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The Positive Impact of Restorative Gardening on Both the Planet and Our Wellbeing

Landscape Designer Franchesca Watson on restorative gardening; the power of plants and how engaging with nature rekindles hope and connection

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By House & Garden South Africa | May 6, 2024 | Gardens

There’s a buzz out there about restorative gardens – it seems like a whole new generation is discovering the positive impact gardens create, not only to our planet, but also to our minds, bodies and overall sense of wellbeing.

Studies reveal that even showing pictures of nature to a person immediately after a stressful incident can result in a reduction in blood pressure, respiration rate, brain activity and an improvement to their overall mood within three to four minutes. So why is this?

It seems we are hard wired to respond positively to nature because of our close interactions with it as we evolved. In this environment, our ancestors paid closer attention to nature, gathering information that helped them survive and reproduce. Nature was perceived as being good, and this positive relationship lives on in our genes. It gave us an evolutionary advantage and an inherited tendency to seek a closeness with nature.

Seating areas turn your garden into a comfortable space in which you want to spend more time. Photography by Elsa Young.

Today, nature provides a form of retreat, restores balance and provides an opportunity for connection to something outside of ourselves – a space where we can experience the fragile balance of all living beings and ourselves.

Gardens can be designed to provide us with the same benefits, with restorative gardens often featuring a number of common elements that help promote wellbeing. Natural-style planting with ample vegetation that can be both touched and experienced, and boundary planting that defines the space, effectively screening it off from the outside world and associated noise distractions such as traffic and air-conditioning, are common traits in restorative gardens.

A meandering and peaceful garden designed by Martine De La Harpe. Photography by Elsa Young.

The adoption of flowers and fragrance, along with nostalgic plants, patterns and elements also help create a comforting ambiance while triggering happy memories. Elements promoting peace and relaxation are key features of a restorative garden. These include the addition of calming, natural water features and artistic touches, such as sculpture and garden objects. The latter requires a degree of discretion to ensure that your chosen pieces reinforce a feeling of connection and wellbeing. Steer away from abstract art, as it can be interpreted negatively.

Pathways that are simply designed and easily navigable serve to draw one into the garden and, once there, seating and other features such as hammocks and swings help make it a comfortable space to spend time in.

To make your garden a truly restorative space, carefully consider the amount of maintenance you feel comfortable with, so that your garden does not become a source of pressure. Sometimes this means keeping things simple, choosing easy-going plants and perhaps accepting that maintenance will be minimal, resulting in an appearance more akin to nature than a conventional manicured garden. Either way, you win!