A different take on garden visitingAlison Marsden
It may not seem very original to write about garden visiting for the summer months and I certainly often encourage readers to reap the benefits of visiting other gardens. But this time I am suggesting that you start your visit slightly differently. There is still the opportunity to find new plants, examine planting combinations and design features and gather ideas to take back to your own garden. And there is definitely always time for tea and cake. But I also spend a lot of time helping people to use gardens and gardening for wellbeing and here too visiting a new garden can be turned to advantage.
I visited the stunning gardens at Denmans in West Sussex earlier in the summer and the design and style of this garden encouraged me to wander mindfully along the curving paths, fully absorbed in what I could see, hear, touch and smell. So here is my suggestion for the first 15 minutes of your next garden visit this summer.
Find a quiet spot where you feel comfortable standing or sitting and where there is something to look at, maybe a flower border or a view. Then slowly roll your shoulders backwards a couple of times or make slow windmill circles with your arms and then shake your hands, waggling at the wrist for a few seconds. That should banish random thoughts about traffic, tonight’s dinner, next week’s dentist appointment or whatever from your mind and focus you on the ‘here and now’. And that is the aim – to reduce the clutter in our brains, albeit temporarily, allowing the brain to rest and relax a bit. This in turn lowers our internal stress level and helps us to face both minor and more major challenges. Of course, a few seconds is not enough and it is immensely hard to empty our brains. So this is where the garden comes in.
Spend the next 10 to 15 minutes standing and strolling gently through the garden with no intention to arrive anywhere. You will not be reading labels, taking photographs or accessing your phone and if you are with a friend you will not be chatting. The aim is to appreciate what you see without analysing it and this may be flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, sculptures. views – just see it. You can look closely at the structure of a flower to admire and wonder at nature. You can take in the rainbow colour scheme of a long herbaceous border or the monochrome of a ‘white garden’ but this Is not the moment to debate whether or not you like orange or to mutter darkly about the number of gardeners who look after it.
Similarly with sounds, scents and textures; use all your senses to experience the garden and focus on that experience in the moment, trying not to wander off into other trains of thought. Walking on to see another area, round a corner or through an archway is a good way to reset if you get distracted. This idea may be familiar to anyone who practices mindfulness and a garden or other green environment is a great place to start if this is new to you.
There is always enough around you to engage your attention and exclude the other thousand thoughts that swim around in our heads all day, without needing total concentration or mental hard work that would itself increase stress. There will be plenty of time afterwards to walk back through with a keen gardener’s eye, make notes and collect inspiration. You may even be inspired to tweak your own garden to make it more mindful and somewhere to give your brain a daily 10 minute break to boost your wellbeing.
Give it a go next time you visit a park or garden; I hope that you will feel relaxed and refreshed, just in time for that equally refreshing cup of tea from the café!
Happy Gardening from Alison
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