Garden of the Guru: Seeking Inner Peace and Plants at the Self-Realization Fellowship

When I turned 16, I got a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda for my birthday. In those days I was just getting into yoga — contemplating boys while in bridge pose — as I tried to branch out beyond my number-one concern (i.e., myself) and into broader, more ethereal territories. That gift came at exactly the right moment.

Fast forward six years: I was living in LA, and on Amtrak to visit this guy. As the train rolled through Encinitas I saw for the first time the gold, lotus-shaped domes of the Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by the same Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920. Little did I know one of the most fascinating, most serene gardens in California grew just beyond those domes.

You might remember our last trip to the SRF Meditation Gardens. Last weekend we returned with one of my closest friends, tech empress Tara Lewis, who was visiting from DC.

But first, we juiced.

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For her weekend visit, we were excited to take the lovely Tara Lewis to the SRF gardens. First we fueled up on the patio of Swami’s Cafe.

At Swami's Cafe.

After a lunch of sandwiches and zingy cold-pressed refreshments at Swami’s Cafe, we headed across the street to the garden. With spring just around the corner, the cyclamens were flashing everything they’ve got, the proteas were tall and electric, and the succulents were soaking up the midday sun. Below the cliffs, surfers waited for waves at Swami’s beach. The landscape exudes a wild perfection that’s absolutely otherworldly. It’s also a huge source of inspiration for our own gardening efforts.

Join us as we wander the paths, marvel at the plants and entertain new ideas…

Our first visit together in 2009.

A flashback to my first visit to the garden with Ryan in 2009.

Chantal and Tara in front of Indian hawthorn bush.

Flash forward to 2014! Tara and I visit beside an Indian hawthorn bush.

Chantal and Tara in front of Indian hawthorne bush.

Shhhh! Meditation in progress. Peeking out on the right is an umbrella tree (Schefflera).

Shhhh! Meditation in progress.


Cyclamen, one of our favorite winter flowers, lines the entrance to the gardens.

Self-Realization Fellowship.

Clivia minitia in full bloom.

The natal lily (Clivia minitia) was in full bloom during our late winter wanderings.


A hanging basket displays Swedish ivy (Plectranthus australis).

Garden rules.



A mandevilla vine bursts from a carved planter.

Aloe ferox or Cape aloe and Aeonium aboreum 'Zwartkop'.

Aloe ferox (Cape aloe) and Aeonium aboreum ‘Zwartkop.’

We're seeking the name for this variety of Crassula

We think, we THINK this succulent is a kind of Crassula. Anyone know the species?

Felicia ‘Pinwheel’ periwinkle mixed with gerbera and African daisies.

Felicia ‘Pinwheel’ periwinkle mixes with gerbera and African daisies.



Hey, laaaaaaady(bug)! A six-legged lovely climbs a kalanchoe.


Looking South towards La Jolla.

Below the cliffs you’ll find the beloved surf spot Swami’s.


Surf and turf at its most magical. Cacti in the garden include golden barrel and opuntia.



Adenanthos sericeus or woolly bush adds softness to the protea garden.

Woolly bush (Adenanthos sericeus) adds softness to the hard lines of the protea section.

Leucadendron Jester

Leucadendron ‘Jester.’

Leucospermum gueinzii or Kloof Fountain Pincushion

Nothing adds quirk quite like a protea shrub. Here we have a Leucospermum gueinzii, or Kloof Fountain pincushion.

Euphorbia Milii or Crown-of-Thorns

The Euphorbia milii, or crown-of-thorns, is a succulent climber native to Madagascar.


This tree looks familiar.

You can't miss the amazing coral tree at edge of the property.

You can’t miss the amazing coral tree at edge of the property.


The blossoms of Erythrina, the coral tree.


Echium candicans mark the end of the path.

The pride of Madeira, Echium candicans, beckons us into the sublime and marks the northern edge of the property.


A cycad gleams atop a moss ground cover.

A bromeliad and dracaena arrangement.

An arrangement of lemon-lime dracaena (top) and bromeliads roar from a repurposed fountain.


Don’t let the water lilies fool you; the koi are far from coy.



Finding inner peace under the pepper tree.

Ruffled camelia

Another winter beauty, the ruffled pink camellia.

The best view in the garden.

Until next time, SRF!

Quick facts:

– The Self-Realization Fellowship Hermitage and Meditation Gardens are located at 215 K St., Encinitas, CA.

– The fellowship was founded in 1920; the Encinitas ashram was established in 1937.

– The garden is cultivated on 17 acres and grows bromeliads, protea, cyclamen, mandevilla, ferns, ivy, Indian hawthorn, water lilies, and a wide range of succulents including cacti, agave and aeonium. (Just to scratch the surface.)

– Koi the size of small dogs also dimple the ponds.

– Admission is free; there are opportunities to leave donations.

– Per the “meditation” part of the name, loud conversations will be shushed by guards. Maybe even with a bell!

– Ravi Shankar gave his first U.S. concert at the hermitage here during the 1950s, and George Harrison retreated here as well.

– Get lunch beforehand at Swami’s, or go surfing afterward at, well, Swami’s.

– The gift shop is a real gem. The wide-ranging inventory includes jewelry, furniture, singing bowls, sitars, perfume oil, incense, books and Indian handicrafts.

What public gardens inspire you? Let us know in the comments!

— TH