Why do we think of a garden as being a peaceful place to ‘be’?
Gardens were created to bring the feeling of nature, the nature we used to live amongst long ago, into our homes. As the spaces around our homes became smaller and defined by walls and our lives became more occupied by human concerns, so garden design became more about giving us ‘impressions’ of nature and not the real thing.
However, when we walk amongst nature we recognize natural, authentic patterns that give us feelings of pleasure, but the question remains of how to recreate those feelings. It is a mystery to us today after centuries of ‘disconnect’. We have been too long in the industrial and academic times of recent centuries. Instead we have enjoyed plants for the colour and individuality which leads to a ‘museum’ of special plants chosen for their features rather than nature’s patterns which are focused on succession and adaptation to specific sites/climates.
So today, when we see a garden where the plantings are not designed but grow in a pattern of their own making, we name that as being naturalized rather than human formed. This then helps us reach into our memories of nature’s patterns, enabling us to recognize our surroundings as ‘natural’ and therefore quickly experience feelings of acceptance which lead us to a sense of serenity and groundedness.
One of the key elements of nature is shadow. Shadow creates mystery which slows down our assumptions and allows wonder to come into the present moment. When we have wonder we become ‘outside’ of the human experience and into connection with that which is around us. Even if we do not know a plant’s name, for example, we still enjoy being with the plant in its natural setting. There is a qualifier, which is that the plant needs to be healthy, because if it is not then we care enough to want to understand why, and this can distract from the joy of simply being in wonder.
What nature offers us is not complex - shadow, texture, seasonality, diversity, evolution, recovery, colour, memories, shades, life and succession - but it draws us into the mysterious, as we find ourselves wondering and asking where else can I find this place in and for myself. Hopefully, the answer isn’t too far from your door.