American naturalist John Burroughs was right when he said:
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
There’s nothing quite like being outside on a stressful day and breathing in the fresh air to calm you down.
For your relaxing bit of the outdoors, you’ll want to create a spot away from the distractions of the “real world” (personally, we think the quiet outdoors IS the real world!). That means you shouldn’t be able to hear loud traffic, see vast swathes of concrete, or breathe in city pollution.
You should hide from view the hills hoist and any garden eyesores that could stress you out or remind you of work. And you should be surrounded by garden features designed to calm you down.
Incorporate some Zen
The Japanese were onto something when they began to build gardens specifically tailored to aid meditation for monks.
A fair bit of science went into figuring out what features should be used to summon a stress-free state. Everything in a Japanese garden represents peace and calm, from the raked gravel that suggests water, to the stones which symbolise mountains.
“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment” – Jane Austen
It’s hard to find inner Zen when the sun is beating down on you, giving you a headache – and sunburn to boot.
If you want to find peace outdoors, create some shelter to retreat to. This could be as simple as the shade of a weeping willow or shade cloth. Or you could erect a pergola in your own nook of the garden.
Combat the starkness of the summer sun by incorporating cool colours into your garden décor, from the lounge cushions to the blooms. Blue, white and soft yellow are renowned for their calming qualities.
Choose cosy furniture
You won’t be enticed outdoors unless you have comfortable furniture you can sink into. These days, it’s all about big indoors-styled furniture, such as a large cushioned sofa.
But nothing is more soothing than a gentle swing. It reminds us of the long-ago rocking of our cradles, and the joyous times as kids when we tried to reach new heights on the playground swings.
String up a hammock or go a step further with a relaxing day bed (luckily not too hard to DIY!).
Keep it warmly lit
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow” – Helen Keller
In winter, the sun is often put to bed before you’ve even arrived home from a long day at work. It’s a shame to spend all day in the office, then all evening cooped up inside. Grab a breather outdoors to rest the mind after a hectic workday with a well-lit outdoors spot suited for winter.
Install warm outdoor lights with a low voltage to set a soothing atmosphere. String solar fairy lights up through the trees and place old-fashioned oil lamps and candlelit lanterns where you repose.
To keep things warm, perch an outdoor heater (or even a fire pit!) beside your seating arrangement. It will issue a warm glow over your immediate surroundings.
Encourage the wildlife
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
There’s nothing like hearing birdsong to help you feel you’re out in a wilderness. So why not attract birds into your garden? Just place a bird bath in a corner of your garden and string some bird feeders from hardy tree branches.
Plant native plants to draw native birds. Perfect options include the kangaroo paw, grevillea honey gem and banksia.
And plant the butterfly bush and butterfly weed if you want to attract – you guessed it – butterflies. Marigolds and sunflowers should also summon those beautiful winged creatures.
Add some natural sound
Along with bird song, chuckling water and tinkling chimes do a great job of putting you in a relaxed frame of mind.
Install a simple water feature to create the calm gurgling of water we humans love so much. It doesn’t have to be fancy; the presence of a small pond or water fountain will help transform your mood.
The natural sounds of wood or shell chimes will also provide a subtle acoustic addition to your outdoor space.
Create some privacy
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit” – Edward Abbey
You’re hardly going to chill out if your outdoor space is right beside a noisy train line or beneath the windows of your nosy neighbour.
Privacy is the key to sustaining a serene mind. You want to feel like you’re in your own wilderness, away from pestering day-to-day affairs.
Don’t add privacy using fence lines or walls that remind you that you’re not alone. Instead, go for trellises or lattice adorned with creepers like jasmine. Or make a solid wall of green with a series of side-by-side pots featuring leafy trees like viburnum.
If you have a solid structure, you can experiment with billowy white curtains or outdoor blinds; they will allow the sun to stream in while keeping the eyes of inquisitive neighbours out.
Don’t forget fragrances
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous” – Aristotle
Plants have marvellous healing properties. In fact, the science behind relaxing through aromatic plant oils is so popular, it even has a name: aromatherapy.
The luscious scents of lavender help relieve anxiety and calm restlessness. Chamomile has a beautiful sweet scent that helps relax any garden dweller. Lemon balm is also renowned for its fresh fragrance. And you can’t go past mint to clear the mind (and the nostrils!). Check out Gardens Online for a full suite of live plants!
Keep it simple
A cluttered space won’t help a cluttered mind! Make sure your surrounding garden décor is conducive to a relaxing mind. Aside from keeping the clutter (the hills hoist and the garden hose) hidden from sight, it’s also worthwhile sticking to simple design.
Keep your colour palette to just two or three colours. This will create a harmonious look in your garden that won’t overwhelm a chaotic mind.
Along with colour it will pay to keep your plant varieties to a minimum. Stick to just a few species and create lush foliage instead with mass plantings.
“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful” – E.E. Cummings
You can’t argue with E.E. Cummings. The world is a wonderful place. And nature contributes a large portion of what we have to admire. Make the most of your outdoor space – and your downtime – by nurturing something that will, in time, nurture you back! After all, nothing is as wonderful as stopping to smell the roses every once in a while.
Ready to renovate?
Here at Australian Outdoor Living, we believe your backyard can be a huge part of your social (and mental!) life. Check out some of our other resources to learn how to improve your outdoor space: