As a child, I was forever being told to go outside to get some fresh air, which I did, playing with my siblings in the garden and then, as we grew older, working in the family’s horticulture business. No expert needed to tell my mother that the garden was a happy, healthy place to be – she had experienced it herself as she was growing up.
So when I read about recent findings from research being carried out on the link between gardening and improved health and well-being – hospital healing gardens, urban green spaces, school food gardens – I am not at all surprised. (In fact, I probably thought it was such an accepted fact that it hardly warranted the research projects in the first place.) Anyway, the point is, being outdoors and pottering around in a green living landscape is fabulously therapeutic. How? Well hopefully the images that follow will help explain…
Gentle gardening. I look at this picture (above) and I instantly feel like I want to wander over and rub my fingers through the foliage of these various potted herbs. Not only does their scent relax me but I’ll probably end up spending half an hour pulling out the odd weed, rearranging the pots and then clipping a few springs to take inside to throw into some lunch. And all of these are healthy, happy, healing activities.
Thinking gardens. Some gardens are deliberately designed to give us a chance to ponder, to chew over options or even recognise that we’ve reached a life changing decision-making moment. The Chinese stroll garden is a brilliant example of this form, as these were designed with subtle and sophisticated devices to help this process. Wandering down paths, being forced to slow in places and look at specific views (often containing recognisable symbols) helped people sort their lives. We’ve adopted elements of this into western garden design when paths narrow, twist, cross water or open out to reveal a vista. Take a look below and you’ll see what I mean.
A point of reflection. I would have been much simpler to built a straight bridge over the water, but this one (above) forces you to realize that you’re standing over water, and almost makes you stop to gaze down.
Landscape punctuation. Here’s another moment (above) where you need to cross some water – this time it’s a powerfully graphic symbol of two moments split apart by water. If I was about to make a big decision, I’d unconsciously mark it with a firm step across to mark my commitment.
Seeing living shelter. Sometimes you need the green to envelope you and give you respite from the glare of life. Children instinctively creep under low hanging branches; adults picnic in the shade or on the wind-protected side of a hedge. Seek the green spaces (above) when you need to.
The vista. Of course for some people being completely immersed in a growing living landscape can be unsettling, but a lot of good can be gained through contemplation even from the safety of the veranda.
Open sunshine. But I have to say, those vistas which take in the wider open space, those where the sun sits freely on my face like this one above, are astonishingly rejuvinative.
Royal expert advice. This is Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians and for a good part of his practicing life, the Queen of England’s doctor. He advocates that there should be more public landscapes for people to use passively, and he believes doctors could prescribe gardening (literally) to help manage a range of ills.
And lastly, a little garden whimsy never goes amiss … a fairy path can and will lead you to happiness and hope.