natural looking garden

Let your garden bring you joy

Need a boost to your mental health? A garden full of lush plants can help

By Andrew Wagner-Chazalon

When our spirits need a lift, we seek comfort in all kinds of places and things. But above all, we seek joy in our gardens. Whether it’s a sweeping landscape at a cottage in Muskoka or some plant pots on a balcony, being around flowers, vegetables and other plants just brings happiness.

“Having a lush landscape with plenty of flowers and thriving trees — that’s always been wonderful. This year it’s become essential,” says Karen Tolton, a certified Master Gardener and owner of Water’s Edge Landscaping.

“The scents, the sight, the wonder of watching it grow and change – it all just lifts the spirits.”

The evidence isn’t just anecdotal: study after study has found that people who spend time in beautiful natural surroundings have dramatically lower levels of stress hormones.

One study found that just 20 minutes of looking at a lush, natural landscape lowered stress hormone levels by 13 per cent.

There are as many ways to interact with your landscaped property as there are cottagers and gardens in Muskoka, and all of them bring benefits.

“A garden can be as simple as some lush containers on the deck or the dock,” says Karen. “The scent of the flowers, the bright colourful blooms, the birds and pollinators coming and going — it gives an added boost to time spent looking out at the water.”

Entering a garden

Some of the most engaging landscapes — and the ones that have the most profound effects — are those you enter into.

“There’s nothing quite like meandering through a garden, particularly one that winds through the property,” says Karen, whose company design, builds and maintains landscapes throughout Muskoka.

Some of her designs consist of a series of separate spaces linked to each other with walkways and paths. A curve in the path draws you forward, revealing new delights — a group of flowering annuals, a lush fern garden, maybe a sitting area that was hidden from view.

But you can also move through a garden in another way. “We always design gardens with the full season in mind, knowing that plants grow and gardens change. The garden in June is a different place than the same garden in August or October.”

If you’re spending more time at the cottage this season, she adds, it’s a great opportunity to really take note of those changes. “A lot of people are up at the cottage all summer this year. And they get to see what we see: small changes every day.”

Psychologists will say that those changes create a sense of forward momentum, a recognition that no matter what happens, the world continues to grow, live and thrive.

The rest of us just know it in our hearts: being in a gorgeous garden every day brings you joy.

Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the editor of Dockside Magazine. This article first appeared in the 2020 summer-fall edition of Dockside magazine.

Posted in In the Garden.