Whether you garden in pots or window boxes on a cozy balcony or deck, in beds surrounding a patio, or on a sprawling suburban lot, the gardener’s goal is often the same: create a serene, peaceful retreat—one where you can relax, meditate, read, enjoy a meal, write your thoughts in a journal, birdwatch, or just daydream. (Avid gardeners take note: it’s o.k. to take a break from spring sowing, planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing, pruning, mulching, or mowing and just sit, recharge, and enjoy your creativity.)
“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
Gardens have long been thought of as places that are not only beautiful, but soothing, secluded, and peaceful. A garden can be a rejuvenating oasis, offering respite from the pressures of day-to-day activities. The garden is also a place where you can reflect on your day—or your life—and be one with nature. Here are some ideas for using your own outdoor sanctuary as a welcome escape.
Take a Seat
A comfortable chair or bench can feel inviting and secure when it’s placed so that the back nestles up to a hedge, a wall, a fence, tree trunk or a niche in a building. It offers a sense of protection as opposed to sitting out in the open. Place it so you can gaze into a view that will capture your imagination. Place your hands on your lap, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you.
Once you’re seated, turn your thoughts away from the many daily distractions that cause stress and worry. Focus on things such as specific object—a tree, a flower, a fountain—or on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
Water is one of life’s vital elements—it’s no surprise that we find ourselves attracted to it. The sound of trickling or cascading water is very relaxing. It can help mask some of the noise in urban areas. A water feature can be as simple as a small tabletop fountain, or a contemporary pond-less waterfall. It can be a deep, koi-filled pond, where water cascades gently over large boulders and flows slowly down a meandering stream. Whatever form it takes, water adds tranquility, provides pleasant reflections of the sky and clouds, and adds ambiance to a garden.
Skip the health club—put a mat on the lawn and do some yoga in the privacy of your garden. Or use your patio or deck to get in some stretching exercises or do a little weight training. When the weather is good, the space will likely be more pleasant than the gym.
Eyes to the Sky
Cloud-watching and creative daydreaming go hand-in-hand. In his 1894 book, The Use of Life, John Lubbock 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.” Take a few minutes to marvel at a beautiful sunrise or sunset when the colors can quickly change from golden to red-orange to brilliant magenta. Nature’s beauty is often fleeting and deserves a closer look.
Chimes or temple bells play on gentle breezes and bring a bit of music into the garden. But you can also use waterproof wireless speakers, earbuds, or headphones to enjoy music or audiobooks. Listening to the wind while it rustles the trees is both calming and soothing.
A flower’s perfume may take you back in time while you’re relaxing in your garden. Perhaps the fragrance of roses, peonies, or lavender will evoke memories of a childhood garden or a relative. Lilies, carnations, sweet peas, tuberose, sweet alyssum, Judd viburnum, and honeysuckle are a few others that offer delightful scents that range from clove and vanilla to lemon, orange, and almond.
A path is a necessity for getting around, but it can also provide a framework that links garden elements together. In a larger space, a path allows for exploring and can lead to hidden features, like a fountain, a birdbath, or statuary tucked around a privacy hedge, fence, or shrubs.
Nina Koziol is a garden writer and horticulturist who lives and gardens in Palos Park, Illinois
Garden Sanctuary: Designing for Comfort, Wholeness, and Connection by John R. Beaudry (2019)
“The exercise of creating gardens changes lives. Working with plants fulfills a human need to nurture. It provides solace, decreases anxiety, stress, and depression. It increases self-worth and it provides a source of exercise that further improves health and well-being. It is grounding.” — John Robert Beaudry