By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun
5:08 PM EDT, October 22, 2012
When the Su family chose a burial plot two years ago, it had all the traditional elements valued in their native Taiwan. The site, protected by a hill, faced the sun in the south and overlooked a scenic lake at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
Family members, who visit the site weekly, are delighted that there are so many more of the Asian designs and symbols that for centuries have honored the dead and comforted the living. The Sus now walk through a polished granite pagoda to the cemetery's Garden of Tranquility, which will be formally dedicated Wednesday.
"There was nothing here two years ago, when Father was buried," said Wilbur Su, son of the late Dr. Chi-Tsung Su, a Baltimore plastic surgeon. "Now it is something magnificent and unique."
Amy S. Shimp, general manager at Dulaney Valley, designed the project to accommodate an increasing number of Asian clients, who sought burial surroundings in keeping with their heritage. Among the amenities are topiary animals, all with significance in Asian cultures, the pagoda at the gate, granite benches each etched with the name of an Asian country and its national flower, and an altar to place offerings and burn incense. The garden also offers what Shimp said is a first for a Maryland cemetery: a labyrinth for contemplation.
Crews completed the octagonal labyrinth, designed by David Tolzmann, just this week at a cost to the cemetery of about $7,000. Tolzmann, a former Baltimorean who now lives in Connecticut, has created about 4,000 of the elaborate pathways for sites around the world, including one at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Southeast Baltimore.
He shipped the 3,500 pre-cut pavers with building instructions. Crews laid down a sand base and installed the stones, cut mostly into rectangular and triangular shapes, as they put together the circuitous path — 436 feet in all.
"It is calming in a way of a walk in the woods or on the beach," Tolzmann said. "There are not so many calming spaces in the urban landscape."
The path to the center and back is purposely narrow to slow the walker's pace. The path leads into the center and out again, without forcing the walker to make any decisions about where to go.
"It is not a puzzle but a single path, and you follow the pattern," he said.
The walk takes about 10 minutes, but the sense of well-being can last hours, Shimp said.
The Garden of Tranquility, the only space in the cemetery that allows monuments, has broad appeal and has become "quite the melting pot," Shimp said. One local family has placed pumpkins among urns filled with flowers.
"Each family can personalize their space," she said.
The garden's elements include much from American craftsmen, like the topiaries from Tennessee, the pagoda built in Minnesota and the labyrinth from Connecticut.
Shimp worked closely on the design with Hope K. Gerecht, a Stevenson resident and expert in feng shui, the Chinese art of arranging spaces to promote energy, balance and comfort. Shimp said she continues to learn much from Asian culture and has newly adopted many feng shui practices. She will even be reworking her office furniture so that the sun will be at her back.
"As soon as we started planning, our feng shui consultant said we needed a labyrinth," Shimp said.
Pamela Sheldon White, a Glyndon resident and member of The Labyrinth Society, which has existed for about 5,000 years, said the intricate paths provide an ideal space for introspection and reflection, she said.
"Tranquility is the key word people say when walking the labyrinth," she said. "Nothing else exists. You are in the moment. You can feel your body balancing with the back and forth turning. It becomes a prayerful experience without having to pray."
Beside the labyrinth, the staff has placed a peace pole, a monument with messages of peace written in multiple languages. Selection and placement of the path's landscaping, which White is overseeing, also follow feng shui recommendations.
The Sus, whose family plot includes 12 sites, spend time on Sundays at the grave of Dr. Su, whose marker, written in English and Chinese, lists all his descendants.
"You only have to come here and you will feel back in balance." said Wilbur Su. "I will walk the labyrinth on my visits. I would feel guilty if I did not."
Su said his family could not ask for anything grander than the Garden of Tranquility.
"If we wanted anything more authentic, we would have to go all the way back to Taiwan," he said. "We are lucky to have this space here where my father practiced medicine. In Asia, there is not enough space for such a garden."
The dedication is at noon Wednesday at 200 E. Padonia Road and is open to the public. Information: 410-666-0490.
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