We live in a world where anxieties seem to be growing all around us.
I think it is safe to say we all are in need of spaces we can retreat to, that will slow down our thinking, our emotions and our heart rates. But enough with the gloom and doom.
Your garden can be that retreat for you. Did you know that spending time outside is one of the most reliable ways to boost your mood?
Even just looking at pictures of gardens can significantly improve your state of mind. There is something very healing about being in the great outdoors.
A study in Japan hooked up participants to an EEG machine to measure changes in the electrical activity in the brain when they were seated out in a garden for a set period of time.
Researchers observed a significant reduction in stress, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and physical changes such as reduced blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension.
Gardening also can benefit your self-image. Spending time cultivating something beautiful can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It allows you to take time to enjoy the simple things in life.
So how can you turn your garden into that peaceful, mind-restoring oasis? They say there are three things that attract people – fire, water and food. Think of it this way – who would not be attracted to cooking hotdogs on a campfire on the beach.
Funnily enough, these are three elements that you should consider adding to you landscape. Let’s first look at fire.
The use of fire pits, fire tables, outdoor fireplaces and fire bowls in the landscape has increased sharply over the last few years. I believe this is directly related to the increase of people’s stress levels, especially during COVID.
There is just something about sitting out in the evenings, whether on a quiet night home with the family or while entertaining guests. Watching the dancing flames and listening to the crackle of the firewood has a way of calming the anxieties of the day and letting you contemplate life.
Make sure that any type of fire source that you considering complies with the local bylaws.
The second element is water.
Water features come in so many sizes, shapes and configurations that it would be a shame not to add one (or more) to your space.
Maybe you like the idea of open water, such as a pond and waterfall. Or maybe you enjoy the sound of running water, such as a bubbler rock or water fountain.
Most water features are low-maintenance and can add other benefits, like masking unwanted, less-than-relaxing sounds. Not only can the sound of water offer enjoyment but also serenity.
Whether you have a tiny space or a sprawling yard, there are creative ways to add water so you can enjoy all its soothing benefits. Bubbling stone columns can add grace and height to the tiniest yard.
Pondless waterfalls give you sight, sound and motion in a compact space. A pond or stream adds myriad opportunities for enjoying fish, frogs and other wildlife.
The third element is food.
This includes creating cozy entertainment areas for both a large number of guests or just two people to sit and eat – something that is perfect for a game night with friends or a good family cookout.
Outdoor living spaces will help you to unwind after a long day. To make your space usable for more hours in a day consider lighting options such as strings of lights or spot lights so that you can still enjoy your backyard well into the night.
Include comfortable seating options in different areas (sun and shade areas) so guests will feel right a home.
The outdoor kitchen has become a large part of planning your outdoor space. It can be as simple as a grill and table or as fancy as a high-end grill with elements and outdoor appliances like smokers and pizza ovens.
These days there are no limits to what is available.
As you are sitting inside dreaming of the summer season ahead, think about what you can be adding to your landscape to make it a relaxing, calming retreat.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.