Sonoma Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen, CA
Sonoma Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen, CA

Soulful Tourism: Sonoma Botanical Garden

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Go beyond the typical vacation and travel with intention. How do you want to feel when you return home? Relaxed, refreshed, rejuvenated? Then unplug, immerse yourself in the experience and take the time to appreciate every moment. 

This couldn't be more important than right now.

Here, we help you experience the beauty of Sonoma Botanical Garden, an oasis of tranquility in the Valley of the Moon. 

An Oasis of Tranquility 

In the ancient world, those gifted with a special aptitude were invited into the Mysteries, a process of spiritual initiation that revealed the secrets of the cosmos. Though little was written down and initiates were sworn to silence, from what we know of the mystery schools of Greece, Rome and Egypt, one of their key teachings was that nature — which includes everything on earth and in the heavens — was mankind’s great textbook, and everything within nature is governed by the same laws, and serves as examples of universal truth. 

Tucked in a hilly corner of the Valley of the Moon in Glen Ellen lies the Sonoma Botanical Garden, a natural textbook par excellence for the modern-day secret seeker. An oasis of tranquility and convenient refuge from the hullaballoo of everyday life, it’s a perfect spot to reconnect with the beauty of nature, peer into its fascinating operations, and gain fresh insight into the workings of your own deepest self. 

Wedged between sloped hills interspersed with trickling brooks and still ponds, Sonoma County’s only botanical garden immediately transports you into a timeless realm. Your senses awaken to the shifting fragrances in the air, as if the garden were a giant perfume factory, while your eyes are charmed by the lushness. Then your ears notice the silence, but this is deceptive. The quietness suggests stillness, but this is the textbook’s first lesson, for in reality, nothing in nature is ever at rest. From colliding galaxies to the perpetually wandering human mind, nature is always in motion, and unfolding before your eyes are all the flowers, plants, trees, birds and insects fulfilling their appointed roles in this majestic microcosm. 

Bridge in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glenn Ellen, CA
Bridge in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glen Ellen, CA

A Garden of Earthly Delight

Always changing with the seasons, the nonprofit Sonoma Botanical Garden provides a different experience depending on the time of year you visit. Spring rain brings lushness and color, and summer begets cones and fruits and the scent of burnt sugar wafting from the Katsura tree. Fall paints the garden with the autumnal colors of yellow, orange and red, while winter offers its own kind of barren beauty in which epic vistas are suddenly revealed. 

Founded in 1987, the 25-acre Asian garden is home to more than 1,300 different types of plants composed primarily of wild-collected seeds. Many of which are rare and endangered, such as the Five-lobed Maple, Star Magnolia, and Grantham’s Camellia.

Flowers in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glenn Ellen, CA
Flowers in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glen Ellen, CA

Unraveling Nature’s Secrets 

If we imagine the Garden of Eden, that great symbol for mankind’s origins, we can easily see the many things such a mythological garden would have taught the first humans. Ancient wisdom decrees that our sense of beauty is innate, and the artistry of flora and fauna would have captivated the eyes of the Adams and Eves in primordial times. Flowers would have taught them color, which they would later employ in paints and dyes to adorn themselves, as well as olfactory delight, ultimately leading to the distillation of essential oils and the invention of perfume. 

But just as it was for initiates into the Mysteries, nature reveals deeper secrets the closer you look. For thousands of years, bees have been a symbol of industry, and to this day, we still say “busy as a bee” to describe someone energized and determined to get what they want out of life. Butterflies have long been a symbol of transformation, which is something we do throughout our lives whenever we change careers, relationships, or take on a new passion that takes our life in an exciting new direction. 

But nature also reminds us that change doesn’t happen overnight. 

Ninety-minute Hollywood movies may depict life-altering epiphanies and sudden transformations, but in nature, slow and steady is the way change is achieved. The tree is a prominent symbol in traditions from Hinduism to Norse mythology, standing as a symbol of the entire universe and showing that despite all its disparate branches, it is ultimately all one interconnected thing. Try looking at your own seemingly disjointed life the same way, focusing not on each crooked branch and the scars brought on by the years, but your entire life in all its grandness, with you standing strong at the center, having weathered every drought and storm. 

Bee pollinating a flower in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glenn Ellen, CA
Bee pollinating a flower in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glenn Ellen, CA

The Final Mystery 

Seating yourself on a bench beside Sonoma Botanical Garden’s lily-covered pond, here’s one more lesson to contemplate from the great living textbook. It takes us from nature to the realm of mythology, and from there to the deepest part of ourselves, and is the myth of Narcissus, the beautiful youth who came upon a limpid pool and was captivated by his own reflection (the modern version would have him staring into his smartphone and taking selfies). 

On the surface, it strikes us as a mere allegory of vanity, but plunging deeper, we are reminded that the culture that produced the myth often used water to symbolize the transient world of appearances, as opposed to the invisible realm of the spirit. In his 1928 book “The Secret Teachings Of All Ages,” still in print to this day, Manly P. Hall writes, “Just as Narcissus, gazing at himself in the water (the ancients used this mobile element to symbolize the transitory, illusionary, material universe), lost his life trying to embrace a reflection, so man, gazing into the mirror of Nature and accepting as his real self the senseless clay that he see reflected, loses the opportunity afforded by physical life to unfold his immortal, invisible Self.”

Those who completed the trials of initiation into a mystery school were awarded the title of Mystes, for one who had removed the clouds of illusion and could now behold the world clearly. It is the origin of the word “mystic” as well as “mystery,” meaning a puzzle to unravel. And Sonoma Botanical Garden provides an ideal natural temple for untangling the riddles of the self in order to venture back into the world with clearer focus and greater resolve, for Mother Nature reveals great secrets, if only we are willing to receive them. 

Bench in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glenn Ellen, CA
​Bench  in Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glen Ellen, CA

Other Soulful Adventures

This trip through Sonoma Botanical Garden is just one of a series on soulful tourism. For other experiences, read Soulful Tourism: Armstrong Woods.

Remember the Leave No Trace Principles

Experiencing our destination through the Sonoma County Leave No Trace Seven Principles gives travelers an opportunity to make a difference. Together, we can protect and preserve this special corner of the world for generations to come. Find more info about sustainable travel in Sonoma County here.

For a list of local businesses helping promote the important message of Leave No Trace, click here.


Written by Christian Chensvold