Real Gardens

Prayer Flags in My Garden

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Does your garden have a focal point you’d rather not see, one that’s not on your property so you can’t change it? I do – a neighbor’s storage area – but co-op rules prevent me from blocking it with, say, a lattice, and the space is far too small and close to a sidewalk to use conifers to do the job.

Like my fellow co-op members, I’ve had to get creative in my quest for screening, and after several failed attempts at solutions I’ve found that prayer flags do the job – at least temporarily, until they become so tattered they need to be replaced. But their impermanence is just part of their charm. The more tattered and faded, the prettier, to my eyes.

But they’re about more than blocking views and looking pretty, of course. Their original purpose in the Himalayan regions was to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Contrary to common belief about them, they don’t carry prayers to gods but rather, prayers and mantras on the flags are intended to be blown by the wind to spread goodwill and compassion, benefiting all.

IMG_2872And their very impermanence has spiritual meaning. Tibetans mount new flags alongside the old, symbolizing the greater ongoing cycle that we’re part of.

Wikipedia tells us that during China’s Cultural Revolution, “prayer flags were discouraged but not entirely eliminated. Many traditional designs may have been lost. Currently, different styles of prayer flags can be seen all across the Tibetan region.”

About the colors, though, I have a bone to pick. Traditionally, prayer flags come in five exact colors, all primary, none that go particularly well in my garden, or dare I say, most gardens. Blue, white, red, green, and yellow represent the five elements that produce health and harmony in traditional Tibetan medicine, but I sure wish the flags came already faded and looked like the ones on this temple in Kathmandu.

(I took this shot on a Himalayan trekking vacation in the ’90s. The photo itself has faded a lot, though it’s still hanging in my home.)

Even better than prefaded, what if we could custom-order flags in the right colors for our gardens? I’d sure go for some purple. But after years of looking, I’ve concluded there’s no such source exists for custom colors, or even just different colors.  Oh, well.

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One more view and a parting plug for the shrub growing beneath my flags. The three ‘Ogon’ spireas are still full and gorgeous in mid-December. Also, they leaf out early with beautiful chartreuse, willow-like foliage. Really contribute a lot to the garden.

Posted by on December 18, 2015 at 7:39 am, in the category Real Gardens.
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12 responses to “Prayer Flags in My Garden”

  1. Chris N says:

    The ones I have seen come in cotton so you could pre-fade them by washing with a little bleach. Or, if you (or someone you know) likes to sew, make your own out of whatever colors you like.

  2. Laura Munoz says:

    What a clever and lovely idea to hide an area you didn’t want to view. I also appreciate the history you provided regarding the prayer flags. I always thought they were pretty, but didn’t know their impermanence had meaning.

    I don’t have areas in my neighbors’ yards that are “focal points”, but the owner of the property next-door plans to build a deck off the back of the house and will then rent the house. If this happens, the renters can see me over the 6′ privacy fence on my deck, so I need a solution so we can both enjoy our decks and not see each other.

    If I don’t use lattice, I might consider prayer flags, which I imagine are much less expensive.

  3. Janet Belding says:

    Susan,
    This post hit home with me today. I don’t have a neighbor’s yard that needs to be blocked from view, but I have always loved the idea of prayer flags. I never thought of them in the garden, but what a wonderful idea. I also never looked up the flags’ meaning. They match so well with gardening and a garden, as well as life. Great post.

  4. burie says:

    I believe you could start your own positive karmic effect by making a series of flags following your own best wishes for the world. The spirit of Mother Earth would understand your wish to have your screening follow your own excellent aesthetics, (color choices and symbols)! 🙂

  5. I too love the thought of celebrating impermanence and the ongoing cycle of life at the same time. What a perfect echo of gardens in general.

    Your faded flags had such beautiful colors; maybe the fading will happen quicker without that large tree next door. (Small consolation, I know.)

  6. Oh, and the great shot of your willow-leaved spireas really made me miss mine. They look fabulous!

  7. Clare says:

    I have made my own using the handkerchiefs that are available at the dollar store. You can pick your own colors, and set your own intentions. One year I used permanent marker to write on them with what I understood to be the healing that each color would evoke. Just takes a tad bit of creativity, Michelle. Go for it! 🙂

  8. Mary Apodaca says:

    How about buying only white flags and coloring some of them yourself? A friend of mine paints almost everything, including plants. But that’s another post altogether 🙂

  9. Alice says:

    Although they are hardly traditional, I found some beautiful prayer flags in Hawaii. They are hand screened with tropical flowers in every color imaginable.
    I have hesitated to put them outside because they would indeed fade but I often hang them in the sunroom where they add plenty of happy color and bring back fond memories of the vacation.

  10. skr says:

    They are out there in different colors, but they are rare and idiosyncratic. I like the idea of handkerchiefs. They come in white and all you need is a little procion dye for color. That might get pricey though. A box of rags might be a good choice though. I wonder how evenly cut those are? Uneven might be more interesting though.

    I’ve been wanting to make dark red ombre square garland.

  11. Mary says:

    Tribes in the American southwest are getting on the prayer flag bandwagon (I have one I bought in Blanding UT at Edge of the Cedars Museum). They have the same primary colors, which I like, but the designs on them look to be copied from Mimbres bowls. They’ve made up meanings for them, I think, but no matter–Saul Goodman! (What ever happened to him?)

  12. things man says:

    great ideas .. that what i’m looking for . thank you