Gardens of every shape and size can be places of sanctuary — somewhere to go to rejuvenate and take a break from the rush of daily life. But while the calming ability of gardens is universal, what specifically brings you a feeling of serenity in a garden can be quite personal. You might prefer smooth lawns and neatly trimmed shrubs, while others may feel more at ease in gardens that are a little bit wild, with rambling vines and fallen leaves left on walkways.
If you’re looking for ways to feel more at peace in your garden, here are nine ideas for cultivating serenity. Which ones resonate with your vision of a tranquil garden?
1. Create a threshold. Marking the garden’s entrance or change from one area to the next gives you an opportunity to create a physical transition. Think of it as a nudge to yourself to leave at the gate some of the stress and worries you carry and enter the garden feeling a little lighter.
Gates, arbors and other visible thresholds can also be beautiful garden features in their own right.
2. Simplify your planting scheme. Large swaths of a single plant species, or a few, act as places for the eye to rest in the landscape. While you may want more diversity in places like perennial borders, look for areas of your garden — beneath trees or on either side of walkways — that could benefit from mass planting. Your landscape as a whole could feel more serene as a result.
3. Choose a soothing color palette. Cool colors like blues, silvers and greens, as well as neutrals, can feel more serene in a landscape than hotter reds, yellows, pinks and oranges. That being said, the colors that make you feel calm and peaceful can be different from those of the next person.
Select plants and hardscape materials in colors that you personally find calming, and arrange them together in large groupings.
4. Embrace repetition. In the same way that mass plantings can have a calming effect in the landscape, repetition in form and color can as well. The repeated form of sculptural plants creates a simple, balanced design that inspires calm.
5. Add a water element. Perfect for bringing the peaceful sound of water to a garden of any size, recirculating fountains can be easier to install than they may seem. Almost any ceramic pot can be turned into a recirculating fountain with the help of some basic pumping equipment and a trough to hold the pump.
For urban gardens, in particular, water features that have a trickling or splashing sound can help mask the noise of the city and enhance the serenity of your patio or balcony.
6. Plant something for fragrance. Scent can be one of the strongest triggers for memory. If there’s a certain fragrance you remember from childhood or a scent from a place you’ve visited and felt peaceful, adding this fragrance to your garden can transport you back. Nostalgia aside, catching a whiff of a fresh fragrance — like citrus blossoms, sweet peas in bloom, Sarcococca flowers or thyme crushed underfoot — can make a garden feel like a serene, almost otherworldly retreat.
7. Add secluded spots for relaxing. Even if you have a larger area for outdoor entertaining, adding a more private seating area can help encourage you to slow down and enjoy a different area of the garden.
Half-hidden areas, like those under a tree canopy or tucked out of sight from the house, can enhance the feeling of “getting away” in the garden.
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8. Design to cut down maintenance. Your garden won’t feel like a serene retreat if you are constantly reminded by the weeding, pruning, mowing and other garden chores that need to be done. Design your garden, or rethink certain areas of your landscape, to require less week-to-week maintenance. One idea: Reducing the size of your lawn and replacing it with a seating area and gravel patio that only requires occasional raking can seriously cut down the time spent on weekly garden chores.
Conversely, having a more relaxed idea of what your garden “should” look like and allowing plants to be a little more natural or leaves to linger on pathways can also help reduce time spent on maintenance.
9. Welcome birds. Connecting with the natural environment by inviting birds into your yard is another way to make a garden feel at once peaceful and more alive. Hang a feeder or choose a water feature with birds in mind — they often like shallow water and always like it to be clean — and wait for a few days for birds to “discover” your garden.