We think of our gardens in many different ways. For some of us it’s a lawn for the kids to play on or a deck outside on which to enjoy the fresh air. For others it is plantings and hardscape designed to perfectly enhance the style and colors of our house.
Many of us embrace all of these aspects of gardens in different forms and capacities. But we also want our gardens to be about plants. Our goal is to use plants to create our own personal paradise, artistic endeavor or place of nature — no matter how small.
I am in this group. Now that the year is over and another about to begin, the days are short and cold, and my garden is mostly cut back and dormant — existing in simplified form, I have the time to reflect and consider what my garden meant to me over the last year and what it can be for the next and many after that. You may find that some of these aspects of gardens apply or speak to you, too.
My garden is a place of refuge. It is a long rectangle, with one long side bordering a road, and is entered by a small rustic wooden gate. Live oaks planted 20 years ago, now silvery trunked and high canopied, instantly create a green, sheltered scene, and walking through them is like passing through a curtain from the outside world into a refuge within.
A rustic wooden fence festooned with hops and scented honeysuckles forms a permeable barrier to the road, and within the garden a floral wonderland dwells. Rustic structures, evergreen shrubs and trees provide structure and shade — and are festooned with plants at their feet. The garden is naturalistic, with an impressionistic style planting. Plants repeat, mingle with others and overflow every bed. The paths are woodchips and the beds mulched with compost. As soon as visitors walk in the gate, they invariably say, “I instantly feel relaxed and at ease.” The garden has this effect on me too whether I’m looking out the window, walking though or working in it. The outside world disappears and I feel happy and productive. It is an important place.
My garden is a part of nature. Though it is not in any sense, an eco-system, the plants, flowers, fruit and their physical structures support many different organisms like beneficial insects, bees of all varieties, butterflies and their larvae, moths, hummingbirds and many other birds. Most of the plants were chosen for this purpose and are no less interesting and floriferous for their ability to support life.
The garden is not an authentic reproduction of a natural landscape but a conception of one. The effect on me and visitors is that of a natural place. Being surrounded by plants and the life they attract is an experience that affects us deeply. The feeling of relaxation that the garden generates is supported by many studies that show time spent in nature lowers stress and anxiety levels and enhances mental well-being. In order for our gardens to behave this way on our minds and bodies, they must contain plants. Mine is profusely planted for both the creatures that visit, and to generate or mimic a feeling of being in nature. But I also am in love with plants. Plants are a connection to the natural world from which we came and live. They are both indispensable and symbolize the cycle of life. With them we can express artistry and create scenes or compositions that make us happy.