this powerful force into our design process seems respectful in the very least and potentially game-changing if this co-creation is given full rein. We don’t yet know the scope of what we can achieve if we are consciously working with nature and all her support systems, such as nature spirits. We hear very little about the “little folk” in professional circles and it’s a shame, because they are potentially our greatest allies in this endeavour.
So… how do we begin this conversation? My simple approach, and I think the most logical first step, is to wait and listen until I sense what is right for a project. This gives me a strong and clear guiding principle for my design and it requires both patience and humility. It makes you wonder if the land, which constitutes the very fabric of our canvas and will eventually support the plants we choose, deserves anything less. This base-line of respect is not new, but is an age-old practice that has been used by indigenous peoples, in some form or another throughout the ages. It only fell out of favour when ‘pagan’ practices ( that is translated as ‘people who practice an earth-based beliefs’) were seen to challenge the convictions of the authorities of the time and they were stridently stamped out.
Despite such opposition, our connection could never truly be severed. Our fundamental symbiotic relationship with plants, whereby they create the oxygen we need and humans and animals generate the carbon dioxide they need, unites us from the very beginning and establishes our interdependence. The fact that there is proportionally more carbon dioxide in the air at the moment to maintain a sustainable balance, is a broader discussion that is beyond the scope of this article. The distinction I’d like to explore here is our feeling oneness, rather than otherness.
We are fortunate that against all odds, many of the indigenous communities who have continued their nature-based cultures, are actively sharing their wisdom. Not only with their own people, but also with sympathetic outsiders, lest it be completely lost. This generosity is enriching for all concerned and timely for our besieged environment.
What other cultures take into account subtle earth energies in their design? Two ancient practices which I have been exploring are feng-shui and dowsing.
The philosophy of Feng Shui is based on centuries of observation and provides guidelines for living in harmony with our surroundings. Encompassing the teaching of the Tao, it is a practice of living in which our inner self is in harmony with the universe. The five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water, are continuously balanced by the complimentary processes of creation and destruction and our understanding of these processes can enhance our daily lives and help us reach our potential for individual wisdom. It’s original application was grounded in common sense: to protect houses and their inhabitants from wind (Feng) and ensure proximity to life-sustaining water (shui). It’s aim is to improve the health, wealth and relationships of people, in both their homes and their work environments.
It also takes into consideration the dynamic effect of time. Anyone who is familiar with the ‘I Ching‘ or ‘Book of Changes’, can see this interesting interplay of time with the forces of nature. It also resonates very deeply with landscape design, because our work is so dependant on time; not only for each project to reach its maturity, but time’s inexorable march, means many of our carefully considered spaces can completely disappear without trace – especially residential gardens. In summary, you could say feng-shui, is an effective method of finding our individual balance in a constantly changing world.
Dowsing, also known as water divining, is an another ancient and intuitive form of communication with the land which has continued to be used in modern times. Traditionally used to locate water, minerals and underground pipes, with the help of either willow branches, steel rods or pendulums, its method is disarmingly simple. A question is posed about the location of the desired thing, and as you walk over the land, (or around the house), the sensitive instrument moves in a certain way to give you feedback.
“Dowsing is an expansion of lucid awareness, in essence – familiarity in communication with the Universal Intelligence. ” Dr Edith Jurka
Eventhough this subtle art takes years of practice to perfect, I have found it is very easy and enjoyable to experiment with it at home; to get a taste of how it works. A quick look at a YouTube video will show you how to make the steel rods out of a coat hanger. Then take them into your garden or a nearby quiet park and start walking around, and it won’t be long until you feel the rods moving of their own volition. Ahh…… you may think….. ‘It can’t be true‘ and I too was skeptical at first, but once you feel them move in your hands, you can’t be convinced there is not something underground that rods are responding to. If you are interested to learn more about it, there is an active group of dowsers in Sydney and I’m sure there would be many similar groups throughout the world. The Dowsers Society of NSW hold regular seminars to teach you how to do it and they also provide members with monthly talks on a broad range of interesting topics.
You can visit their website
Land + energy + healing
Over the last fifteen years, I have been exploring how to connect with these subtle earth energies due to my study and profound respect for the ancient Japanese healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu. This gentle hands-on-healing modality, brings harmony to the life energy in our bodies. Once you are sensitive enough to feel the energy move in your body (and I believe everyone has the capacity to do this), then it is only logical to want to connect and work with the vibrant energy of nature and to combine these two interests to provide healing landscapes and healing gardens.
In the photo above you can see an example of this. It is a granite spiral, in the geometric shape of a nautilus shell, which provides space for a seating area under an enormous Marri tree (Corymbia calophylla), which is approximately two hundred years old. Rescued from destruction by yours truely and my esteemed colleague Bill James, this majestic being holds pride of place in the entry park of Rapid’s Landing, a growing residential precinct in Margaret River, W.A. The idea of the spiral is to convey on the ground surface, how the energy may be moving under our feet and also down the tree trunk to the roots of the tree. These ancient symbols connect directly to a primordial part of our collective psyche and allow a shift of our awearness from the surface level to the deeper elemental forces within and around us.
If you would like to discuss this in more detail, talk about a project, or come to an Earth Essence workshop, feel free to get in touch by email or phone. I’ll be scheduling several workshops in 2019. The focus will be on how to connect more deeply with nature and to discover how this attunement supports our sense of well-being and peace of mind – these are invaluable assets in our currently changing times.
Please visit my website http://earthessencelandscape.com.au/ or contact me about the workshops via
Email : email@example.com or
Mobile : 0457 081 446.