Richard Rogers wellbeing garden
Spending time in your garden can support your wellbeing. Garden designer Richard Rogers shares advice on designing your garden with mental health benefits in mind.

By Thrive trustee and garden designer Richard Rogers.

  • Your garden can become a space to reduce stress and feel more calm
  • By thinking about what you like best in a garden, it can become a place you feel a real affinity and connection with
  • The opportunity to spend more time outdoors and with nature

Gardens can allow us to switch off from the stresses of modern living. Through them, we can experience the beauty of nature and be more present in the here and now.

Evidence suggests if we spend time in a green environment then we reduce stress, improve mood and come away self-reporting improved wellbeing.

Damien, Thrive

Gardens can be designed to enhance the positive effect they have on our wellbeing. Here are some of my tips for creating a wellbeing space within your own garden.

Trunkwell water feature
A water feature at Thrive Reading

We are all different. This means different things help us create our own sense of peace and inner harmony. Water is a good example. A water feature that includes the sound of running water can be deeply relaxing to some. For others, it may jangle the nerves!

Spend some time reflecting on what would be your perfect sanctuary space. Notice places you visit that you love. Places where you find yourself breathing more deeply and wanting to dwell for longer. What it is about that may be bringing you this sense of wellbeing? Some things to consider:

  • Is it the way the space is arranged?
  • Does it feel intimate and enclosed, or open with views of the horizon?
  • What are the sights, smells and feelings that you experience there?

Activity to try

Find a place where you can relax and close your eyes. Bring to mind the most beautiful garden you can imagine. This could be a garden you actually know, like somewhere from your childhood or it can be a completely imaginary place. Spend some time there thinking about the sights, scents and sounds. Then, gently open your eyes again. Make a few notes or sketches of everything you thought about and liked.

Brum path July
A winding path in our Thrive garden Birmingham

One factor that can contribute to the healing effect of a garden is the feeling of ‘being away’ - of being transported to somewhere else.

There are different ways to achieve this in your garden. Here are two ideas I would suggest you explore:

1. Divide your space

If it's possible, divide the space in your garden so you create separate areas. For example, you could have one area for eating and meeting family and friends, one for play etc.

In addition, create a designated ‘wellbeing space’ where you go to relax and restore yourself. You can use hedges, shrubs, walls, fences/trellises to create this feeling of seclusion.

2. Create a journey

The feeling of going somewhere else can be enhanced if you create a journey to reach the wellbeing space in your garden. This can be done in many ways. You could vary the direction of your paths. Or, you could design it so you have to walk around or through other parts of the garden. Another idea is to create steps down to a sunken seating area if this feels right for you.

If I want to look after my mental health, I repot a plant, prune something, or go into the garden and take a deep breath.

Maneesha, home gardener
Wellbeing garden
Two chairs in a garden

Your wellbeing space will be somewhere you want to be able to rest and be still. This means you will probably want some sort of seating.

Choose seating that is as comfortable for you as possible. You may want a seat with a back to lean against, or cushions to sit on that you can access easily.

Having a bench nearby to sit upon to rest, watch nature, and meditate has been wonderful.

Thrive survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Placing shrubs or hedging behind where you sit can also help an area feel comfortable. This makes us feel protected, as does having a view in front of us.

Think about what times of day you are most often going to be in the space. Where is the sun at those times? You may prefer a shady spot, or to be there to greet the morning sun as it rises.

Engage the sense of smell lavender
Lavender in flower

Having elements in our garden that catch our attention provides a focus for our minds. It can distract us from the constant thinking we are normally engaged in!

Water can be fascinating - although, as mentioned earlier, not everyone finds it enjoyable. Water in a garden can provide movement, sound and reflections. I have heard water described as ‘a mirror for the sky’. Being near it can be deeply relaxing for some.

You might like to include something you use as an object of concentration to meditate on. This could be some form of sculpture, rocks or sea shells.

I like the tranquillity of the garden more than the practical side, like nature and birds.

Franky, home gardener

Plants provide colour and an infinite variation of shapes and forms, but movement is also worth considering. I love the grass Stipa Tenuissima, commonly known as pony tail grass. Its fluffy seed heads seem to dance in even the slightest of breezes. It can be quite hypnotic to sit and watch.

Scent is an important element to consider too. Being surrounded by the beautiful perfume of roses or, one of my favourites, Star jasmine, can be intoxicating.

Read more about creating a sensory garden here.

Plant choice is very much about personal preference comes in. But, as examples, would you like a feeling of a forest glade, a lush jungle, an English meadow or a Mediterranean grove?

Cool toned whites, pinks, blues and purples have been found to have a calming and relaxing effect. You may like to include more of these colours. Green has been shown to require the least effort for our eyes to see, so is naturally relaxing.

For more on the theory of what makes gardens beneficial to our health, read my website here. In 2019, I designed a show garden that aimed to highlight the benefits of gardens and mindfulness on our wellbeing. You can see it here.

It benefits me to get out into the garden in my wheelchair and take that time for myself, to be transported from your own worries to an appreciation of leaves, flowers and trees.

Joanna, home gardener and stroke survivor

Help us continue to make gardening accessible for all. Make a donation to Thrive today. Thank you.

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