By Nolan Marciniec

It began over a cup of tea.

For many years, Vijaya Luxmi had maintained a small garden dedicated to the memory of her parents in the Village of Cobleskill. It was a place where senior citizens rested and children played and where Vijaya and her friends sometimes danced under the big maple tree. It was, however, on municipal property, and although Vijaya’s garden had the permission and the blessing of village authorities, it was destroyed by a construction crew working on a highway.

Vijaya Luxmi
Vijaya Luxmi

Still grieving the loss of her garden, Vijaya ran into her friend Anne Donnelly, a longtime Arboretum supporter, and invited her to share a cup of tea. Over that cup of tea, Vijaya’s vision for a meditation garden at the Arboretum took shape.

Trees have always had a special meaning for Vijaya. She grew up in India, and her home was surrounded by trees, pomelo and mango, guava and fig – and there was a huge “people’s tree,” where people gathered in its shade.

She never lost her love for trees, despite her moving to the States and then to Africa and back to the States again, raising her three sons, working at a daycare center, and operating her “one of a kind” boutique in Cobleskill. She began to dream of birch trees.

And birch trees will a signature part of the garden at the Arboretum. Already the Shanti Vun Meditation garden has a small pond, a bridge, and a pavilion in place and incorporates an existing labyrinth. Landscaping will take place in the spring, with the assistance of the Arboretum’s Horticulture Committee. A memorial stone to Vijaya’s father, Shri Darshan Lal Garg, and mother, Shrimati Kamla Devi, will be placed there. To be sure, it will include a grove of birches, each tree sponsored by an individual – “and when the wind blows the branches, we will all be dancing together,” Vijaya said. It will be a place for children to learn about nature: Vijaya believes that children are the leaders of the future. It will be a space for spiritual renewal.

“Shanti Vun” means “peace forest.”

Even in its unfinished state, it is drawing visitors to the Arboretum. Vijaya herself has come there to drum, or to watch the sun set, or, quite simply, just to be.

She was encouraged in her vision by her friend, Anne Donnelly, and by her eldest son, Nikhil Kumar. She praised the Arboretum’s leadership, Jim Paley, Board president, and Fred Breglia, Landis’ executive director, for their role in making her vision a reality. The Shanti Vun Meditation Garden is “my main happiness,” Vijaya said. “I want to leave something behind when I’m gone.”

Vijaya remembered that fateful meeting at which she presented her idea for the garden. “I was as nervous as a schoolgirl,” she remembered. She noticed the big birch in front of the Farm House with its outspread limbs. “Like open arms,” she said, “like a welcome.”

A chance meeting, a cup of tea, a dream becoming reality. It might well be karma.

Information about the Shanti Vun Memorial Garden and forms for sponsoring a tree are available at

Spring 2020

Volume 38 , Number 1

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