On October 14, 2016, I presented this brief story for the dedication of the new meditation garden. I have been asked for a transcript of it a number of times, so I will post it here. I hope it makes you feel good.–John P. Schulz
Thanks to the Federated Garden clubs,
Specifically our sponsor, The Thistle Garden Club of Rome, Georgia
Lisa Smith, The Visitor’s and Convention Center,
Mike and Leeta McDougald, whose fence started the project,
And thanks to a large number of people who became excited about this garden and provided the love, labor, and sweat that went into its development.
I was asked to design a garden. Not particularly a memorial garden. Not particularly a meditation garden or any other type of garden—just a garden.
But the seed was planted and the design germinated and began to grow.
Let me give you a little background on the design.
I moved to Rome forty years ago. I wanted to grow flowers.
I fell in love with the city and the people here who were very kind and welcoming. I have enjoyed living here and I wanted to give back to the community as I was able.
When I moved to Rome, my son Paul was seven years old.
He was a big boy, and his mother had taught him a poem.
“I met a little elf man once
Down where the lilies blow
I asked him why he was so small
And why he did not grow
He cocked his head,
And with his eye
He looked me through and through.
“I’m quite as big for me,” he said
as you are big for you.”–(John Kendrick Bangs)
I loved that poem. It spoke of identity and self-acceptance.
One day while I was planting things in the greenhouse, Paul came in and said, “Dad, the elf man is sad. He wants a garden.”
What does a parent do when the elf man wants a garden?
We got a big saucer and built an elf man garden. It had rocks and hills and little pathways for the elf man to walk on.
It had trees and bushes and a mirror for a lake.
I liked watching the little boy walk with his fingers down the path in the elf man garden. Later, when his young friends visited, they did the same. The elf man garden was a hit and over the years, we planted many more of these fantasy gardens.
Many years passed during which I designed and planted a lot of gardens in Rome and around the Southeast.
A lot of gardens.
My mind was constantly working on interesting design elements. The people of our wonderful town encouraged my endeavors and allowed me to make a living in this manner.
My brother Tom once said, “If you want to be an artist, first you must call yourself an artist.” So I did. I began to call myself a landscape artist. This allowed me to visualize in a different way.
For a number of years, I had thought that it would be interesting to design and build a garden in Rome, Georgia that encompassed the theme of seven hills and three rivers.
And then, right around my seventieth birthday, Lisa Smith gave me a wonderful gift. She asked me to design a garden for Myrtle Hill Cemetery. My instructions were simply, “to design a garden with a fence and benches.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for the concept of the hills and rivers to present itself. I had to do it. I had all sorts of resources, two of which were Stan Rogers and Jody Gonzalez who work for the city and, more specifically, take care of the cemetery. Stan and Jody gave their all to help with the garden project. They were excited.
I made a scaled drawing, got approval, and painted lines on the ground. We discussed procedures and came up with ideas. A rock walkway would represent the river. Berms would serve for the seven hills. The garden would include sitting rocks and interesting plants.
In January of this year, My son Paul wanted to see what I was doing. We walked up to the site and looked at the lines painted on the ground. I painted him an air picture with my hands. Paul liked the plan.
He said, “Damn, Dad. You’re going to do a giant elf man garden.”
And that’s when a bit of fantasy came in to make the garden real.
We picked out large sitting rocks and had them delivered.
Stan had piles of soil placed in the proper places.
The project was started.
And then Paul died from a heart attack the first part of March. He was 47 years old.
We continued to work on the project after that sad event and the garden took on a new identity in my mind.
The garden became my refuge.
It became a place of peace and solace for me.
I found that there is always a cool and shady place to sit and think in this garden site.
I built the garden for Paul. The elf-man’s shoes were empty.
I wanted a garden that would be simple and that would grow and thrive without becoming over-grown. I wanted a garden that would be peaceful and thought-provoking without being complicated. I wanted simplicity.
One day while we were planting, my long time friend and helper, Santos, looked up from his work. He looked around with a smile and then asked, “Hey, Juan, do you have to be a member of a club to be in this garden?”
I laughed and replied, “No, Santos, this garden is here for everyone.”
But then I thought,
“You are already a member of the club, Santos.
The club is made up of those who have lost a loved one
Or of those who just need to work something out.
The club is joined by those of us who search for peace
Or for a feeling of belonging.”
I hope that all of you
At some time or another
Will find time to enjoy this garden
And, perhaps to find something that you are looking for in your mind.
Artist Statement, Myrtle Hill Meditation Garden
“A garden has four dimensions. As with any other work of art, the garden may be defined by height, depth, and width. The fourth dimension is the passage of time, as the garden changes with growth, the seasons, and even loss at times. Just as the rivers converge and flow through the seven hills, our lives merge and travel through time, and joy, and sorrow.
This meditation garden is designed to be experienced from the inside out. Enjoy the flowers. Close your eyes; feel the shady breeze. Find a touch of fantasy.”–John P. Schulz, Landscape Artist