In the morning as people commute to work, Patrice Hanlon is already at the garden being serenaded by a host of birds. As garden director of the Gardens at Heather Farm, Hanlon said she’s lucky to work in such a serene environment.
“All the robins are out,” said Hanlon, who commutes to the garden from her Concord home. “I like coming out here first thing in the morning when all the bird activity is at its peak and see the scrub jays and the finches hang on the tree branches.”
One of the best times to walk in a garden is during winter, she said.
Hanlon, a horticultural therapist, and ecotherapist Jackie Jordan want people to see the garden as a winter sanctuary and not just as a warm-weather destination. They will lead a series of guided Winter Walks beginning Jan. 25 to relieve the winter doldrums. Each walk is designed to provide a respite from the darker days of winter by observing the subtleties and beauty of the winter garden, Hanlon said.
Participants of each specially-themed walk, to be held from 9:30 to 11 a.m. rain or shine, are encouraged to dress warmly and wear comfortable walking shoes.
Hanlon and Jordan said what makes these walks unique is that each onewalk will feature guided meditations, reflection and opportunities to sketch or write in your personal journal. Keeping a nature journal is a wonderful way to improve your observation skills and memory, they said.
The first walk will focus onwinter birds. “The Bones of the Garden,” on Feb. 22 will encourage people to observe things that they may not normally pause to appreciate.
“Sometimes in the process of slowing down, things are revealed, such as the spores on a fern, shelf fungus decomposing a stump, or the pattern of a bud still held tight waiting for light and warmth to help it unfurl,” Hanlon said.
“Spring Equinox and Bud Break, the Garden Awakens,” is the theme for the walk on March 22.
“Light in the garden and in our lives brings forth a burst of energy,” Hanlon said. “We will revisit some of the trees and shrubs we observed in February to see how they have changed.”
She will recite her favorite e.e. cummings poem at the last winter walk,”All Things Green and Wonderful,” on April 19, when the garden should be in full bloom.
Both women combine their knowledge and passion for gardens with their therapeutic backgrounds to help visitors use the garden for healing purposes. As a horticultural therapist, Hanlon developed a garden program designed for students with Asperger’s syndrome and is in the process of developing programs for seniors.
“Lots of people think that horticultural therapy is about healing plants, but it’s more about healing people,” Hanlon said. “Besides this being a sustainable habitat, it’s a healing space.”
She said she’s seen people with walkers at the garden, as well as those practicing Tai Chi.
“It’s incredible to see the amount of people who come here for healing,” Hanlon said. “The garden itself is a place for unwinding.”
The look of the gardens evolves as the weather and seasons change, she said.
“The point is to get them to actually see the garden and the notice the subtleties of nature,” said Hanlon. “There’s always a new discovery, something new to see every time.”
Jordan, a transplant from Honolulu who now calls Concord home, spent much of the past 17 years working as a nonprofit arts administrator in Hawaii and San Francisco. Needing to spend more time in the sunlight, Jordan said she left the theater and took a job as operations assistant at the Gardens at Heather Farm. She recently completed a certificate in ecotherapy and continues her studies toward a master’s degree in consciousness and transformative studies at John F. Kennedy University.
“I look at the garden from a meditative standpoint,” Jordan said. “Even if we quickly take the same path we always do, we could slow down, breathe and connect with the earth. Slowing down gives us a chance to observe the gardens in a new way.”
Jordan said that aside from embracing stillness during meditation in a garden setting, the walks themselves can be meditative.
“I’ll encourage people to pay attention, to each step they take, be silent, take it slow, and take a deep breath,” Jordan said. “I like to say, ‘There’s beauty above me, below me, within me and all around me.’ Giving you a mantra really puts you into that space and really grounds you.”
Spending time in a garden helps relieve stress, Jordan said.
“Let all that stuff go and for 90 minutes just be here in the moment,” she said. “Then you’ll be able to hear the birds and see the trees.”
Gardens at Heather Farm regulars such as the Weeping Mulberry tree and the Butterfly Habitat are worth observing in the winter, they said.
“We don’t have a bird feeder but in the morning the Butterfly Habitat is packed with birds,” said Hanlon.
“Birds migrate during the winter looking for abundant sources of food, so like the birds, we can take time to bundle up and nourish ourselves,” Jordan said.
A $5 donation for each walk helps build more therapeutic garden programs Hanlon and Jordan hope to offer in the future.
“It’s a time to go inward to rejuvenate so we get energy to burst forth in the spring,” Hanlon said. “The garden is cyclical just like life.”
“We’re trying to make this garden space a place of healing,” Jordan said.
— Janice DeJesus, Bay Area News Group