Whether you live in an apartment or a palace, cultivating a variety of plants that stimulate all five senses can improve your health and wellbeing
10 ways you can use plants to improve your well-being
Having a connection with nature is essential for human beings to thrive, particularly children. In fact many experts agree that time spent in green spaces can make us feel happier and healthier. After all, it’s embedded in our genes to be in the outdoors breathing fresh air and growing or gathering food. But how do we do that when our towns and cities are becoming denser, leaving little room for a vege patch, let alone enough grass for the kids to play on? It’s all about being creative with the space you do have and listening to your senses.
1. Find texture
If you want a garden that makes you feel at one with nature, consider all five senses including touch. The soft, silky leaves of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) cry out to be caressed, as does the downy foliage of silver sage and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa). The feathery flowerheads of many grasses and rushes invite touch and who can resist stroking bamboo stems or the curly bark of paperbark maple (Acer griseum)?
2. Bring the outdoors in
There’s a reason for the indoor plant renaissance – we’re craving greenery in our lives. Whether you’re an orchid addict or a fern freak, it’s not hard to find space inside for plants. The minimal effort involved in their care is worth the benefit to your physical and mental health.
3. Choose scented plants
Being at one with nature is not just about looking at plants – it’s smelling them, too. If you visit gardens regularly, it’s those filled with fragrance that are usually the most memorable. Just one potted gardenia or frangipani can turn your courtyard or balcony into a delightful, perfumed paradise.
4. Keep plants in your line of sight
If your outdoor space is very limited, bring plants as close to the house as you can so they can be seen from windows, decks or balconies. Think window boxes, hanging baskets, planters around the terrace and vertical walls. Grow succulents and other shallow-rooted plants on the roofs of sheds and lean-tos or even on top of your letterbox.
5. Create a kitchen garden
The health benefits of eating herbs and vegetables fresh from the garden are well documented. Indeed some studies show that just the physical act of planting and tending food crops can do wonders for your sense of wellbeing. Eating food you’ve grown takes you to a whole new happy place. And the good news is that despite our shrinking outdoor spaces, we can now grow herbs and small veges on balconies, decks and indoors, thanks to the resourceful designers of vertical gardens, hanging pots and cute countertop planters.
6. Don’t forget sound
Sound can also engage the senses in a profound way. The gentle splashing of water in a fountain evokes a feeling of tranquillity, as does the tinkle of wind chimes. Birdsong is equally calming so think about a bird table, bird bath or plants that provide food for our feathered friends. Even the chirping of a cricket or the buzz of a cicada can stimulate our senses so turn off man-made auditory distractions and tune in to the sounds of nature instead.
7. Plant trees
Even if you plant just one tree in a pot, you’ll be doing the planet a favour, creating a habitat for birds and insects and improving the air quality of your garden as well. And if you’re stuck for space there are dwarf versions of many large trees. Even the mighty ginkgo has a baby form – Ginkgo ‘Jade Butterflies’ – which grows to just over 3m tall. As 19th-century American poet Lucy Larcom’s famous poem reminds us, “He who plants a tree plants a hope.”
8. Create a space for the kids
Small children are captivated by the myriad creatures in our natural world, whether they find them in the backyard, a park or in the bush. Foster that interest by adding features to allow them a front-row view of their garden habitat. Plant a swan plant so they can watch caterpillars hatch into monarch butterflies, build an insect hotel, hang fruit or seed balls to feed birds or make a pond for goldfish.
9. Use plants with health benefits
Humans once relied largely on plants to make medicine. Aspirin, for instance, was made from willow bark. Many herbs commonly found in gardens, such as rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon balm and mint, have wonderful therapeutic qualities. Even if you just want to throw a few sprigs of rosemary into the bathwater occasionally for a soothing soak or make a cup of lemon balm tea, it’s worth filling your garden with healing plants to give you a daily reminder of nature’s gifts. And the bees will love you for it, too.
10. Make outdoor living easy
Sometimes we need an incentive to leave the comfy sofa and head outdoors. Creating a variety of inviting spaces to sit and linger in the garden will do the trick: a bench under a tree, a cafe table and chairs on the balcony, a comfortable lounger on the lawn, or perhaps all three if you’re lucky enough to have the space. Existing features can be made more alluring with a few simple changes such as adding wide capping to raised beds and ponds so you can sit on them, or investing in outdoor cushions to make that wooden bench more comfy.
Words by: Carol Bucknell.