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


My self publishing experience-part one

A story about a story-My self publishing experience part one. August 28, 2011

It seems like every day, at least once but usually several times, someone will ask, “John, when’s your next book coming out?” The question never fails to make me feel good. I know now that I have been able to not only write a book but to get it published, win a prestigious award (Ippy, best fiction, South), and to create a following. I started the John the plant man blog to have a platform for answering frequently asked landscaping questions as well as to tell stories. Yesterday I was helping a client to find a leak in his waterfall and while we worked he kept asking me question after question about the writing, publishing, and marketing of Requiem for a Redneck after which I had to tell him all about my upcoming book Redemption for a Redneck which is due to appear on the scene in November, 2011. I realized that I had started answering these questions enough times to warrant writing about the subject. Here’s the story of the book:

The Storyteller, John Schulz in earlier days. A portrait by Tom Schulz, Artist

The Storyteller, John Schulz in earlier days. A portrait by Tom Schulz, Artist

I can remember being a pretty good writer in high school. My mother was a talented writer. She would take time from her busy schedule of being a housewife/student/career person to type my papers and to comment on them. When corrections were needed she took the time to show me what was wrong and how to correct it. I never much liked the correcting and re writing so I paid attention and learned to write with fewer and fewer mistakes. The most important lesson I learned from this session came from this conversation:

            “John, you need to take out this last paragraph.”

            “But, Mom, I like that paragraph.”

            She replied, “You need to take it out because it just goes too far. You’ve already made your point.”

            She then gathered up the papers, handed them to me with a pen and said,

            “The most important part of being a good writer is to know when to stop.”

Mom reinforced the lesson a number of times when, after hearing a speech or a sermon, she would smile sweetly and say something like

            “That was a good sermon, but he passed up three perfect places to stop.”

 Life went on and the age of fifty sneaked up on me. I could write short stories, essays and good letters but I had never even thought myself capable of writing a book. I was running a landscaping crew made up of people who were proud to call themselves rednecks. On rainy or frigid days when we couldn’t work on yards we would sit around a wood heater, drink beer, and tell stories. I always had some good stories to tell but the rednecks told me stories that, while commonplace to them, opened up a new world to me. I remember Doug Barton saying one time,

            “John, you need to take notes and write this stuff down so that it doesn’t disappear. We cain’t write a book about it, but you can.”

And that was the first time I ever thought about writing a book. I started taking notes and throwing them in a box as the stories piled up. I also became more and more associated with the North Georgia rednecks and their way of life. I met a lot of people and I drank a lot of beer. I met and worked with a talented but problematic saw miller named Ottis. I met and enjoyed talking to a retired bank robber named Jerry. The stories piled up in the box but I didn’t do anything about it.

            One day, while talking to a friend I told him that I wanted to write a book but didn’t know where to start. He replied,

            “John, your life is a book. All you got to do is tell about it.”

            I filed that thought away with my notes.

Throw the notes in a box and maybe, someday...

Throw the notes in a box and maybe, someday…

Somewhere around the year 2000 I traded some irrigation work for a fancy word processor. I discovered the back space button that allowed me to correct my mistakes as I wrote. The back space button is, in my opinion, one of the most wonderful developments of the digital age. I love it and wish sometimes that I had a back space button to use in conversations.

 So I started writing, but I had one more obstacle to overcome. It took a while to get the concept but one day in 2001 I quit drinking. That one action made all the difference in my life as well as in my writing discipline. I recently read an article in Harper’s that said when you quit drinking, it is a fifteen year process, five years to deal with the problem and get used to it, five years to figure out who you want to be, and five more years to become that person. My experience shows that to be right on target, too. Now I am in the third five years and I can look back and see it clearly.

 Living by myself and trying to find a new lifestyle, I began to dig through the box of notes in 2005. I started the book. I started it twenty times. Ottis had died a weird death and I thought I might work the story around him. Every time I told someone about this beautiful but complexly confused man people would listen, enjoy the story, and then get upset when I told them that Ottis was dead. I decided to fictionalize and start the book with the death of Ottis so that there would be no surprises in the end. I gave Ottis’ character the name of Harce in order to avoid any problems. I wrote a totally fictional story about the death of Harce and then proceeded to tell the rest of the story. It took two years.

 Two things that I had admired and thought about influenced the writing of the book. The first was an interview I had seen with John Hartford on the Johnny Carson show. (John Hartford has passed on to his greater rewards and if you don’t know who he was, go to you tube and look him up. You’ll thank me).Hartford was telling Carson that he wanted to write a book and instead of the usual binding, he wanted to write it and paste the pages on a stick so that it would make a circle and so that the reader could start at any place and end up wherever he wanted. I liked that.

 The second influence came from re reading The Great Gatsby and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I decided that I really liked the point of view in which an outsider becomes close enough to the story to tell about it but not close enough to belong in it. Nick Carraway in Gatsby, for instance, basically only told what he could observe and hear about a situation in which he really didn’t belong. I could identify with this because I was on the outside of the redneck community looking in. I invented John the plant man to be the narrator. I still really like that point of view and I am using it again in the second book.

 In February of 2007, still trying to find out who I wanted to be, still trying to come up with a new and sustainable lifestyle, I joined the Rome Area Writers. My book was maybe half way done and I needed some support. I also knew that I needed both some direction and an editor. I found both and another interesting part of the story started.

 I will continue this article next week. I need to do a bit more thinking about it. My plan is to take the story all the way through the self publishing process which will answer a lot of other questions that I am frequently asked. I will also tell you more about the physical production of Requiem for a Redneck and about the progress of the second book in the planned trilogy, Redemption for a Redneck I intend to go into what I learned about self publishing, marketing, and the unexpected profits gained from being a published author so be sure to bookmark this or, better yet, to subscribe to this blogsite.

 While you are waiting for the next article in the series, I invite you to read a beautiful and funny excerpt from the Requiem. Louann is a totally fictional and delightful character who deals with life as it comes at her.. Click on the link to see what happens when Louann wins the lottery

Louann wins the lottery with unexpected results

Louann wins the lottery with unexpected results

 If you are interested in self publishing, here are three of the blogsites that I follow. There are a multitude of good articles on the subject if you wish to browse around within these sites. I highly recommend them.

There’s the lovely, interesting, and well informed Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn

And then there’s the wild man, Dean Wesley Smith

I subscribe to The Book Designer and enjoy an article by Joel Friedlander almost every day.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

 Leave a comment or a question, it’s always appreciated.


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