Last week I found myself in Encinitas, so, having a little extra time, I figured it would be a great opportunity to do a tour of the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens. For such a magnificent little garden, it is amazing how few people living in Southern California actually know about it.
The Meditation Gardens themselves are part of a much larger property owned by the Self Realization Fellowship. The brain behind the Self Realization Fellowship was founder Paramahansa Yogananda. While there are many Self Realization Fellowship properties around the world, it was at this hermitage where in 1946 he wrote the famous Autobiography of a Yogi, which has sold over 4 million copies and influenced many people’s lives.
The gardens got their start in 1936 when Paramahansa Yogananda first moved to the location to set up the hermitage (basically a monastery). What does one need when building a retreat where people can come for spiritual enlightenment, guidance, and balance? A garden, of course. While the hermitage and surrounding properties themselves are closed to the general public, the Meditation Gardens are open to the public Tuesday to Sunday. But there are rules.
The best I could come up with is that the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens sit on about 17 acres. The gardens are well designed and maintained and have a wide variety of plants that range from tropical to xeric. The Meditation Gardens also contain some very old plants, which is always treat when you visit any garden.
Once you make your way inside, the view off to the right shows a dense planting just past the open lawn area. Here you can get an idea of the diversity of plantings before you even begin wandering the pathways.
To the left of the entrance you get your first glimpse of how manicured the gardens will be. Here is a beautiful row of bonsai-ed Hollywood Junipers.
Speaking of Hollywood Junipers, I had to show a picture of this one that is not found within the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens but just across the street in front of a property they own. Red steps, white house, blue skies, and perfectly pruned trees. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Just past the row of Hollywood Junipers, there is a very old Nolina longifolia.
Making your way into the gardens you will find many steps bordered by lush plantings of tropical plants. The steep steps should tell you that this is not a very handicap-accessible garden.
Walking up the pathway you will see some of your first palm trees to the left. Here there is an old, triple planting of Howea forsteriana. The base of the oldest palm is quite large for a Howia. My camera lens cap is being used for scale.
On the other side of the pathway to the koi ponds you see a Cyathea australis pushing through the garden canopy and the cycad Encephalartos ferox showing off its red cones.
The next plantings that usually grabs your attention on the way to the koi ponds are these Philodendron selloum. These plants have spent the past few decades wrapping their roots around the trunks of the nearby trees.
There are not many Southern Californian gardens that can claim they have Junipers as a canopy tree. These are most likely some of the original trees planted back in the late ’30s.
The Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens include a few koi ponds of various sizes. Each is connected by a waterfall or stream in a closed loop. Like many of the plants in the gardens, the koi are old as well.
Down by the largest koi pond you will find three palm trees that you normally don’t find in public gardens. Proof that diversity of plant life is an important factor for those that help maintain the property. The first palm tree is Chambeyronia macrocarpa, the second a Dypsis lutescens, and the third a Caryota gigas. Native to the mountains of Thailand, I don’t think the Caryota gigas likes the salty sea breezes much.
A nice colorful form of Dracaena marginata in a carved stone pot.
They’re not called “Meditation Gardens” for nothing. Thanks to the gardens being open to the public, many people stop by to just relax and enjoy the scenery. But a few visitors are there to meditate. I counted at least 15 people meditating during my 1-hour visit. It is important to note that if you want to come in groups, chat, or spend time talking your big-money deal on your cell phone, then this is not the place for you. Out of respect for others, talking should be kept to a minimum. The ever watchful eye of a security guard enforces it.
Meditation is the theme of the garden and just about everywhere you go you can find a nice quiet spot to meditate.
As you make your way up the hill to the cliffs, you leave behind the shaded, tropical gardens and merge into the more sunny, open gardens. At the top the path goes either to the left or to the right. Going left will lead you to a dead end where a very old bonsai Monterey Pine is planted. The tree is named the “Ming Tree,” as it was a gift to Paramahansa Yogananda from the Orient. The wooden screen was built to protect it from the ocean winds.
When you take a right at the top of the hill you will find a few other old landmarks close to this Chamaerops humilis. While entrance to the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens is free, donations are certainly welcomed. A map and other educational brochures are available at one of two donation locations.
At the top of the hill overlooking the ocean you find a sign and a star on top of some steps. This marks the location of the once Golden Lotus Temple. Paramahansa Yogananda designed the temple “to take advantage of the magnificent views of sea and sky.” The temple was built in 1937 and only stood for 5 short years before the ground gave way and the temple had to be dismantled. The terrazzo steps you see below are all that is left of the original temple.
To the right of Golden Lotus Temple plaque there is an old swimming pool that can no longer hold water. Engineers have stated that if filled with water it would be too much weight on the bluff. You can see the swimming pool is just a few short feet away from the cliff. Now it is used as a somewhat hidden meditation location. Can you spot the meditators with a great view?
Past the swimming pool you push towards the north meditation gardens, which have a completely different feel from the other parts of the property. On your journey to those gardens you pass an old Melaleuca with bark that makes it look as though it is dead. Under it they have planted Dracaena reflexa. Not a plant you see growing in Southern California very often.
Before you reach the open, sunny gardens and have an opportunity to take in the ocean views, you can look back and see what you are leaving. You can also get a drink of water from an ivy-covered fountain.
The views from the northern meditation gardens are breathtaking and easily one of the most desirable views in Southern California. The cliffs overlook a famous Californian surf spots called “Swami’s.” The beach’s name was taken from Paramahansa Yogananda’s membership in the Swami Order.
In the northern gardens you find the more arid growing plants. Agave attenuata and various aloes are in the first picture. The second is of an Acacia cornigera (Bullhorn Acacia). The third is Cycas revoluta. The fourth picture is of a Kalanchoe beharensis and the last picture is a red Protea starting to bloom.
As I reach the northern most boundary of the Meditation Gardens and the architecturally unique house owned by the Self Realization Fellowship, I feel as though I am being watched. Sure enough, the ever watchful eye of the security guard was upon me. The reality is that if some people were not so inconsiderate, there would be no need for the security guard to maintain the quiet around the garden so visitors can meditate and rejuvenate.
People and fish are not the only inhabitants of the gardens. I caught this Fork-tailed Bush Katydid dining on a hibiscus flower and this spider waiting for her next meal to fly in.
That concludes my tour. If you ever find yourself in Encinitas, I highly recommend that you stop by the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens and see them for yourself. Once done, if you are looking for a great place to eat, you can’t go wrong with the yellow chicken curry at Siamese Basil. Trust me on this one.