The Story Behind the Design of the Meditation Garden in Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Rome, Georgia

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


Speaking in the garden (Photo by Tony Pope)

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.


The seven hills and three rivers in Rome, Georgia. Art work by John Robert Schulz

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 started with piles of dirt, strategically placed. These would build the “seven hills”

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.

A bit of fantasy makes the garden real. Art work by John Robert Schulz

A bit of fantasy makes the garden real. Art work by John Robert Schulz

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.


Discussing sitting stone placement with Stan Rogers

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?”


Santos gets the Japanese maples “faced” just right.

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.”
Or serenity.

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.


The meditation garden changes daily. You may find someone you know or someone you knew. You may find a part of yourself.


There’s always a bit of warm sun and another bit of cool shade. A gentle, restful breeze will caress 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

An intimate meditation garden in a gated community

An intimate meditation garden in a gated community.

Sylvia sent me a picture via email the other day. The picture conveyed a message, “you need to come see this.” I grinned and decided that I should take Dekie and the trusty camera to get a look at her yard.  Here’s the picture she sent:

I was summoned by the picture

I was summoned by the picture

Julie Windler had called me about a year  ago and said that she wanted to give a John Schulz garden design as a gift for some special clients.  I was honored and took the job. Due to construction issues we weren’t able to start on the garden until last August.

I met Randy and Sylvia Eidson who had moved to a small gated community on Pear Street here in Rome, Ga.  Randy and Sylvia are gardeners of the first order and had left a rather large yard in Atlanta after retiring.  We started work on their new garden in August 2009 and had a good time with it.  I also made some wonderful new friends.

The open gate and garden pathway invited me in

The open gate and garden pathway invited me in

The design that we came up with began with a small flagstone patio that was suitable for four seats and a couple of tables.  The planting areas were to be raised beds with fieldstone borders that would grace each side of a walkway of flagstone stepping stones. Sylvia asked for a perennial border and was a great help with picking out the varieties of plants that we used.  I told her that it would take at least a year for the garden to mature.  That’s why I was so excited about the picture that she sent. I walked through the gate and saw this:

raised beds, perennials, stepping stones leading back to a small flagstone patio

raised beds, perennials, stepping stones leading back to a small flagstone patio

The plants seem to have really taken to the compost beds.  I enjoyed this mixture of dwarf snapdragons, perennial salvia, and silver mound.  In a couple of weeks, this bed will also show the flowers of purple coneflower, blue salvia, and yarrow.

raised bed with perennials, rock border.

raised bed with perennials, rock border.

I stood on the patio and took a shot back toward the entrance.  Then I let the people in and we sat and talked.  The patio is nice in that it is large enough for four people to sit and talk and small enough for the conversation to be quiet and personal.

view from the patio, raised beds with perennials, natural stepping stones

view from the patio, raised beds with perennials, natural stepping stones

We had a nice visit talking about the garden and goings on in the community.

Red and white Encore azaleas never stopped blooming, a nice fragrance from dianthus tucked into a corner.

Red and white Encore azaleas never stopped blooming, a nice fragrance from dianthus tucked into a corner.

One of the topics of discussion was the ”bottle tree” which was made by Stephanie Dwyer of Jackson, Mississippi.  I really enjoyed browsing through Stephanie’s website.  I get to meet her today at Arts in the Garden at Berry College.

bottle tree by Stephanie Dwyer

bottle tree by Stephanie Dwyer

A statement about the bottle tree from Stephanie’s website gives us a bit of information:

“The bottle tree tradition rooted itself in the South in the 1700s, arriving from Africa and flourishing in the fertile ground of the Mississippi Delta even today. Placing colorful bottles on the ends of broken limbs is said to keep evil spirits (or maybe just nosy neighbors) away from the home. As the story goes, the sun’s glimmer through the glass mesmerizes the spirits and traps them in the bottles.”  Randy and Sylvia have made a project of collecting just the right bottles and each one has a story.

Sylvia enjoys collecting shade perennial wildflowers.  Two of her prizes are the ‘celandine poppy’ and the ‘foam flower’.

The celandine poppy works well in shaded areas

The celandine poppy works well in shaded areas

Sylvia's 'foam flower'  I love the foliage.  Does anyone know the botanical name?

Sylvia’s ‘foam flower’ I love the foliage. Does anyone know the botanical name?

May 3–The botanical name of  ‘foam flower’  is Tiarella cordifolia.  Thanks, Marion and Karen.

A collection of hydrangeas has been planted in carefully chosen spots.  I made a note that I will have to make another visit when these blooms mature.

I'll have to return to the garden when the hydrangeas bloom.

I’ll have to return to the garden when the hydrangeas bloom.

The part of the planting that took the most consideration was figuring out just where the sun would be.  The location involves dealing with full and partial sun as well as with full shade.  Looking at the rear entrance from the patio, we can see a large pot of coleus, ferns, and a dwarf oak leaf hydrangea.  The figure to the back of the garden is one of Sylvia’s prized possessions from Japan.  Its name is Tanuki.  The Tanuki is a traditional Japanese figure which symbolizes fertility, rascality, and jolliness.  He is often represented with a bottle of saki in one hand and a promissory note in the other—what does that tell you?

coleus, dwarf hydrangea, and Tanuki.

coleus, dwarf hydrangea, and Tanuki.

I love attention to detail in the garden.  I will leave you with a picture of variegated Solomon’s seal showing off under a table that seems to have been made just for this location.

This looks like something my brother would paint

This looks like something my brother would paint

To see some work by Tom Schulz, roll around in his blogspot here:

I try to put up a new article every Sunday. Stay in touch.  Share it with your friends.

If you live in or around the northwest Georgia area and would like to have a consultation with johntheplantman, you may contact John Schulz by email at .  Do not send pictures or attachments as they will be deleted.

These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the Plant man here:

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