Five ways to improve your health through your garden

Calming reflection pool in garden designed by Envisage Gardens

A calming reflection pool was part of Envisage Gardens' design for a client’s retirement garden - Credit: Envisage Gardens

Our health is inextricably linked to the environment we live in, according to Charlie Hartigan, landscape architect and garden designer with award-winning Envisage Gardens.

Based at RHS Chelsea Gold-winning Grafton Nursery in Worcestershire, the company has completed many landscaped gardens with a health and wellbeing element.

“The link between our health and our green spaces goes so much further than growing your own veg to improve your diet, but that does help!” Charlie observes.

“Being surrounded by nature can lower blood pressure, reduce episodes of depression or anxiety, improve mood, encourage physical activity, and facilitate social interaction.

“Energetic gardening is considered labour intensive enough to count as exercise, while gentle gardening can help to retain a range of movement and physical independence and prevent cognitive decline in older members of society."

Among Charlie’s many health and wellbeing landscaping projects has been her award-winning “1 in 10” garden for RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, based on her own experience of endometriosis.

The garden was separated into two zones to suit different moods: a sun-baked terrace and a cool woodland garden.

An outdoor bath as part of a garden at RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park

An outdoor bath was included as part of Charlie's RHS Flower Show garden to promote relaxation - Credit: Envisage Gardens

It featured sensory experiences, including a fully functioning outdoor bath for inducing relaxation and alleviating pain, and plants thought to have healing or restorative properties.

There are so many ways our gardens can improve our physical, mental and emotional health, says Charlie.

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“This last year has been particularly challenging for the health of the general population,” she observes. 

“All demographic groups seem to have suffered an increase in mental health and wellbeing problems as people are struggling to cope with the effects of Covid-19. 

“Being able to connect with nature can help towards alleviating some of these pressures.” 

Here are five of her suggestions for improving your health through your garden: 

Include water

A letter box water feature at RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park

Letterbox water features have a calming effect - Credit: Envisage Gardens

Seeing or hearing water triggers a biological response; releasing relaxing neurochemicals that boost blood flow to the heart and brain. 

But there doesn’t have to be a huge pond or a swimming pool in your garden design – there are some excellent smaller water features that would bring a relaxing splash. 

I particularly like slim “letterbox” water features. 

If you don’t enjoy the sound of running water, have a shallow pool of still water lined with dark pebbles that will bounce a reflection of some gorgeous surrounding plants or stars in the night sky. 

Create a dedicated relaxation space

A relaxing garden patio area with chairs

Having a corner of your garden to yourself can help you to 'switch off' - Credit: Envisage Gardens

Having a part of the garden just to yourself may seem selfish, but creating a dedicated relaxation zone is important for your mind. An uncluttered meditation space reduces sensory interference and allows your brain to switch off.

Nestle a small patio in a corner where you’ll catch the sun; add a pair of sun loungers and surround it with lush plants. Perhaps leave space for a yoga mat or a reading chair, and consider fencing out children or dogs in your garden landscaping – only grown-ups are allowed here!

Feed the birds

People often ask how to attract wildlife to their garden – and I would suggest starting by feeding the birds.

Apart from doing a favour to our feathered friends, seeing and hearing birds in your garden has a direct link to lowering your levels of stress, anxiety and depression. 

Plus, seeing chirpy blackbirds or nosey robins should bring a smile to anyone’s face! 

We have huge success tucking a variety of different styles of bird feeders into our hedge – the birds feel safe from predators as they’re surrounded by twigs, and we can also see it easily from our kitchen window. 

Read websites like the RSPB to discover which foods are best. 

Bird feeders are ideal if you’re popping in to look after an older person because you can top up the feed for them and know it will bring them joy for a while. 

Many of our native birds are endangered now, so knowing that you’re doing your bit should give a sense of satisfaction too. 

Include fragrant plants

 The burgundy flower (Cosmos Chocamocha) at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park

The burgundy flower (Cosmos Chocamocha) smells like hot chocolate syrup - Credit: Envisage Gardens

You can replicate the effects of aromatherapy treatments by growing plants in the garden. 

So which plants are good for mental health? Well, lavender is said to calm stress; peppermint is thought to boost the mood; fennel is believed to calm nerves. Even freshly cut grass can make you smile. 

You might say its psychosomatic, but if the heavy musk of a tea rose or the texture of a eucalyptus leaf brings you joy, then go for it! 

I could inhale the scent of sweet peas all day, so I grow masses every year and dot loads of jam jars stuffed with flowers all around the house – it’s heaven.    

Install a private garden spa 

Garden saunas and steam rooms are becoming more common for their muscle relaxation and stress-busting benefits, as is the ever-popular hot tub. 

We have a small, wood-fired one and really enjoy star-gazing with a glass of something special to switch off after a long week. 

If you don’t have the budget or energy for these bigger spa items within your garden design, then plumb in a real bath – they’re easier to clean and you can get covers to keep bugs out. 

Remember to install some proper foundations to take the weight of the water, and, if you’ve got neighbours, you can always wear your swimming costume!

For more information visit envisage-gardens.co.uk or call 01905 885321 or 07485 657591.

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