Many of us love being more in touch with Mother Nature, but how often does that mean spending time in the garden? Most of us think time spent in nature is a long walk in the woods, time spent by the sea, or relaxing on a tropical island. Gardening is one of the best hobbies for getting you outdoors for an hour or two every day, and the positive influence of increased exposure to natural light and fresh air on the human body and mind is unquestionable.
When you do gardening mindfully, you are more aware of what goes in and around your body. You are aware of your presence. Senses are overflowing with stimulation – from the bright sunshine reflecting off an abundance of colourful flowers, the gentle hum of a bee or the trickle of water. The smell of freshly mown grass is a favourite, too… and all of these things do wonders for your well-being. It’s time to put down that mobile phone or music player and leave those earbuds indoors! Get connected with nature.
“Plants and trees emit airborne chemicals called phytoncides that can have a relaxing effect on us,” says Nicky Roeber from Wyevale Garden Centres. “Spending time around plants and trees can result in lower blood pressure and stress levels. Time spent outdoors (safely and creamed up) in the sun is also thought to result in higher levels of serotonin, the hormone responsible for happiness. This can help to ward off sad feelings and stress, too. Gardening offers a unique opportunity to lose yourself in nature. Not only will you experience the sights, sounds, and smells of your little patch of greenery, but you will be filled with a feeling of contentment as you watch something you’ve cultivated grow before your eyes. There are not many things that can take you away from the stresses of daily life more than that! Time in the garden gives you the opportunity to switch off. It might be physical work, but it does wonders for clearing your mind.”
So, where do you start? “Scent is always a good place to begin,” says award-winning garden designer, Kate Gould. “Think about the plants you have in your garden. How do they make you feel when you can smell them? Many plants create evocative memories of holidays or childhood,” she adds. “Cut grass in particular after summer rain always takes me back. Generally gardens that have a ‘less is more’ approach in terms of planting are restful and calming, while bold planting palettes are more invigorating. Use benches as stopping off points so you can actually sit in your garden regularly – whether that is at the end of a long day gardening, or after a difficult day at work. The outdoor weather can boost your mood, too. A little bit of garden work in the sunshine goes a long way, even in winter. I can feel recharged on a cold but sunny January day very quickly. There is no hard and fast rule to this. Gardening should be a pleasure and not a chore, so do it when you want to and in weather that is enticing.”
Perform this ritual to relax, check in with your surroundings and reflect…
1 Get comfortable, sitting on a bench or on the grass. Place your feet on the ground and feel yourself rooting into the Earth. Become aware of your breath and let it flow in and out of your body without effort. Close your eyes and become fully present.
2 Let an image of a garden come into your mind – it can be your garden, or a fantasy one of choice. Think about the features within the garden, as it represents your subconscious and your physical body, so is a place where you can make changes.
3 Bring your senses into play. Visualise yourself touching, smelling and hearing things (it could be birdsong, waterfalls, the rustle of wind through the trees, etc.)
4 In your mind, move and explore your garden. What grows there? What is the soil like? What is the climate? How does it make you feel?
5 When you are ready to end the meditation, bless your garden and say thank you for all that you have in life. Feel the gratitude within your own soul and express your thanks outwardly. Breathe!
• A water feature like a pond or waterfall can be a calming addition to your garden… the sound of the trickling water giving a peaceful ambience, as well as a beautiful focus point.
• You can enhance the natural sound of your garden by planting bamboo and some whispering grasses that will catch the wind nicely.
•You can also attract wildlife to your garden: add some wild flowers and species with tunnel-like petals to attract bees, then place a bird bath or feeder to make sure your space gets its share of birdsong.
Nicky’s top plant picks!
One of the staple plants of the traditional Japanese Zen garden, these plants are ideal for use as a focal point or for defining borders.
These are the perfect complementary greenery plants for more colourful bloomers, plus they are very low maintenance and can grow in almost any soil type.
Small coniferous shrubs are another staple of Zen gardening, requiring little maintenance apart from occasional pruning, which can be a relaxing task in itself.
Ideal for a burst of colour among the rest of the greenery and won’t stress you out with complex care needs. There’s little more beautiful than an Azalea shrub in bloom!
You can maximise the verticality of your space while adding some colour with a well-placed climbing Wisteria plant. Their flowers also carry a beautiful scent to stimulate the senses.
Meet the experts…
NICKY ROEBER has been making a living in horticulture since he was 22 years old. He has been working for Wyevale Garden centres for over five years. Before this, he ran his own garden design and build company.
KATE GOULD is an award-winning garden designer for London and the South East. She has been working as a garden designer for almost 20 years, and has created gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show.