Engaging all the senses to heal with nature.Posted Mar 12, 2015
“There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds and for our overburdened spirit, there is strength in the hills, if only we lift up our eyes. Remember that nature is your great restorer.” Calvin Coolidge
Why a healing garden?
It can be all too easy to get caught up in the chaos of a hectic lifestyle, and as we know this can lead to serious imbalances within ourselves. Unfortunately, this leaves us vulnerable to illness. Despite our addiction to fast-paced living within a hi-tech, gadget-filled society, we are natural beings. So it makes sense that nature can help restore us and bring us back into balance. One way to do this is through the creation of a healing garden.
What makes the distinction between healing gardens and other kinds of gardens? All gardens can be healing of course, but healing gardens are specifically designed to engage all of our senses in order to remind us of a connection to something outside of the body, something grander than the diagnosis. They are places we can go to in order to bring us back to our senses, to be soothed, and help release the stress that accumulates in our daily living. This is critical not only in the prevention of illness, but also in providing ease to existing illness and promoting a healthy inner terrain which facilitates healing. It is also imperative to help one regain an overall perspective which is sometimes lost when facing the fear and discomfort of illness.
Dealing with an illness often involves making serious decisions, decisions that can direct life-altering outcomes. This can be such a daunting and overwhelming state of mind. Spending contemplative time in a natural setting, where you are reminded of the bigger picture and are able to return to your own still point, helps you to operate from a calm and centered place that enables you to make clearly informed decisions, rather than fear-based and reactive ones.
Dealing with stress
More and more evidence is surfacing which points toward the fact that excessive stress is a major contributing factor to both physical and mental illness. As we relax, our parasympathetic nervous system takes over and this puts us in an optimal state of healing. The trance-like floating state gives our immune system the chance to come on with full power because it is not distracted by other stressors. Spending time in nature and engaging with all of our senses can also help balance circadian rhythms, lower blood pressure, and increase natural vitamin D levels. Prevention and ease of symptoms through relaxation is an amazing gift to offer ourselves – helping us to get healthier, and stay that way.
Something for everyone
Places of sanctuary can come in many shapes and sizes and you don‘t have to be a master gardener to create a space optimal for healing. Having a private yard to transform is great if you have it, but there are other ways to create a therapeutic green space. The balcony of an apartment can be made into a lush setting, or consider roof gardens, atriums, indoor sunrooms, or a simple window box. It doesn’t need to be large in order to allow some interaction with the elixir of nature.
Outside of the home, larger scale healing gardens are showing up more frequently in health care settings, public city spaces, and various work places where it is beneficial for the staff to have exercise routes to blow off steam and refocus.
Engaging all of the senses
We are sensual beings and we experience our world using all modes of sensation, so there’s a lot to consider when planning your garden.
One obvious consideration of course, is the visual presentation. Color is a potent way to influence our experience of any setting and can be used to reflect certain moods. Green is the color most associated with healing so some may find it unnecessary to have a lot of color and may be satisfied with varying shades of green, in conjunction with different shapes and layered heights of plants. Consider textured grasses swaying gently in the breezes.
For mild use of color, try plantings that invite tranquility, such as white orchids, or gentle blue delphiniums, which can be added into the mix.
Other garden appreciators may want to focus on adding splashy colors that seem to energize the area. Bright red poppies, or orange gerberas and yellow marigolds might exude a more celebratory air. Different sections of the garden can represent different moods or states to reflect upon. There isn’t a wrong route to take. We have our own needs for what to bring into our space.
Plants aren’t the only way to bring color into the garden. Garden tiles are another way to invite color and design into a garden during its dormant season. Inspiring words or inscriptions can be painted on them for extra encouragement. There are just so many ways to play with color in the garden.
Listen to your garden. We often don’t associate sound with a garden but think of the soft resonance of wind chimes that play a gentle song of the winds movement, the swishing rustle of tall grasses that sway and click against each other, or the tinkling dance of water. Consider the trill of songbirds or the chorus of frogs, and you are beginning to recognize the symphony of nature. Let it in.
Our sense of smell is considered to be the most potent of our senses for evoking emotions. Flowers such as mock orange, lilacs, or jasmine, are just a few examples of the fragrances that can waft their way into your experience and help bring about a sense of well being. Scented geraniums come in all sorts or aromas such as rose, citrus, apple, and even coffee or coconut. Hint: the fragrance of the plant is usually strongest in the evening hours, so don‘t miss the best time for breathing in the sweet scents of your choice.
It is believed the first healing gardens were the cloister gardens maintained by the monks in European monasteries, where they cultivated herbal and medicinal plants. You can continue this practice.
There are so many varieties of herbs to appeal to your palette while adding a nurturing medicinal boost to your body. Traditional healing herbs such as mint for stomach ease and general rejuvenation, lavender to calm the mind and ease gastrointestinal ailments, and parsley for anemia and flatulence (brewing a parsley tea is a good general aid for many nagging conditions), are just a few herbs to help nourish the mind and body. Did you know basil does not just taste good but is considered to have anti-inflammatory qualities as well? For full-on flavor try the bright blooms of zesty nasturtiums in a salad, pungent chives for immune support and delicate rose petals for flavor, aroma, and to add a romantic flair.
Gardens can also offer tactile experiences. Dip fingertips into a still pond and focus on the cool sensation. Stroke a rose and relish the smooth softness of its petals. There are so many textures in the garden to experiment with. Try prickly plants and fuzzy ones too. Don’t forget to touch the garden.
Other things to consider
It can be heartening for the spirit to include familiar plantings. For some it could be the delicate white scented lily-of-the-valley that reminds you of grandmother’s garden, or the same kind of hydrangeas that were in that park you used to take the kids to when they were small. Try anything that conjures up good memories. It is a time to invite in pleasant reminders of who we are.
Inviting other forms of life into the garden can add a whole new dimension to witnessing nature in its natural rhythm. Consider bright colored plants or ones rich in nectar such as red columbine if you want to see the busy antics of hummingbirds. Think of a sunny spot planted out with milkweed, to delight in the fluttering magic of butterflies. Relax with the slow underwater meandering of the Koi or goldfish.
A large interesting stone placed in the right place can offer a supportive presence. The unwavering strength of the stone can be a powerful reminder of standing strong in the face of all the changing elements. Whether it’s blazing sun, harsh winds, or pelting rain, the stone remains constant. Look at it, touch it, lean on it, meditate with. Sometimes it’s helpful to have something solid and steady around.
Water features can be essential in creating a place of serenity. Fountains, ponds of all sizes, or a stream wandering through it all, can be added into a setting, or the garden can be worked around a pre-existing one. Ponds can also be a home to water plants or water life creatures like fish and frogs.
Don’t forget to give yourself a place to sit and take it all in. It’s a good idea to plan for sun, and for shade. Your needs may change from minute to minute. If space allows, a covered area such as a gazebo or porch can allow you to enjoy the natural settings even when it rains.
We are like the gardens
Gardens can be the perfect mirror for us. Like us, they have cycles and seasons that need to be honored. Each season has its own rhythm. All of our seasons make up a full life.
We can be bigger than our circumstances. We can let the healing garden fill all of our senses and breathe our way towards a new condition of living. We can let the healing power of nature remind us that we are not alone. Tending our gardens can be like tending to ourselves as we work with the elements to help foster new growth and nourishing of the spirit. We can let all of our senses play in the elements of the healing garden. We can become whole.
In this moment
The green fuse fills my veins and loosens the human frailties of frame
The poison falls away, absorbed by the tender petals of the bloom
The pond watches me from its still shallows
The gentle sway of branches beckon my heavy heart
To abandon my thoughts as they become the lilting tune of the finch
It is all a loving conspiracy to return me to the still point never damaged
Washed clean by this nature blessing
I will rest and will begin again.
T.J. Blackman resides on a tiny island where she lives happily among the trees. She has various works in progress, including a novel that she works on while she is not writing articles for sites that pique her interest.