Since ancient times, many civilizations have realized the healing qualities of gardens with their fruit trees, flowers, water, and songbirds. The earliest hospitals in the Western world were infirmaries in monastic communities where herbs and prayer were the focus of healing and a cloistered garden was an essential part of the environment.
Restorative gardens for the sick, which were a vital part of the healing process from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, provided ordered and beautiful settings where patients could begin to heal, both physically and mentally. These were often part of hospitals prior to the mid-twentieth century and are regaining popularity now.
For the home or individual gardener, I think of a healing garden as a place that “heals” us in all ways: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. But, it doesn’t just heal our souls by bringing joy, peace, balance, and wholeness; it also has the added benefit of helping our physical self as we work to maintain this oasis of beauty.
With the pace and the stress of modern life, its hard to find such a place, but your garden can be your own place of refuge and recuperation, a restorative landscape that’s a place for contemplation and a place that offers the chance to revive in the peace, serenity and beauty of nature.
No matter how large or small, it’s easy to transform your own yard, patio, or garden into a personal and meaningful garden for your soul by using the elements of water, scent, color, sound and planting schemes to create a “sensory” healing garden.
Sensory gardens use plants and other design elements to provide experiences to awaken all five senses giving the gardener new ways to enjoy the garden. Garden elements in sensory gardens involve seating, lighting, water features, paths, and whimsy. But the bottom line is this is your own special place, so think of what appeals to you.
Next: 13 tips to transform your yard
The key when designing is to remember that simplicity is essential in designing a soothing healing garden, because the point of having one is to deal with stress, and its important that the space not have too much going on to add any additional stress.
You also want to design for interaction between people and plants. Here are some easy tips to help you do this:
- Choose plants that engage all of the senses. Use a variety of textures, scents, colors, and plants that make pleasant sounds as wind rustles their leaves. Don’t forget, providing seasonal varieties will let you connect with the cycle of nature.
- Plants with interesting visual texture add to the sensory garden experience. Excellent additions for sensory gardens include smooth, rough, ruffled, fuzzy, or lacey-textured plants.
- Color provides a visual stimulus while adding focal points, accents, and definition to a garden. Warm colors such as red, orange, and yellow enliven the emotions and promote activity. Cool colors, such as blue, purple, and white tend to be soothing, and promote tranquility.
- Scent is one of our most powerful senses so think about adding fragrant plants alongside garden seating, along the edges of paths and outside windows. Creeping herbs like thyme, planted right in pathways will release their aroma when they are walked on. Incense and scented oils in garden torches can add additional scents.
- Don’t forget the sense of touch. Choose plants that are durable enough to withstand frequent brushing or handling. Think of things like soft flowers, fuzzy leaves, springy moss, rough bark, succulent leaves, and prickly seed pods. For both fragrance and texture include scented geraniums, basils, and peppermints.
- One of the most overlooked senses in the garden is sound, but it broadens the garden experience. Many plants make sounds with a small amount of wind or jostling: bamboo stems knock together, grasses rustle, palm fronds sway. Seed pods of some plants make natural sound shakers. Have grasses and bamboos outside of windows so when it rains you hear the sound of the movement.
- Sounds of animals enliven the senses so incorporate elements that will attract bird, hummingbirds and other forms of wildlife including berry-producing shrubs, birdbaths and bird feeders. But avoid plants that attract large numbers of bees or undesirable insects. Accessories for bringing soothing sounds to the garden include waterfalls, wind chimes and fountains.
- In a sensory garden, the taste buds can tingle from edible fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Include plants that can produce a large number of edible parts over time such as mint leaves, strawberries, or edible flowers.
- Make sure there is shade available or you won’t use your garden. You can do this using sunscreens, trellises, fences, walls, and even certain plants. These also provide shelter from the wind.
- Provide quiet places to sit and contemplate by adding comfortable seating with back support and arm rests.
- Think about adding solar lights for nighttime garden visits. They eliminate the hassle of having to get electricity out there, and now come in a wide variety from accent lighting to path lighting and umbrella lights.
- Provide a water feature because water is a soothing agent. Still water can provide a setting for meditation while the sound and view of moving water is restorative. You can use a small fountain or create a pond with koi or goldfish.
- Do bugs bug you? Get a screened gazebo or a screened patio cover to provide a shaded, bug-free alternative.