Andy Baxter, gardening expert and MD of Internet Gardener discusses how taking care of your garden can help take care of your mental health, too.
Mental health and wellbeing has always been important, but has been increasingly in the spotlight over the last couple of years. Organisations, individuals and health care professionals alike are sitting up and paying attention to the vast implications that wellbeing has on other aspects in our lives, including work, health and relationships.
It’s now widely understood that to retain a healthy lifestyle, wellbeing and mental health have to be a main focus in our lives, too. There are various ways that people are approaching this, from social media, groups and communities, and small lifestyle changes – and the garden can help.
Wellbeing around the home
According to research, the space that we occupy has a huge impact on our mental capacity. One of the easiest ways to improve our mental health then is to change the space that we occupy and focus on where we are spending our time. This goes beyond where we are geographically, it’s more focused on exactly how the space we occupy is presented. These wellbeing practises of spatial design have been explored through various disciplines for centuries, including feng shui and elements of ‘zen’.
Last year, we saw this Japanese zen influence flood across our gardens with the art of wabi-sabi. This trend saw gardeners let their environments grow wild and allow nature to take its course. This year is no exception, with the wabi-sabi influence with zen gardens.
Today, we can take some of the design principles from these traditional Eastern disciplines and apply them to our own homes, so that we can benefit from the same calming, wellbeing focused nature of the practices. Let’s talk through some of the easiest ways to add this calming nature to any home or garden space, so that anyone can enjoy the wellbeing benefits without huge changes or investment.
Using the garden and outdoors
For a long time, gardening has been widely documented as an invaluable method in supporting positive mental wellbeing. It gets you outdoors, keeps your mind focused and provides an opportunity to release any frustrations or negative energies.
As well as this, the simple act of being outdoors itself has been proven to improve mental health. It’s a natural mood booster, as being outside in crisp, clear weather will provide vital doses of sunlight and vitamin D. It’s therefore important we spend time in the garden or in natural spaces which have lots of greenery, which is why creating a wellbeing garden space is a good place to start.
This can be difficult, especially as the weather gets colder or if you live within an urban landscape. However, being around plants creates fresh air and although a non-polluted environment is the dream, just creating a small zen garden area of your own on your balcony or front garden will help to provide a peaceful, tranquil escape which has a meditative effect on the mind.
Planting the seeds of wellbeing
The first place to start with creating your zen garden is through the use of plants. If you have a small urban space, consider purchasing both smaller and larger potted plants and planters to house the greenery. This contrast of shape, style and size will begin to add to the natural, organic feel to the garden. Of course, bamboo is present in many Japanese zen gardens, so this is an ideal addition. Bamboo also creates a natural wall so allows any zen corner to be practically enclosed and private.
The iconic feature plant of many Japanese inspired gardens or patches is the fiery Japanese Maple Tree. These trees are relatively easy to find and grow, and are perfect for small spaces. If you are investing in one of these, check out a care guide online before getting stuck in and make sure it’s suitable for your climate.
Additionally, think about using simplistic and often inexpensive features to add to your garden space. Include gravel, sand, moss, trees and artificial bamboo aesthetic alongside the pot plants and greenery you have already added. In Eastern principles, the gravel and sand should flow as a representation for the soothing nature of running water. The moss and trees should be left to flourish as the coldness of the rocks collides with the beauty of wabi-sabi overgrowing nature.
Rocking out the gravel
If you have a larger space, consider a gravel or sand base to begin with. In Japan, Karetaki or ‘dry waterfalls’ are popular but can be space-consuming. Large rocks or rock-like sculptures should jut out of the base and form a mock riverbed canyon that the base gravel or sand can flow through. A popular feature of Zen gardens is the ability to rake mock waves in the sandy base to create a soothing ripple effect.
Own your space
Regardless of how you choose to design your garden, these areas are meant to be a place of calm; an environment for self-reflection, perfect for focusing on your own mental wellbeing. This means that as long as you can look at the garden space and feel calm and creative, then the space has been created successfully with wellbeing in mind.
The benefits of cultivating a space designed for your own mental wellbeing are numerous. Studies often link creativity and wellbeing, by creating your own space, you are allowing your mind to relax, and let your thoughts get lost in blossoming flowers and the flow of your own creation.