Seattle Shambhala Garden Magic

By Andrea D’Asaro

“The Shambhala garden has a magic about it, as if it has its very own intention to bring you closer to it, to bring the community closer to nature and each other,” says Claire Oravec, who has nurtured the Shambhala garden for the past year.

About a year ago, some Shambhala members noticed our surrounding yard was falling into neglect. And no wonder–our former gardener, Heather Crone, had moved on four years earlier. Members Tom Gaylord and Mary Bolton recommended Claire, who is a certified gardener, a Seattle Shambhala friend, and wife of long-time member Brad Warren.

“The garden looked like it was missing its caregiver,” says Claire, who sees the space as a living entity. “The foundation of the way it was designed is so strong that even after some years of neglect, the experience is still complete. We could say it has ‘good bones.’ And with some care and attention, the garden can return to greater harmony.”

Volunteers Keep the Garden Alive

As much as the garden delights us, it is we humans who must keep it healthy for the nature spirits (dralas or invisible energetic deities) to live here, suggests Claire. “We create the ground so they can work their magic, which gives back to us ten-fold.”

On a recent August workday, ten volunteers came out to continue the work of weeding, pruning, staking and watering. “It really was a lot of fun–and such a nice way for people to come together, learn from each other and just enjoy being in the garden,” recalls Claire.

Claire invites friends and members to come for upcoming workdays September 15 and October 13 (see details below). As she notes: “Volunteers are stepping forward for the simple pleasure of caring for plants, continuing the work of Dan Peterson and Heather Crone, our long-term garden stewards.”

With decades of design and gardening experience as well as spiritual practice, Claire’s arrival is a gift to our community and our precious garden.  She studied art and design at the revered Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and started a gardening business in the Hudson Valley, north of the city. She earned a Master Gardener certificate with Cornell Cooperative Extension and has taken classes at the New York Botanical Garden and Millbrook Ecosystem Institute. Claire is drawn by “the golden mean,” the Aristotelian balance between extremes, similar to the Buddhist “middle way.”  Once in Seattle, Claire studied permaculture design on Vashon Island and became one of the founding gardeners for a 13-acre food forest and outreach center of her spiritual teacher Amma Mata Amritanandamayi from South India.

Recently she has continued her affinity for service by taking a forest steward role in the restoration of Seattle greenways as a lead in volunteer work parties in the Cheasty Greenspace.

What Makes Our Garden Special?  

 Claire notes that our garden is rich in spirit.  “When I first walked into the Center’s garden, I was taken by something more than just a well-designed garden; there is an unspoken communication coming from the nature spirits. Then, too, there is the gorgeous combination of elements: stone, concrete, bamboo, plants, and trees,” says Claire. “The brilliance of the original design was clearly undertaken with a lot of love and care, including the choices of rare plant varieties, like the Tibetan tree peony and Japanese mulberry. And my favorite: the stand of tall bamboo that brings out one’s joy-filled inner panda.”

Longtime garden steward and senior teacher Dan Peterson recalls that when Seattle Shambhala purchased the Harrison building in 2003, there wasn’t much of a garden to speak of.  Peterson describes how he volunteered when the City asked the center to trim back the overgrown evergreens on the east border that covered the sidewalk, blocking children from MLK Elementary School, now a community center. “On a cloudy winter afternoon, I went over to start trimming and Heather Crone showed up with clippers and gloves.  I generally like to pause frequently but was shamed into working without a break all afternoon, due to Heather’s work ethic. She is the person who eventually did most of the landscaping and care of the yard for years.”

Shambhala Feng Shui master Eva Wong visited at that time and gave a very auspicious reading, recalls Peterson. “She said that our property sits on a meridian that starts at a power spot in the Cascades,” he notes. “It comes through Bellevue and right through Bill Gate’s property and under Lake Washington to our Center.  She told the Center to build a water feature, now a small pond, under trees and at the highest place on the property. She was fiercely insistent to do it, and when it was done, she said it was perfect,” reports Peterson, who is looking for volunteers to help him maintain the pond. Contact him at: [email protected].

A Note for Garden Volunteers from Claire: 

We would like to create a monthly garden work party that will help us to stay on top of the most time-consuming garden tasks. There is so much to be attended to that any offering of time at any skill level, degree of strength, or willingness to get dirty can be accommodated. Consider this a personal invitation to assist the dralas so they can work their magic in this world.

The next two gatherings in the garden will be September 15th and October 13th from 1-4 pm after Sunday Open House. We will be dead-heading and dividing perennials (an opportunity to bring some plants home to your own garden), adding soil amendments, and mulching.

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