We all love flowers. Their cheerful colours catch our eye; we look on in wonderment at how they appear from almost nothing, their scent and delicacy enthralling us. It is hard to look at a garden full of flowers and not smile. We feel uplifted by the sight of them.
Many scientific studies have demonstrated the wide ranging benefits of spending time in green spaces. Having just written an assignment on this for my Master in Horticulture, I could reel off dozens of them (but you will be glad to know, I will leave that for my studies!).
Beyond the growing evidence showing long term physical and mental health benefits, gardens also positively affect us in the short term; the immediate here and now. And different garden types affect our emotions in very different ways. Colour, shape, fragrance, layout, repetition and maintenance all influence the mood of a garden and impact the way we feel as we spend time in them.
Gardens that are very formal, orderly and minimalist can have a very calming feel. In fact research into elderly care home gardens shows that uncluttered, formal gardens can reduce the heart rate of those who spend time there. Simple shapes, repetition, delicate scents and controlled, precise maintenance all help reduce stimuli overload and slow our bodies down.
On the other hand, very loose, free flowing, uncontrolled, natural planting styles give a sense of liberation. These gardens feel romantic – plants are allowed to wander where they like which makes us feel carefree too. We are at one with nature.
Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but there is no denying that this garden is invigorating. It shocks the senses, wakes you up and engages a response. It is energising, stimulating and exciting, upbeat and cheerful, although not somewhere you would necessarily come to switch off and unwind.
These gardens will be different for every individual, but this front garden in New Zealand took me back to my childhood days, growing up in the Buckinghamshire countryside. For you, it could be seeing the roses that your grandmother grew, or the fruit trees that you picked with your Dad, but nostalgic gardens can provide a sense of warmth and safety.
Some gardens provide a sense of restfulness. A place where you just want to sit quietly and unwind. Where real life feels a million miles away. They are cosy, private, intimate spaces where nothing but the odd passing bird will disturb you.
Quirky gardens spark the imagination. They are fun-loving, original and often provocative, sometimes humorous or entertaining, but all instigate thought. Men may look at the cabbage tree sculpture above and wonder how the engineering of it works; I would be more likely to wonder what I could make in a similar vein. But all make you think and provoke a reaction. Do you like it? Would you change it? Could you adapt it? What can I do next?
Some gardens are the epitome of homeliness. Often old fashioned, but not necessarily outdated, these gardens feel welcoming, warm and embracing. They are authentic and loved, rather than showy and perfect. They invite you in, make you comfortable to put your feet up and encourage you to linger.
Alive and kicking
There is nothing quite like a garden full of edibles to make you feel healthy and alive. Even just a lemon tree and a few herbs connects us to a garden in a way that ornamentals never quite can. The fast growth of most edibles reminds us of the miracle of nature and feelings of well being. These gardens feel fresh and purposeful, dynamic and interactive.
In this very hot weather we have been having, I crave simplicity, cooling and rejuvenation and, more specifically, Ann and Vince’s garden in New Plymouth, New Zealand. They have created the ultimate oasis of rejuvenation; a comfortable space looking out over a fast running river, with attractive, simple natives blending into the surrounding countryside.
When the sun goes down, you adjourn to the seating around the fire pit, with the crackle of timber and splashing of the river behind you. The movement of the water is both cooling and fluid. It reminds us of the changing seasons and to enjoy the now, appreciate the past and look forward to tomorrow.
I dream of having the space to create one of each of these types of gardens. All create positive emotions; all in very different ways. When I design gardens for others, I love to really get to know the owners and tap into the style(s) that will work best for them. Whilst most of us can’t have a broad range at home, personalities and lifestyles give a clue as to which style will bring most pleasure of all.
Which types of garden do you most dream of?