Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Creating Serenity in the Garden

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
jaschult@illinois.edu

As hot as temperatures have been lately, serenity is not the word that comes to mind when I'm out in my garden lately. Sweltering, blazing, and baking are more like it. But there is a moment at the beginning and end of the day, when the sun is not burning down that a sense of serenity or peace sneaks in.

Serenity is defined as being calm and untroubled; without worry, stress, or disturbance. Consciously or unconsciously, what many people seek in their garden is a sense of serenity. Furthermore, what many of gardeners achieve in their gardens is 'flow'.

New York Botanical Garden instructor Jan Johnsen defines flow in her blog as "'stop time'… sometimes time stops when you are absorbed in an activity or in experiencing a special place." This idea of flow has been studied extensively by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. He describes flow as a state of being totally absorbed in an activity for its own sake. Such activities tend to be active, creative and self directed—a lot like gardening.

This spring, my husband and I decided to create a garden in our landscape specifically for cultivating this sense of serenity and flow, a place where we could retreat from the stress and worry of everyday life. It's far from finished, but we are well on our way. Some of the factors we are incorporating into our new garden include:

Color: cool colors like greens, blues and purples tend to invoke a calm, restful feeling. Soft pink and white can also be a nice restful combination. So far we've planted an assortment of white, pink and purple annuals and a few perennials in our serenity garden. Any color combination that you find relaxing indoors should work well outdoors.

Situation: Creating a sense of enclosure or separation from the outside world is helpful in creating a "retreat" or sense of shutting out the demands of everyday life. In our garden, river birches give this effect and provide shade with dappled sunlight.

Seating: Adding seating seemed natural for this space, as you really want to sit and dream awhile. We added a bench with a side table with room for a candle and a beverage.

Water: Our garden happens to look out on the pond in our backyard, but adding a small fountain would add the calming sound of water to the great view. Adding a wind chime would be another way to add some calming sounds to the garden.

Scent: Adding plants with a pleasant but not overpowering scent adds to the experience. Right now we only have a half-baked butterfly bush transplant struggling to survive in our new garden, but in time it should produce sweet smelling flower clusters and attract butterflies to watch.

Pathway: A pathway leading into the serenity garden invites visitors to enjoy the garden. We used flagstone to connect an existing path near our patio to the new garden.

The real challenge we face in creating this new serenity garden is sitting still long enough to enjoy it! As much as we get into the 'flow' of working in the garden, we need to remind ourselves to take time to sit and enjoy what we've created. This is the case with most gardeners I know. Hopefully we can all find a calm moment in the day to escape for a bit and take in the beauty of the garden around us.

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