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The last couple of years have shown many of us just how important our gardens can be for our health and well-being. As a gardener, you have the opportunity to create a space that plays a role in helping you maintain balance in life, feel good, and bust stress.
Globally, more people than ever before are suffering from poor mental health. Facing crises on many fronts means that things can often feel overwhelming. In our busy (and at times frustrating, upsetting, and terrifying) situation, we can all find hope, peace, and purpose in our gardens, and in a closer connection to the natural world.
What Is Mental Health?
The CDC says, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
As a garden designer, I help many people around the world build beautiful and abundant gardens, which not only meet basic, practical needs but also create an environment conducive to good mental health. Here are my top design tips for a garden that supports a sense of well-being.
Introduce Lush, Dense Vegetation
To turn a garden into a tranquil haven, removed from the stresses and strains of the outside world, more is more. Lush, dense vegetation will give your garden a more enclosed feel, more privacy, and some protection from wind, air pollution, noise pollution, etc.
Dense and biodiverse planting in a garden will also increase the natural feel—and even fill the air with chemicals from plants (aka phytoncides) which can boost your mood.
So, plant plenty of trees, shrubs, and perennials, and layer your plantings. Get away from the “garden as a lawn” look with a narrow border around the edges. Think outside the box and create a more organic and natural feel.
Attract Abundant Wildlife
Planting with as much diversity as possible, including plenty of plants native to your area, will also draw in wildlife. Feeling a connection to the world around us is hugely important to our mental wellness—and a garden buzzing with bees and other insects, with the sound of birdsong in the air, will help us feel that connection.
Creating diverse habitats to house, feed, and shelter the creatures with whom we share our space will also allow us the quiet pleasure of observing those creatures. Simply spending some time sitting and watching the birds or the butterflies, for example, can bring joy and relaxation.
Use Plenty of Greens and Make Careful Color Choices
A lush and abundant garden’s soothing green tones are another thing that can be good for our mental state. Colors influence our moods in profound ways, and green is the most calming color of all. Foliage plants can be used to introduce numerous shades of green and to bring variety in texture, shape, and form, which can delight the eye and calm the mind.
In a garden that supports good mental well-being, we should use other colors carefully, and think about how we combine flowering plants. We can create spaces which are energizing and uplifting, with bright colors in rainbow hues. Or we can keep things calmer and more restful, restricting the color palette (using just whites and purples, for example) to give a more soothing feel to a space.
Create a Soothing Soundscape
Remember, it is not only the sight of a garden that will determine how it feels. Creating a soothing soundscape should also be a key priority. Of course, some of the soundscape of a garden comes from the plants and wildlife. The sound of the wind in the trees and, as mentioned above, buzzing insects and birdsong, all blend together to create a peaceful auditory backdrop.
Beyond this, you might consider adding to this natural soundscape by introducing other sounds. For example, the sound of water is very calming, so adding a pond, a trickling stream, or other water feature might be something to consider.
Grow Edible Produce and Herbs
A good mental state also relies on good physical health—eating right, getting exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep are all vital to a healthy mind. A garden can provide you with many of the things you need to live well.
Growing your own food, as well as medicinal herbs, can help you in many ways—both as you grow and tend them, and when you eat or use the fresh ingredients that you grow. It will give you a sense of purpose, pride, and satisfaction, and can help reduce financial strains and other worries by giving you more security and peace of mind.
So, in addition to the other elements mentioned above, remember that a garden designed for good mental well-being should be a productive space. Obtain a yield, and make full use of that yield, to stay happy and healthy.