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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Creating Serenity in the Garden

Serenity is not the word that comes to mind when I'm out in my garden lately. After a long day at work, which can be incredibly busy this time of year, I look around my garden and see nothing but spring chores. I wonder how I will get it all done with my almost 2 year old son in tow. But then I catch a glimpse of spring bulbs beginning to emerge, and a sense of serenity or peace sneaks in, reminding me that spring is not just about more work.

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.

For the last five years, my husband and I have been working on 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. I hope it will never be finished. It's been a joy to work together, continually adding to the garden. Some of the factors we have incorporated into our serenity 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, spring bulbs 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. When my son was a newborn, this bench was a favorite shady spot to occupy whenever he got fussy. I could always count on the rustle of the leaves, the dappled sunlight and the gentle breezes to calm both my baby and me, the nervous new mom.
  • 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 some hyacinths to scent the air in the spring, but have hopes of adding more scented plants. It's getting trickier to identify plants with fragrance that will grow in this area, as it is becoming increasingly shady as the river birch mature. One possibility to consider is Hosta. There are quite a few cultivars available with scented flowers. I have one on the north side of my house but unfortunately I don't know the cultivar name.
  • 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 serenity garden.

The real challenge we face with our 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 as spring begins to awaken from the dreary winter.


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