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Spirit of the Season

Some reflections from our longtime Garden Muse

Nov./Dec. 2022

by Paula Steers Brown, Contributing Columnist

The season of gratitude is upon us. I want to thank you readers for stopping by this column to get my musings on the garden for the last 21 years. In this, my last article, I think back fondly on how plants have helped cultivate friendships and well-being.

From afternoon teas sipped amid the perfume of Daphne odora to nocturnal gatherings with dear friends that glow white with the once-a-year bloom of Queen of the Night cactus flower, I have shared in words and pictures the drama of the garden.

The meditative Abbey Garden at Buffalo Springs Herb Farm provides a comforting outdoor sanctuary.


A favorite of my garden visits as a columnist that made the power of nature ring true was to Buffalo Springs Herb Farm in tiny Raphine, Va., a destination for herb lovers, craftspeople and Christmas junkies.

Co-owners Don Haynie and Tom Hamlin painstakingly restored an 1890 Shenandoah Valley Bank Barn, a storehouse for colorful bunches of everlastings drying on tier poles, where pungent cedars and holiday lights soared upward to hand-hewn rafters. “It’s a cathedral,” mused Haynie of the space’s inspiring quality, where classes on floral design produced wondrous works.


Outside, a stone backdrop with statues of saints filling niches softened by evergreen shrubs and herbs, features rosemary, a plant long associated with the VirginMary. Stone troughs beautifully display some of the herbs of Advent: bedstraw (the manger herb), boxwood, horehound, juniper, pennyroyal, rue, sage and thyme.


A labyrinth walk offers a contemplative path in a
calm, natural setting to promote well-being.

This open-air “abbey” came to mind during the recent observances and tributes to the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Introducing the sensory element of sound, Gregorian chants were piped in to enhance meditation from a simple bench or on a contemplative walk.

Wind chimes, like those at Buffalo Creek, bring more evocative sounds into a garden space. I have recently appreciated wind chimes given upon the death of a loved one, where their soft sounds conjured by the wind stirring seem appropriately transportive, putting us in a nostalgic mind of a spirit moving among us, comforting us in a sanctuary of tranquility.

Exploring meditative pathways proves to be an effective way to create “sacred space.” One such style is the labyrinth garden, an ancient form, which uses the kinesthetic experience of simply walking a path as a mode of exercise to engage our senses, connecting the mind and body. A contemplative path with no wrong turns is reassuring.

Paula Steers Brown

The cyclic quality of nature and its promise of rebirth is similarly reassuring and quite appropriate for the holiday season. Perennial plants’ regeneration is a most valuable feature, as they grow fuller every year, making more to share with friends. Plants reconnect us with history, even as they reach toward the future.

The older I get, the more I am fascinated with the model nature provides of faith, faith that a pattern for the tallest tree or the most intricate bloom is recorded in its seed. That inspiration is a constant miracle, one I have loved sharing. Thanks for joining me for 21 years on such a miraculous journey.