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A garden for Isabelle

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

Working in the health and fitness business brings its own assortment of challenges, rewards and responsibilities. The term “personal trainer” is used to designated one-on-one sessions between a trainer and their client. But, “personal” does not stop there – long-term relationships are often forged, and those bonds can become special. 

In this particular situation, I became very close to my client, Isabelle Scott with whom I worked one on one as a Personal Trainer and Yoga Teacher. Isabelle was a private person and I respected this and that made it difficult to write this article – as trainers and teachers, we are taught not to reveal information about our clients. But, in this case, Isabelle’s story was told in the Washington Post: ( and with it in the public ether, you can learn directly about her there. 

I believe our relationship was mutually beneficial for our personal growth. I helped her get grounded and stronger physically and she helped me grow spiritually. We both shared a deep love for our only sons and family. We enjoyed talking long walks in nature and talking about gardening. I taught her about the medicine wheel and she taught me about believing in myself. Isabelle always said your happiness is the most important thing in the world. Happy people make others happy. So, taking good care of oneself is not selfish but the best gift you can give others. Isabelle inspired me to live before I die.


I designed this garden for Isabelle. I dedicate the design to her as it holds all the joy, hope, grace, love, peace and happiness she shared with me. Use all of it or parts of it in your own garden – whether it be a small flower box in your window, or a larger ground space. May it inspire you to cultivate the spiritual in nature, whatever that is to you. 

The inspiration for this garden comes from the Native American Medicine Wheel or Mandala. The word Mandala is from the ancient language of India, Sanskirt, meaning “sacred circle.” The circle represents the horizon line and is divided into the four cardinal directions: NorthEastSouth and West. It is then sub-divided into four more directions: North/EastSouth/EastSouth/WestNorth/West. The center of the wheel represents the self and one’s connection to the sacred circle or cycle of life. 

Circles are found in nature, as in the rings in a still lake when you drop a pebble into it, rings in the trunk of a tree that tell its age, the movement of a hurricane or whirlpool, the shape of the Sun, moon and planets and cycles of time and seasons. 

Represented in the garden will be the four realms of life – Stone, Plant, Animal and Human.

  • The teaching of Stone is to become still like the mountain, hold your ground and be strong.

  • The teaching of Plant and Human are the need to breathe, eat, drink and grow in order to be healthy and to continually transform by going through the cycles of life – birth, death and rebirth.

  • The teaching of Animal is the ability to be authentic, patient, observant and to keep our distance when needed.

Each spoke in the garden is represented by round, flat stones, beginning at each cardinal direction on the perimeter of the garden to the center, seven stones representing the 7 chakras. These stones will be good for walking on. The other four directional spokes, also seven stones in all, are represented by large round river rocks.


Each section of the garden will be represented by plant material that not only represents the color of that section, but also is a plant/herb that has healing qualities.


In the garden, we begin our pilgrimage at the East. The direction is marked by a flat/round stone (yellow) with the image of an owl carved into it. The owl represents the element “Wind” and new beginnings. From here, we feel a change in the air, a fresh start. The sun rises in the East and our first step is inspired by our desire to gain inner wisdom or a guiding vision for our life. The owl was the Greek Goddess Athena’s animal guide and sat on her shoulder and would light up her blind side. 

In the South, the direction is marked by a flat/round stone (blue) with the image of a lion/cat carved into it. This animal spirit represents the power to manifest one’s dreams, our passions and falling in love. The element of this direction is “Fire,” representing the fires of transformation as you face south, soaking in the power and strength of the midday sun. 

In the West, the direction is marked by a flat/round stone (red) with the image of a bear carved into it. This animal spirit is about healing and letting go and is represented by the element “Water”. Bear takes you deep into your unconscious and helps you heal your emotional wounds. Bear is the plant gatherer and herbalist of the animal world. With her rotating forearm, she is nature’s gardener, digging up healing roots, like Osha, Yarrow and Bearberry. 

In the North, the direction is marked by a flat/round stone (white) with the image of a Turtle carved into it. The animal spirit represents the element “Earth” and our shadow side. Asking what grounds me in my life? How do I balance family life, work and other responsibilities while paying attention to the delicate balance between mind, body, emotions and spirit? All represented in the Medicine Wheel. The turtle’s shell represents Mother Earth and teaches us about the mysteries of life and the spirit world and the universe as it spins and spirals around us. 

Beginning in the East at the Owl stone the path made of walkable ground cover such as thyme and flat chakra stones spirals around, passing through each direction and each time the spiral gets smaller touching one of the seven stones in each of the spokes of the directions until the journey ends at the center. At the end of each cardinal direction is a small stone bench to sit and meditate with the words (East=Mind, South=Body, West=Emotion, North=Spirit.) 

In the center is a fountain and reflecting pool with small river stones, Carved into these sacred stones are “Isabelle’s 70th birthday words” – words her friends wrote to describe her attributes that meant the most to them. These stones can be picked up and held during one’s meditation. 

This Medicine Wheel garden has the capacity to focus one’s attention, as you walk the spiral path to the center of the circle you feel the energy of going inward. When you take a seat in the center you may want to sit a while and meditate. Meditating on the circle or sacred Mandala will help focus one’s attention. When one is meditating, the breath deepens, the heart rate slows down and as these physiological changes occur, the body releases positive hormones that aid in the natural healing process. 

Medicine Wheels can be very traditional, but they can also vary from tribe to tribe, adapting to different cultures and intentions. I brought Greek mythology into Isabelle’s as that was an interest of hers. I personalized the section colors and order to acknowledge things in her life. It is up to you how you might incorporate the idea with your own spirit. 

You can also incorporate this into a variety of spaces. A flower box can be planted with the directions and colors in mind. A small indoor sand box with a spiked tool can be made into a spiraled Mandala and stones can be added along the way. Animals or symbols that reflect the spirit can be placed in a room in the cardinal directions leading you to a meditative state. A round planter can be placed in your yard that contains may elements. All of these can be incorporated into developing a space for meditation – in looking inward, we can all more appreciate all of the beauty and spirit of the world around us.

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