Gar­dens: Sim­plic­ity, sanc­tu­ary, de­light

The Progress-Index - At Home - - OUTDOORS | HOME - By Melissa Erick­son

Have you ever no­ticed that you feel bet­ter when spend­ing time out­side? That’s be­cause it’s good for you.

Stud­ies, in­clud­ing one from Har­vard Med­i­cal School, show that spend­ing time out­doors low­ers blood pres­sure, in­duces re­lax­ation and en­hances well-be­ing.

In a stress-filled, screen-ad­dicted so­ci­ety, the place to re­lax should be as close as your own backyard, said Jan Johnsen of New York-based de­sign/build firm Johnsen Land­scapes & Pools. The land­scape designer has spent over four decades cre­at­ing inspiring land­scapes for res­i­den­tial clients. Her most re­cent book is “Heaven is a Gar­den.”

“No mat­ter the size, you can make your backyard a serene oa­sis,” said Johnsen, whose own backyard gar­den is small. It’s easy to do if you fol­low three ba­sic guide­lines: In­clude el­e­ments of sim­plic­ity, sanc­tu­ary and de­light. John­son also em­braces an­cient prac­tices and unique meth­ods to cre­ate peace­ful out­door havens.

For sim­plic­ity, use plant­ings that are re­lax­ing to look at, such as a “not-too-busy” or a gen­tly curv­ing plant bed. Those are “more har­mo­nious to the eye and calm­ing to look at than rigid, uni­form, sym­met­ri­cal gar­den beds,” Johnsen said. The goal is plant­ings that are sim­ple and not over­done. An­other sim­ple, calm­ing gar­den de­sign would be sweep­ing grass steps.

For sanc­tu­ary, a gar­den must pro­vide an el­e­ment or feel­ing of pro­tec­tion. “We all love to feel shel­tered. Think about it: What’s the best ta­ble in a restau­rant? The one in the cor­ner,” Johnsen said. In the gar­den, put the view in front of you and some el­e­ment of pro­tec­tion be­hind, such as a tree, a low hedge or a lit­tle wall. “It’s the lure of the shel­tered cor­ner. We all feel much bet­ter that way,” Johnsen said.

For de­light, the gar­den should show off your own per­son­al­ity, and it can be “any­thing that gives you joy,” Johnsen said. It could be big planters filled with gera­ni­ums, bird­houses, a rose gar­den, brightly-colored or­na­ments or fun sculp­tures. “It’s where your per­son­al­ity comes out,” said Johnsen, whose own de­light is fra­grant gar­de­nias in pots. They’re the first thing she ap­proaches when en­ter­ing her gar­den to breath in their scent.

In ad­di­tion to the main three el­e­ments of sim­plic­ity, sanc­tu­ary and de­light, Johnsen re­dis­cov­ers what pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions knew about gar­dens.

“A wise gar­dener al­ways knew that the most aus­pi­cious veg­etable gar­dens face east. That’s be­cause when the plants wake up in the morn­ing to the sun, that’s when they grow the best,” Johnsen said.

An­other an­cient trick comes from Asian cul­tures and is called “hide and re­veal.” It’s a strat­egy where not ev­ery­thing can be seen on first look.

“There’s an el­e­ment of sur­prise,” Johnsen said, for ex­am­ple in a bush or a curved walk that must be rounded to re­veal a new plant­ing or or­na­ment.

Johnsen’s gar­den also boasts a power spot, and yours can, too.

“It’s the one place that feels more in­ter­est­ing than any other part of the gar­den,” she said.

Take a good walk around your gar­den un­til you feel it, she said. It could be the high­est point or the low­est.

“Even if it’s just a foot higher, it feels bet­ter to sit there,” she said. “Dif­fer­ent places make you feel dif­fer­ently.”

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