Sacred Garden Spaces

Create a sacred space in your garden


| February/March 2004


Like giant wagon wheels silently foretelling the coming of the 19th-century pioneers, some 20,000 human-formed stone circles greeted migrating Europeans as they rolled westward. Situated on and around the Great Plains of Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, today less than 200 of these magnificent, mysterious wheels have survived.

For more than 5,000 years, natives of the Western Hemisphere built sacred cairns surrounded by one or more concentric circles, with spokes or stone lines radiating outward. Based on the number four (representing the cardinal directions and thought to be situated at energy vortexes), sacred circles were used all over the world for ceremonies, as places of worship and to communicate creation stories. Rich in symbolism and powerful as healing places, these edifices stand testament to nature-based and deeply spiritual cultures.

Today’s medicine wheel gardens are based on the circle—the sacred natural shape symbolic of the interconnections of all life. Their round designs feature a central focus and four or more paths that carve the garden into pie-shaped beds. Most are planted with perennial and annual herbs, some featuring only medicinal herbs, others encompassing a wide variety of culinary, ornamental, tea, heirloom, cosmetic and healing herbs or indigenous herbs, grasses, shrubs and cacti. Medicine wheel gardens are intensely personal, and one’s choice of plants, materials and symbolic ornaments reflects the inner garden of the spirit.

Here at my home, our medicine wheel is small—8 feet in diameter—with culinary, tea, butterfly and medicinal herbs in each of the four distinct beds. Herbs require six to eight hours of sunlight daily, so the only absolute requirement is to situate the wheel in the open with tall trees or structures to the north.



To create a medicine wheel, gather five marker stakes, a hammer, measuring tape, compass and some string or lime. Rocks mark the important yearly dates around the outside circle (see diagram below), so a good-size rock pile also would be handy. To start the wheel, drive a stake into the ground at the desired center point. Using a compass, locate the four cardinal directions and mark each with a stake 4 feet from the center. Mark the circle by joining the four cardinal direction stakes with string.

Once the circle is marked, prepare the circle as you would any herb bed. If the site is on a lawn, till or dig out the sod, being careful to keep the five stakes in place. Mix in peat or compost, a small amount of bone meal (or lime or wood ash) and topsoil. In general, herbs tolerate a wide range of conditions but prefer well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. Lay 24-inch-wide heavy plastic landscaping cloth from each directional stake toward the center to form paths. Spread gravel, shells, wood chips or other natural material over the plastic and replace the four directional stakes with large rocks. These represent the spirit keepers of each direction and may be adorned with drawings or artifacts.







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