The Ninfa Garden – A Roman Enchantment

Springtime in Italy is everything you would imagine it to be: breezy, sunny, filled with fun and joy. Strolling through the Ninfa Gardens, dubbed as the “Most Romantic Gardens in the World” was the cherry on top of my travel sundae. There are no words to describe the breathtaking beauty of this enchanted garden oozing with sacredness and stillness.

The Ninfa gardens are internationally renowned and situated in the province of Lazio, seventy-five miles southeast of Rome and 15 miles from the sea. The name Ninfa comes from a little temple built near the water and dedicated to the Roman nymph goddesses. The present-day gardens were created in the 1920’s around the ruins of a medieval city called Ninfa. The town was built in the eighth century at the foot of a mountain next to a lake with abundant and pure spring-fed water. The town was destroyed in 1381 as a result of a religious feud with a neighboring town. Today the luxuriant gardens are supported and protected by a private family foundation. The result is a blend of the cultivated and the wild, of the romantic and the rational, and above all, the lasting sensation of the mysterious and the sacred.

Enjoy a contemplative moment to browse the beauty of the Gardens Ninfa.

Taking a Time Out in the Garden

meditation garden image 2 for blog post

Let’s face it. Executives, business owners, managers and directors are busy, busy people. Some days life can be a blur of meetings, commitments and fires to put out. With email, voice mail and snail mail all vying for our attention, things can pile up quickly until we feel like our personal and work lives are out of control.

What can we do to get our lives under control again? To feel productive again? To feel less stressed and harried? Try taking a time out, also called meditation, during your day – every day. More people than ever are doing some form of this stress-busting meditation, and researchers are discovering it has some quite extraordinary effects on the brains of those who do it regularly. When taking a time out in a garden, in a park or in nature, people feel even more relaxed, grounded and connected to that which is beyond us.

Time outs can last as little as five minutes or as long as an hour. The focus of a time out is to quiet your breathing, relax and rejuvenate your overworked mind and body. I have been meditating regularly for over ten years with great results. I like to begin my day gently with an hour of meditation. The result that I’ve had with regular time to quiet my mind is that my days flow smoother, I am more creative and productive. I have found that if I do not make the time to meditate each day I feel frazzled, scattered and unorganized. I feel forgetful and distracted. Life presents speed bumps, not the open super highway.

Neuroscience has now proven that just a few hours of quiet reflection each week can lead to an intriguing range of mental and physical effects. Consider that meditation is now accepted as a useful therapy for anxiety and depression. It’s being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units to enhance performance, and is showing promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic pain, too.

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Finding Peace at the Lake Shrine Garden

One of the most intriguing gardens I have visited is at the Lake Shrine Retreat Center in Pacific Palisades, California. Developed and opened to the public in 1950 by Paramahansa Yogananda, the Lake Shrine inspires thousands of visitors each year to be mindful and at peace in the garden.

Only two blocks from the ocean, plants native to the California coast grow thickly amidst the paths, benches and meditation spots found nestled on the grounds around the central lake.

Ghandi Peace MemorialPerhaps the most stunning and meaningful site on the property is the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, a wall-less temple open to the sky. A brass coffer containing a portion of Gandhi’s ashes was enshrined in a stone sarcophagus at the 1950 dedication of the Lake Shrine. On both sides of the Gandhi Memorial are beautiful marble statues of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Kwan Yin is the Chinese representation of God in the Divine Mother.

The Gandhi World Peace Memorial is incredibly important to the Lake Shrine Garden. In the Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda describes a 1935 visit to Gandhi’s ashram in Wardha, India. At Gandhi’s request, he was instructed in the spiritual science of Kriya Yoga at the ashram. Can you imagine having Gandhi as a teacher?

When I visited the Gandhi Memorial I could almost feel the energy emanating through the ground from the wall-less temple. I stood in front of the temple in contemplation and gratitude for Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and peaceful change.

Strolling around the lake to the meditation chapel, I was grateful for the absolute silence in which to sit and meditate. The beautiful and inspiring sound of the rushing water from the large waterfall could be heard from inside the chapel, further inducing a meditative state. (Click on the video player to experience the peace-filled sound of the Lake Shrine Garden waterfall.  It is a little escape from your hectic day.)


If you have the opportunity to visit the Santa Monica-area of southern California, be sure to leave a few hours to experience the peacefulness of the Lake Shrine Garden and allow your travel stress to just melt away. You will emerge from the visit re-energized, serene and inspired to continue on your path.

© Rita Perea.  All Rights Reserved.

Caring for The Magical, Mighty Oak Tree

mighty oakAncient Celtic druids venerated trees, but especially the Mighty Oak. They believed that because trees are living beings, each had a spirit. This spirit was depicted as “The Green Man”, a peculiar face that looks like it is peering out of the tree trunk, found on the decorative carvings of churches, cathedrals, city buildings all over the U.K. and Europe. The Green Man, often seen depicted with the seed of the oak, the acorn, represents growth and rebirth.

In  my neighborhood, my neighbors and I  love our trees, especially our oaks, some of which are well over 100 years old. Like the Green Man who may be peering out from the bark, our magical neighborhood oak trees have seen many changes in the landscape throughout their life spans. They have provided us, our gardens and the wildlife that we enjoy with shade, refuge, acorns and majestic seasonal beauty. We want to honor their years of stately labor by keeping them as healthy and disease-free as possible.

According to certified arborists Scott Bailey and Dylan Kimsey, owners of Bonsai Tree Care Company, there are some tips that we can keep in mind to keep our oak trees healthy and happy for many years to come.  read more


Philodendrons are Fantastic Indoor Garden Plants

philWhen the snow is falling outside, I love to spend quiet meditative time indoors admiring my interior garden.  One of the houseplants that I adore is the philodendron. It can look beautiful in your home or at your office all year round. Timeless and classic, the deep green native tropical philodendrons have been soothing our souls for generations.  This plant is easy to care for and can live for years and years.

Philodendrons are not flashy.  They do not bloom.  Instead, they are vines that climb.  Their common name translates into “tree lover”.   They are tried and true with the ability to survive neglect and adverse conditions.  Even the most inexperienced gardener can have success growing a philodendron as a houseplant.

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Gotta LOVE Those Garden Catalogs

seedThe frigid February deep freeze can produce the “winter blues” in many people.   The general feeling of being down or discontented by the inability to get outside and dig in the dirt is even more pronounced in those who love to spend time in their gardens.

Imagine feeling irritable, blue, longingly looking out the window to the frozen tundra and wishing you were able to be outside with your plants.  Suddenly, something magical happens… the mail person leaves a big stack of seed and garden catalogs.  At once you’ve found heaven.  Oh, you thick, glossy, full-color beauties filled with new and exotic plants to shop for!  Come to Mama!  Lovingly holding your stack of catalogs in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, your spirits are immediately lifted. You aren’t so blue anymore.  Shopping and plants all rolled into one afternoon.  Could anything be better?  You sense that there is hope that spring WILL arrive after all.

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Create Indoor Magic with Amaryllis

email 2Winter in the midwest is a time of warm gatherings with friends and family. As the snow  appears outside our midwest windows, we can create festive  indoor gardens by growing Amaryllis bulbs. Amaryllis means “to sparkle” and  these plants with lily-shaped blooms provide a dramatic and colorful display.  Fewer bulbs grow as easily or with the show-stopping beauty as Amaryllis.

Did you know that there are over 800 named varieties of Amaryllis?   The most common colors,  which are deep and rich, are red, white, yellow, pink and variegated. read more

Beating the Winter Blues with Plants

Botanical Garden sprouts photo for SOG Neighbors

When I think of winter, an old nursery rhyme rattles around in my head:

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then,
Poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
Poor thing.


I can relate to this little robin and his mighty effort to stay warm. Along with the blowing north wind and snow, gardeners, who love to spend time outside digging in the dirt, may feel a little “blue” to be stuck inside and away from nature. I wanted to share a few tips to help my gardening friends beat their winter blues.
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Happiness is Digging in the Dirt


According to the famous plant collector, E.H. Wilson, “There are no happier folks than plant lovers and none more generous than those who garden.” I agree. Researchers now have some proof as to why gardeners tend to be so happy.

Have you ever noticed how good you feel after you spend time in the garden? Or that standing outside and just smelling the smell of good, old-fashioned soil in the air makes you feel better? Science tells us that getting our hands dirty actually gives our brain a boost. Digging in the dirt releases a strain of bacterium in the soil, called Mycobacterium vaccae. M. vaccae triggers a release of serotonin in the brain which provides that lovely lift that we experience. Along with increasing our happiness, serotonin is also credited with decreasing our anxiety level.

M.vaccae enters our bodies through the air that we breathe, so even those who stand nearby and watch someone else dig in the dirt and garden will benefit. This research would indicate that inhaling M.vaccae may be responsible for our feelings of well-being when we are being contemplative in the garden, too. Science also shares that the effects of the natural high seem to taper off after only three weeks.

To keep the natural boost going, it is recommended that we get into the garden as often as possible. Even a weekly dose of M.vaccae will help you continue to feel happy.

Here’s to digging in the dirt, feeling good and gardening mindfully.

© Rita Perea, 2015. All rights reserved.

New Moon photo for ICGA blog post Oct 2015

Life Changes? Release During the New Moon.

Writer, Hugh Prather, famously said, “Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes!”

In our modern, fast-paced times, pieces of our lives seem to change almost daily. Sometimes, within 10 minutes of waking up in the morning, we know we are in for a “white-knuckle ride” that day. We fasten our seat belts as we hold on for dear life.

When we experience a change in our life, whether it is happy and anticipated or sudden and unexpected, we all go through a pre-programed set of psychological stages as we learn to grieve the loss and embrace change. A strategy for releasing I suggest to my coaching and spiritual direction clients is identifying the loss the change brought about and then to develop a ritual to say goodbye to that loss.

Did you know our brains love patterns? Rituals are patterns we create and use for our well being and healing. Saying goodbye through ritual is a way of psychologically clearing and releasing old thought patterns and behaviors. It makes room to embrace the new way of life that is beginning to take shape.

Symbolically, the new moon on the calendar is the ideal time of the month to say goodbye, to release, clear out the old and invite the new into our lives. This can happen physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You know how good it feels to clean out a closet or organize your desk drawers? Saying goodbye in a methodical way, making the decision to move forward and embracing the new provides the same kind of feeling.

As a writer, I like the ritual of writing down, on a small piece of paper, the thought, feeling, person or item I am saying goodbye to as a result of the change in my life. I also set my intentions to welcome the new that is replacing the old. During the week of the new moon I close my eyes, verbally whisper my goodbye to the thing I have written on the paper. I’m able to release the loss and grief to the ethers by burning the slip of paper in my fire place (during winter) or in a large metal bucket in my backyard (during the summer months). I then turn my attention to and whisper a welcome to the new intention- that thought, feeling, person, situation or item I am grateful to invite into my life.

As we celebrate the new moon during harvest time this week, I invite you to give this a try. What have you got to lose? Except old emotional baggage.

© Rita Perea, 2015. All rights reserved.

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