Nature as Wellness
I believe that serendipity is real, and it seems to happen to me quite often. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it got me thinking about how the multiple roles I currently have overlap each other. For example, as a landscape architect and the president of the Delaware Native Plant Society, I am acutely aware of how gardens can help heal our wounds, both physical and emotional.
And as president of the Mispillion Art League, it seems quite serendipitous that one of our annual events held in October, The Big Draw, has as its theme this year “the five senses.” (The Big Draw is an international event held throughout the month of October and we help to promote this event the first weekend of the month.) I whole-heartedly feel that art also heals us, and in numerous ways.
These two organizations, combined with my career in landscape architecture, provide me with a plethora of tools to create a healing and functional wellness garden. A wellness garden should provide a number of things for its visitors, but above all it needs to be accessible to everyone. That means all age groups, all backgrounds, and all abilities. Part of this includes planning for the five senses.
So, we all know how gardens can be visually as well as aromatically appealing. However, this may not be as attractive to the visually impaired or to someone whose sense of smell has diminished. How will they experience the garden? They might depend on their sense of touch.
Texture differences in the garden can be both in the landscape as well as the hardscape of the space. In terms of plants, texture can refer to the size and shape of the leaves or it can refer to the actual feel of the plant. Large-leaved plants like oak leaf hydrangea or big leaf hosta have a coarse texture while smaller-leaved plants like boxwoods and grasses have a fine texture.
However, it can also be said that hosta has a smooth feel while oak leaf hydrangea has a rough feel to its leaves. Imagine yourself walking through a sea of ornamental grass like ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass and running your hands over the tops of the plumes. The feathery tickles of the grasses and the slight sharpness of the leaf blades can send your sense of touch into overload.
Sound also has a role to play in the garden. You’re probably most familiar with wind rustling though the trees, or the wind making a whistle sound if blowing across a hollowed-out piece of wood. Or maybe it’s the rain falling down to earth into puddles and ponds, or onto the canopy trees making it sound like the pitter patter of tiny feet racing across the treetops. Sound can also be made by the physical touching or bringing together of two things. I am reminded of a place in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, called the Ringing Rocks, where if you strike the rocks with a hammer or other hard substance, they ring in different tones. This is believed to be a result of how the rocks were formed millions of years ago and how they weathered.
However, sounds can also be made in your own garden by incorporating items that can be struck as you walk by, or providing a vessel where water can drip or cascade over into another vessel, or by simply hanging chimes that can capture the wind.
Incorporating the senses into a wellness garden will invigorate both the mind and body. There is now data showing that just being within nature will exponentially make one feel better, and many seek out this therapy. Created in the 1980s in Japan and called shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” nature really does help to heal the soul.
Be well, and let’s garden together. ▼
Eric W. Wahl is Landscape Architect at Pennoni Associates, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society.