10 secrets to create a lovely yard according to landscape architects
Why is it that some gardens automatically create a sense of calm and tranquillity? Turns out there’s quite a science to it! Here are some surprising tips from architects, landscapers, designers and more experts to create a soothing getaway right outside your front door.
The simple task of putting a seat outside will inspire you to leave your couch and get some fresh air, says Beth Kaplin, PhD, program director for the Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation at Antioch University. “Spending time in view of what’s called green space has been shown to reduce stress levels and anxiety.” Wood furniture in particular calms us, suggest a few provocative studies – especially when placed in an area with dappled lighting, like under a tree. According to a 2015 report from the Planet Ark Environmental Foundation, an Australian non-profit organisation, wood is not only aesthetically pleasing in its colour, grain and shape, but it also may illicit positive feelings of harmony and balance. The report cited some small studies that showed lowered blood pressure and heart rates in people who lived among wood interior spaces and wooden furniture.
Not only can a garden be rich in vivid colours, it can also quiet your mind. A famous theory called the biophilia hypothesis says humans have an innate need to connect with the natural environment. So your own little plot of paradise may be the therapy you need after an exhausting day in the office. Before you start planting, it’s best to have a plan. “Think about what purpose you have for your garden. Is it a learning garden for your kids? Is it a food garden? Is it a native habitat?” says Libby McCann, PhD, director of environmental education at Antioch University. Potted plants and herb gardens are a great gateway because they are low maintenance.
“You know how people always go, ‘Ahh,’ when they step into a wooded glen? You want to create that effect in your garden by creating a comforting, relaxing space that’s slightly out of view,” Augustin says. “So when you enter it’s like a mini surprise.” Garden experts say curved paths throughout your yard or garden are the best way to achieve mystery.
Bright colours that are not too saturated tend to be soothing for the eyes and mind. According to Feng Shui principles, lavender colours evoke tranquillity and calm; turquoise is recommended for establishing movement and growth; dusty blue shades have also been known to help lower blood pressure and slow down the heart rate; greens nurture growth and change; and yellow gives us hope and clarity. To evenly distribute these colours throughout your yard, paint a wooden garden bed or old tin cans and transform them into pots for flowers. “Put colours where you walk up close and personal,” Terri Hahn, principal at LADA, PC Land Planners says. “Your feet always follow your eye.”
Lilacs, lavender, lemon, rosemary, thyme and mint all smell wonderful with some added health benefits, such as better sleep (lavender) a cognitive boost (rosemary) and enhanced athletic performance (mint). Experts suggest planting these fragrant herbs along a path or in between stepping stones. “Your legs and your feet rub across the leaves and release the amazing scents of those herbs,” Kaplin says.
Leaving a small patch of your lawn to grow wild is a great form of low maintenance gardening and it will also attract wildlife of all kinds into your yard. All you have to do is plant some easy-care flowering grasses and plants like bee balm, Echinacea and ferns.
Flowing water from a fountain or small man-made stream creates tranquillity. Researchers at Newcastle University found flowing water to be one of the most pleasant sounds out of 74 sounds studied. “It might easily have something to do with our prehistory as a species and the way our brain structures evolved,” Augustin says. “When we were beside a burbling brook, we were assured of having water to drink.”
Environmental psychologists and landscape architects say curvier things are more comforting to look at (think rounded leaves, curved floral petals, and slightly curving branches). They may also be linked to enhanced creativity. In order to create a circular landscape in a square plot of land, you can use depth, plants, shrubs and trees to design a visual arch. Or configure your seating arrangement into a circle; you’ll encourage eye contact and engagement among you and your guests.
“Create a visual anchor point to feel secure,” Hahn says – by planting a Japanese Maple tree for example. The focal point should be vertical, have colour and measure at least 150 to 180 centimetres tall, so you always know where it is. Drawing materials from your house, like using the stone from your patio and incorporating it onto a path, is another smart way to lure people towards your focal point.
Ecologists recommend planting native species in your yard to sustain the natural connections between animals and plants. But the most important thing to remember is how to lure in pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies to help cross-pollinate and nourish vegetation. Try planting flowering gum, lavender, begonias, cycads, banksia and other plants. “Connection with wildlife is really important for human beings,” Kaplin says. “If we can take our eyes away from our smart phones for a moment and see nature around us it can actually have a pretty big benefit and reduce stress.”
Sign up here to get Reader’s Digest’s favourite stories straight to your inbox!