more articles >

Gardens to Soothe the Soul

Mary Witalis

Soothing gardens touch the soul, lift the spirits, and stimulate senses. They are for adults, children, the elderly, the physically challenged, everyone.

Think about your own soothing garden design after considering site realities, like underground cables or overhanging trees or poor light. Do you want formal or informal plans, "rooms", continuous floral displays, or ways to attract wildlife? Geometric designs are formal. Naturalized gardens, like cottage gardens, have wavy edges and less definition between plantings. How about a woodland theme? A secret garden retreat could have walls of lattice, hedging, brick or stone to contain, perhaps, an oasis of fragrant flowers, cool shade, and bubbling water. Silver foliage and white flowers in fragrant evening gardens actually glow in the moonlight. Some plants produce a fragrance only in the evening. Would you consider herb gardens in raised beds? Should your garden stay appealing all year? Do you simply want containers on the deck? Aim for a garden that makes you feel good, be it peaceful or energized. Types of soothing gardens include therapeutic, water gardens, shade gardens, those that stay pleasing for an extended season or even all year round, and those that appeal to our bodily senses.

Gardens that soothe include therapeutic gardens because they also touch the soul and stimulate senses. Therapeutic gardens use plant material and gardening to enhance the health and quality of life for certain individuals. Such gardens lift the spirits while improving a person's mind, body, and spirit.

Water can be a feature within a garden or it can be the main attraction. You can choose either the soothing sounds of moving water (dripping, swirling or fast-flowing), or the satisfying sight of your garden reflected in a still pool. After some practical considerations such as keeping your water feature in sunlight and away from overhanging trees or underground cables, you're free to make some creative decisions. Do you want the design to be geometric and formal looking or naturalized with edges of iris and ferns? Will you want to attract wildlife? You are not restricted to a traditional garden setting. You could put your water garden in a container on the patio with goldfish, aquatic plants, or bubbling fountain.

Low light gardens can emulate a peaceful shaded forest. Add Solomon's seal, hostas, bleeding hearts, and any other shade-loving plants you desire. Ferns lend a soothing presence in a shade garden.

Careful planning, plant choices, and bulbs can encourage year-round interest. Red Osier Dogwood branches are lovely against snow. Evergreens add a solid presence any time.

Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and many flowers stimulate taste. Nasturtiums, for instance, taste like pepper. Gold zucchini, red lettuces, purple beans, tomatoes, and strawberries also stimulate the eye.

"Rooms" can be created where compatible fragrances co-exist. Be aware that too many different scents together in one spot might blend oddly. Lilacs, roses, and Lilies-of-the-Valley have relaxing fragrances. Honeysuckle, Jasmine, and Wisteria can make you feel sleepy. On the other hand, Lavender, Rosemary, and Lemon Verbena can be energizing. Culinary herbs stimulate the appetite. Herbs such as lavender provide fragrance as well as beauty. Creeping thymes release scents when crushed. Use herbal paths to connect the "rooms". Another idea is to plant scented geraniums along a pathway to release scents when brushed. Consider fragrant evening bloomers around the patio. One more idea is to plant raised beds of scented groundcover to provide a fragrant and pleasant resting area. Especially fragrant plants include butterfly bush, lilac, roses, clematis, honeysuckle, sweet pea, basil, beebalm, chamomile, heliotrope, hyacinth, lavender, lemon balm, lily, lily-of-the-valley, mint, peony, pinks, sage, stock, and violets.

Try planting specimens with interesting textures into a small enclosed garden with comfortable places to sit. Raised beds would bring touchable plants to a more convenient height. Lamb's ears, woolly thyme, and pussy willow are soft and fuzzy. Some ornamental grasses have fluffy flower heads. Some flower heads feel silky to the touch. Statice and globe amaranth blossoms feel papery. Money plant seedpods do, too. Kids love this stuff. Choices include cockscomb, globe amaranth, hare's tail grass, lamb's ears, love-lies-bleeding, mullein, wormwood, and Chinese lantern.

The rustling of bamboo and grasses like pampas grass can be exciting. Willows and other trees, "whispering" in the breeze, are calming.

Soothing gardens are about how you feel when you're near them. I have gardened since childhood but recently I have been encouraged to see my own gardens with a new perspective, a spiritual one.