|Healing gardens for you and nature|
|Monday, 20 March 2017|
by Jan Spann
A television commercial tagline that debuted in the 1980s became a catch phrase for women with hectic schedules. “Calgon, take me away” meant that a bath in soft, scented salts could remove the pressure of cranky kids and daily tasks. These days we know that other options are more likely to calm and inspire us while helping nature as well.
One of the best prescriptions for health and wellness can be found in your garden. Eastern culture has long used nature as a restorative, recognizing the therapeutic benefits of gardens. Follow a Japanese style garden that features simplicity for a meditative garden and a quiet retreat of your own. An uncluttered space has a calming effect, and it will make the space easier to maintain as well.
No matter how small or how large, ponder where in your landscape you can create an area for spiritual and mental health. It will also be a physical outlet as you create it and later tend it. Studies show that natural scenes evoke positive feelings and reduce negative emotions. The plants and options you choose, like a water feature or a bench, can enhance a meditative spot.
First, deterimine the layout, taking note of what space you have available. With a goal to aid in your relaxation and also provide a focus for concentration, decide if you want to begin with a form: a square representing universal order, a circle to represent the cycle of life, or symbols such as a Celtic knot, which represents a journey.
The hardscape – the non-plant parts of your garden – is a garden’s skeleton, as it’s what remains constant while the trees, flowers and shrubs change with the seasons. It includes pathways, trellises, arbors and furniture.
Do you want a path leading into your space? What material will you use, such as stones, pea gravel, pavers, bricks or wood? (You can also opt for a more hidden garden where you are the only one who knows the access.)
Since this will be a place for reflection, decide what furniture best fits your style. Does your bench have a back or do you prefer two chairs to invite companionship? A hammock is another option, although it may take your meditation down to naptime!
Provide a focal point within view of your seat. Rocks are one of my favorite objects to remind me of places I’ve traveled. I build small borders with them and place some with interesting shapes around the garden. Put three or five small rocks near your seat and use them to count blessings. Other options include statuary, wind chimes or gazing balls.
Water features can be a great focal point while masking the noise of nearby traffic. They can be as simple as a purchased or homemade fountain or an in-ground choice. Water can be used as an approach to meditation through physically washing your hands or spiritually “washing away your cares.”
Consider a birdbath and feeders plus trees and berry-producing native shrubs that provide nesting areas for your feathered friends.
Native habitat tree branches provide a place for birds to perch. Shrubs and plants are not only a place for native birds, but also a variety of insects, essential to our birds’ diet. These parts of nature interact with each other to create a healthy, balanced environment – and a perfect place for you.
To attract butterflies, use shallow water sources, which are now readily available in local stores or online.
Shrubs and plants
Shade or partial shade will extend your use of this space in the summer heat. Use an umbrella or make your own canopy if you don’t have trees. If your space is limited, such as an apartment or patio home, use an outdoor rug, hanging art or baskets to soften the space. Planters complete your oasis in this small space.
Look for plants and accessories that appeal to your senses, which include color, texture, seasonal interest, scent and smell. Most meditation gardens use cool colors like blue, violet or green. If you choose another color palette, avoid clashing colors, once again keeping the space simple.
Sensory plants include the soft, fuzzy foliage of lamb’s ear or the bristly, rust-colored center of the coneflower. Or, wait until the butterflies find one of their favorite flowers and enjoy their beauty. Other sensory options include spiky monarda with summer blooms or autumn sedum with its thick waxy leaves and fall coloration.
Scent is one of our most powerful senses, so place fragrant plants near garden seating and along the paths. Creeping herbs like oregano, thyme and lemon thyme (also a mosquito repellent) release their aroma when they are walked on or pinched. Other scented herbs include basil, mint and rosemary.
Ornamental grass, like miscanthus (maidengrass), have year-round interest and are visually calming as they sway in the breeze. Blue fescue or Hakonecloa macra grass bring beautiful leaves and both work well as a border in part shade.
Companion understory shrubs like witch hazel, spicebush, serviceberry and buttonbush provide sensory input throughout the seasons.
Leave flowering perennials and annuals to other parts of your outdoor space or keep them to a minimum. Shade plants like hosta and fern have extensive varieties of color, leaf shape and size.
And if you don’t have space at your home, consider other land options around you: the library, church or city park. Team up with others to make a space that many can use.
American naturalist and writer John Burroughs (1837-1921) wrote of nature’s restorative value: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.” So can you.
A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.