Most people’s lives are busy and hurried with precious little time for much-needed relaxation and rest. Even a simple ten-minute walk becomes a forgotten and invisible task in our overloaded schedule. STRI landscape designer, Agata Kryjak, discusses how detrimental the lack of a ‘green escape’ can be.
Busy schedules, work, being ‘under pressure’ and available all the time can have a serious impact upon our mental health. When stress becomes a constant element in our lives it can cause many ill-effects, from anxiety and depression to heart attacks and even strokes. Perhaps the time has come to slow down, take a break, go for a walk and just breathe.
Fresh air and the sound of singing birds are helpful for both mind and body to recover and to balance thoughts. It’s the easiest way to reduce stress. A simple walk in a garden or park, reading a book on a bench surrounded by blooming shrubs, flower beds full of pollinators, flying butterflies, and scurrying squirrels can make everyone feel better.
It has been proven that people who spend more time enjoying the outdoors often have less stress related health problems and have improved lifespans. This ‘green escape’ from our office walls can be a brilliant solution, especially during a very busy or stressful time.
The colour green is perceived most easily by human eyes, which makes it more calming for the brain and makes relaxes our nervous system. Studies suggest that people surrounded by more green may live longer. Green spaces and gardening have always been used as an aid to assist with recovery after illnesses and are beneficial to physical and mental health.
The development of parks and gardens for people’s wellbeing is not a new innovation. Ancient civilisations were well aware of the value of plants and public spaces for improving the lifestyles of their people.
Sennufer’s garden in ancient Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Hellenistic Greek and Roman peristyle courtyard and gardens, Hortus conclusus (enclosed gardens) and Hortus medicus (medical herb garden) are great examples of the first ‘wellbeing gardens’.
One popular wellbeing nature experience is ‘forest bathing’, inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku. Despite the unusual title, ‘forest bathing’ is just a simple walk in the woodlands. This experience has spread and become very popular across the world.
Forest bathing can easily bring a similar feeling to taking a typical bath after a hard and long day. It became an important task on the ‘to do’ list of many people as a result of a huge health improvement.
Closer to home, in the Shetland Isles, doctors have started a new way of healing people through ‘nature prescriptions’. Doctors give their patients a calendar and special schedules to use for birdwatching, observing different plant species and taking seaside walks to look for seashells.
Elsewhere in the UK, the NHS Forest Project by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in Oxford has started advising walks in parks and woodland for their patients.
Time in the garden
Horticultural therapy has also become a very important activity. Gardening can bring harmony, a connection with nature and a sense of renewal. It can also reduce nervousness and bring psychical relaxation.
For people with dementia, special plants used in a sensory garden can rekindle many memories. These special types of gardens can also become an important experience for blind and disabled people through the interaction with the senses. These specially designed gardens work through texture, smell and sound.
The type of plants depends on the type of users, for example, the design of a sensory garden for people with dementia should include common plants which can be found near to their houses and neighbourhoods, which is helpful with reviving memories and creating a sense of nostalgia.
Meanwhile, wheelchairs users and the blind will need a special pathway with a solid surface and pleasingly scented plants which are engaging to the touch.
In addition, butterfly gardens (with plants which are attractive to pollinators) or specially designed pots for vegetables can also be a great education experience for children and older students. Also living green walls, which help combat noise pollution, are becoming very popular in public spaces.
Other possible additions to a public space are ‘rain gardens’ and ‘stormwater planters’. These are specially designed solutions for capturing and filtering rainwater and increasing the number of plants. Stormwater planters can be installed in atrium gardens, in residential areas, public buildings, hospitals and schools.
They can be easily installed in urban spaces and are environmentally friendly, as well as providing a miniature oasis for people in towns and cities.
Every garden, park and field full of wildflowers can help provide a cure for the body and mind, give us pleasure and help give space for contemplation.
Breaking a sweat
Outdoor activities are beneficial for both psychical and mental health. Even traditionally indoor facilities like gyms can be easily moved outside to provide the same activities within green surroundings and fresh air.
For example, in Paris, stationary exercise bicycles have been installed next to the river Seine with a beautiful view of greenery, water and monuments for all types of users to enjoy.
Outdoor trail tracks with multiple exercise stations are also becoming very popular and can be found in many parks. These specially designed ‘stations’ allow users to do gym exercises in the fresh air which can further increase health benefits.
Planting new plants in our gardens, having a picnic in the fields or simple walk through the park after a busy day at work can be uplifting points in our lives. Plants bring joy and happiness
and can be a fantastic ‘green escape’ for our minds.
Isn’t time you got back outside?