Glorious greenery. Reflections on the importance of gardens

Glorious greenery. Reflections on the importance of gardens
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By Kim Davis 

“A garden is a sort of sanctuary, a chamber roofed by heaven …to wander in, to cherish, to dream through undisturbed.”

— Sir Robert Lorimer, 1864–1929

Our gardens offer a uniquely personal space to decompress from life’s everyday pressures, reconnect with the beauty of nature and find a sense of calm and peacefulness. If we are thoughtful in what we plant, our gardens will delight and surprise, drawing a variety of hard-working pollinators and birds to our private patch of earth.

A well-designed garden contains a variety of natural elements. Plants, trees, light, water and fragrance thrive when placed in the proper location creating harmony and balance in a landscape.

A powerful ingredient in the recipe for relaxation and tranquility is water. The sound of gurgling water produced by a birdbath, fountain or pond soothes our brains with non-threatening signals that benefit our psychological state of being. Gentle breezes and the soft melodies of wind chimes add to the relaxing atmosphere of calming sounds.

The fragrance of roses, peonies or lavender can prompt memories of youth or of time spent with a beloved grandmother. Lilies, sweet peas, tuberose, sweet alyssum, Judd viburnum and honeysuckle also emit delightful scents that range from clove and vanilla to lemon, orange and almond.

The benefits of a busy day in the garden are manifold. While tending a garden, we perform functional movements that mimic whole-body exercise. We perform squats and lunges while weeding. Moving about bags of mulch and other supplies work large muscle groups. Digging, raking and pushing a mower provides physically intense activity. In short, we can burn as many calories as a workout in the gym while improving our bal- ance, strength and flexibility.

Spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce heart rate and muscle tension. Sunlight lowers blood pressure and increases vitamin D levels. Studies show we tend to breathe deeper when outside. This helps to refresh our lungs, improve digestion, immune response and increases oxygen levels in the blood. The simple act of being in the garden has also been shown to lighten mood and lower levels of stress and anxiety.

A study by the Journal of Health Psychology tested the effect of gardening on stress relief by exposing participants to a stressful task, then as- signing them to 30 minutes of outdoor gardening or indoor reading. While both resulted in decreased stress levels, gardening showed a more significant decrease and “positive mood was fully restored after gardening.”

Another study found that people who spend at least two hours a week in nature, including gardening, were significantly more likely to report good health and higher psycho- logical well-being.

In John Lubbock’s 1894 title “The Use of Life” he wrote:

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

If we are lucky enough to have a view of the sunrise or sunset, taking the time to marvel at the beautiful colors quickly changing from gold to red, orange, and brilliant magenta is a sight to behold. Nature’s beauty is often fleeting but provides insight into many awe-inspiring moments.

The garden can provide a therapeutic setting for yoga and meditation. By creating a sense of self-awareness, it opens us to nature and broadens our search for spiritual connection not just to where we live, but to how we live – including how we interact with others on a higher plane.

Another hypothesis on nature’s healthful effects, known as attention restoration theory, posits that being in nature improves concentration and decreases the mental fatigue associated with living in stressful urban environments.

Birdsong is also restorative. Researchers have found a significant positive association between seeing and hearing songbirds as well as the presence of greenery and water with improved well-being.

Smartphone applications such as Merlin Bird ID and BirdNet, can help identify bird song within a radius of our yards. The app eBird helps identify birds through size, color and location.

As we live with the threat of habitat loss and climate change, the narrative is shift- ing from a planet of a vast, uncharted world of wondrous beasts to a small planet under existential threat from humans.

Our gardens continually evolve due to ever changing weather patterns. It is impera- tive that we garden with an eye toward the future. It is also important to recognize the role each of us play in protecting and ensuring nature’s gifts for our children.

The writer is a member of the Hunting Creek Garden Club and formerly served as both president and vice president of the club.