“On a good day, this is an uncertain age…but even in these hectic times, you can count on having at least one sanctuary, a world of your own design and composition, a retreat where turmoil stays outside and peace, solace, and even a measure of control are inside. That sanctuary is your garden.”1
As our lives become increasingly filled with overstimulating technology and stressful careers, we often seek reprieve in the form of trips to the gym or spa. What we often forget is that everyday natural spaces, including our own backyards, offer these same health benefits.
Nature is a true healing force. In recent decades, empirical evidence has mounted supporting the cures of nature. Dr. Roger Ulrich, a healthcare behavioral scientist, collected compelling evidence that postoperative patients whose rooms viewed nature had significantly shorter hospital stays, requested fewer pain medications, and received more positive reviews from nursing staff relative to matched patients in similar rooms with a view of brick walls.2 Other research has arrived at similar conclusions, including that patient rooms with direct sunlight promotes better sleep patterns, reduces hospitalization time for patients with bipolar disorder, and reduces aggression in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
We need not be ill to receive the benefits of nature. A well-designed outdoor living space provides more than pleasant views—it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves mood. What’s more, your backyard can be the ultimate creative expression. Landscapes and gardens can be exciting in their liveliness or calming in their simplicity. Rich plantings provide rhythm and movement to stimulate the imagination while steady-falling water relaxes a thought-laden mind.
Whether your space is large or small, a backyard or balcony, reflecting on personal experiences and what is most important to you will reveal basic healing and regenerative elements for your individual retreat. Envelop yourself with nature by indulging each of the five senses.
Your vantage point determines the boundaries of your sanctuary. The view from a comfortable chair or kitchen window might look upon a sacred spot or into a distant landscape. Lead your mind’s eye out into the garden with a meandering path or find a comfortable place to meditate and rest.
Feel the cool soil or dip toes into calming water. Dance your fingers atop flowering grasses and fuzzy leaves as warm pea gravel massages your feet.
Soften outside noise with shrub borders or falling water and invite soothing sounds, like white pines catching the voice of the breeze and the songs of birds.
Seize a moment to smell the roses. Close your eyes and breathe in the aromas of opening flowers and freshly cut grass. Kicking up the scent of thyme along a path’s edge is a favorite.
Prepare a meal outdoors with your own herbs grown in raised containers or pick edible berries for a delicious treat.
Research and experience confirm that interacting with nature for even a few minutes a day promotes measurable restoration for body and mind. Vacations and spas are terrific, but a place of one’s own to recreate and re-create will serve better to replenish our energy and our strength. Identifying and providing ways to connect with nature can transform your garden into a personal sanctuary, your own place for natural healing.
Jared A. Vincent, PLA is a landscape architect for ZDA, Inc. and Steven G. Ziegler, PLA is the principal landscape architect for ZDA, Inc., Outdoor Creative, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton, WI. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit zdainc.com .
1 Hart, R.M. (2005). Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden. North Adams: Storey Publishing.
2 Ulrich, R.S. (1984, April 27). Views through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224 , pp. 420-421.