Creating A “Welltality” Garden

Gardeners looking for a place to unwind, meditate, and rejuvenate will enjoy this new landscaping trend, which combines elements of healing, privacy, and sensory experience to create a meaningful way to tune out the daily grind.

Busy schedules, constant texts, and tweets, the demands of work, and balancing a fun, happy family life can pose a challenge. Finding time and a quiet spot to relax and focus on your wellbeing isn’t always easy, but your garden provides a good place to start. By keying in on five vital essential elements – “soundscaping,” tranquility, healing plants, sensory stimulation, and privacy – you can easily turn your yard into a healthful retreat for friends and family that gives you the opportunity to relax, unwind, and embrace a little free time in a meaningful way.


City and suburban life can be hectic and incredibly noisy. While some people may grow accustomed to the din, urban life bombards its residents with the sheer volume and complexity of the surrounding noise. Studies of Boston, Los Angeles, and New York show that the decibel levels in an average restaurant range from 88 to 92, and the noise in the New York subway can hit a whopping 106 decibels {sounds above 85 are considered harmful}, according to the consumer information site Elevating Sound. The term soundscaping refers to the use of plants and other natural materials to block out unwanted noise while promoting natural sounds such as birds, insects, water, and the wind.

Plants with Height: If you have the planting space and don’t mind the shade they create, tall trees are the easiest way to muffle noise. Conifers such as spruce, pine, and fir make obvious choices because of the density of their branches and needle-like foliage, and the fact that they branch all the way to the ground {unlike many deciduous trees}, which effectively walls off the sound.

A combination of deciduous trees and an understory of shrubs or herbaceous perennials and large herbs such as Echinacea, Monarda, and Joe-Pye weed will work as well. To enjoy the gentle rustling sound in a breeze, consider deciduous trees with large leaves, such as aspen, linden, or birch.

Hedges will create the same “wall” effect, but without the height of conifers {or the space required}. Try sturdy, easy-maintenance hedge plants such as cotoneaster, yew, or alpine currant. As a bonus, many hedge plants encourage birds to the garden with the fruit, seeds, and safe habitat they provide.

Sound Screens: A green or “living” wall is also an option. You can build these using a variety of materials, from wooden pallets to stacked stone to elaborate hydroponic systems. Include a variety of species: succulents; mosses; alpine and creeping varieties such as saxifrage, sea thrift, and Lewisia spp.; and trailing vines like Vinca minor, licorice plant, and moneywort. Living walls also create privacy and security, and they’re flexible enough to move around the garden, depending on where the sun beams down.

Sound Absorption: To dampen loud noises, we can look to groundcovers. Turfgrass is an obvious choice, but you can think outside the box with cultivars of flowering and fragrant creeping herbs like thyme, savory, violets, clover, and houseleeks. Many of these plants can withstand foot traffic and, as a bonus, often attract pollinators such as bees!

Soothing Sounds: Substituting a stressful sound with a soothing one offers another way to the soundscape.  If you have the budget and room {as well as the ability to keep up with the maintanence}, you might build a small pond with a fountain or stream. A simple, decorative tabletop fountain can add soothing trickling sounds to a patio, deck, or balcony for a lot less money and effort.

In some areas, homeowners can have fire pits or decorative fire bowls in their backyards {as long as safety protocols are followed}. Most people consider watching the flames and listening to the sounds of a crackling fire a relaxing past-time, particularly on cool evenings.

A Time for Tranquility

Where you decide to place your garden is another important consideration.

Shade & Shelter: A space that sits in dappled shade offers a more hospitable environment than one in hot, bright sunlight, but it will limit plant selection. Chives, parsley, tarragon, and sweet woodruff do perform well in partial shade, and you can choose shrubs and small trees such as dogwoods, viburnums, cotoneaster, and willows. But assuming you don’t want to miss out on those sun-loving plants, then hardscaping items like an umbrella or canvas canopy should do the trick of keeping you cool. Make sure to situate your garden in a sheltered location, away from strong winds.

Garden Plan: The style of the garden will also influence the way you feel as you interact with it. For example, informal, curved pathways, and rounded edges are easier on the eye and mind than harsh lines and a grid-like structure.

Of course, the right plants will also help you unwind. Try a subdued color palette: instead of bright oranges, yellows, and reds, look for flowers in cooler shades of blue, purple, white, and silver. Artemisia, marshmallow, thyme, and meadowsweet are all good options. Focus on the foliage, including complementary colors and leaf variegation. {Some variegated herb options: ginger mint ‘Variegata,’ lemon balm ‘Aurea,’ buddleia, and the variegated cultivar of pineapple sage.} Avoid spiky, thorny, or otherwise aesthetically harsh and jarring features, and look instead to soft or fern-like leaves such as sweet cicely, dill, caraway, and chervil.

Hardscaping: Statuary and garden ornaments can make statements in any wellness garden. Choose pieces that reflect both space and your personal style, and that makes you smile when you see them. Finally, don’t forget to add a seating area to your tranquility garden – you will, after all, be spending a lot of time in it!

Perfected Privacy

Any garden that provides a restful “haven” from the bustle of everyday life should also include a sense of security. Since ancient times, walled gardens have offered quiet places for reflection and relaxation -away from the prying eyes of others.

Better Barriers: There are several ways to create enclosure within the garden. Hardscaping elements like fences and courtyards are obvious ones, as are decks, patios, and balconies. Living walls, potted trees {citrus, figs, Japanese maples}, and vines such as clematis, trumpet vine, morning glory, or Thunbergia can further enhance the space and increase privacy.

You might also employ plants to create living screens to demarcate outdoor “rooms” or cover up an unwanted view. Try honeysuckle or climbing roses trained to grow over an arbor, trellis, or lattice fence.

Plant Perimeters: On a smaller scale, plants such as phlox, marigolds, snapdragons, and dianthus used as edging or in the borders of flowerbeds can also lend a sense of visual enclosure, creating divided spaces in miniature. A labyrinth of lemon or creeping thyme, or with Irish and Scotch moss, is another example of how successful this idea can be -and as a bonus, you can use it as a walkable meditation tool!

Healing Help

A welltality garden certainly can’t exclude medicinal plants! You don’t need a lot of space -just room enough to include some important herbs. This quick list covers a range of conditions:

  • Thyme: a versatile culinary herb that’s also useful for soothing sore throats and freshening breath.
  • Rosemary: a Mediterranean culinary staple with aromatic qualities that improve cognitive function and promote mental alertness.
  • Roman chamomile: in tea, it decreases anxiety and encourages relaxation.
  • Calendula or pot marigold: Often used in cosmetics, it quiets irritated skin and clears acne. As a tea, it aids in digestion.
  • Lavender: Dried leaves are commonly used to stuff pillows, and the essential oil creates a relaxing room spray to encourage untroubled sleep. Like calendula, lavender is sometimes used to heal acne.
  • Peppermint: another staple of the healing garden {keep it contained so it doesn’t spread aggressively!} that calms an upset stomach when taken as a tea.
  • Bearberry: The tea combats urinary tract infections in low doses.
  • Bee balm: Sometimes employed as a soothing remedy for colds and sore throats.
  • Anise: Used as a tasty digestive aid and to treat stomach ailments.

Sensory Stimulation

This element of the garden aims to stimulate the five senses: sight, smell. touch, taste, and sound. Sensory gardens are often considered particularly suited to children, the elderly, and the infirmed – but everyone can benefit from the activity, education, and interaction with living plants and the natural world.

Sight: Visual appeal may be achieved through the use of color. If you want to promote a soothing, restful aesthetic, set up blocking of the same color {or shades of the same color}, using plants of the same species or those that complement one another. Alternatively, a garden space filled with contrasting colors, textures, and varieties of plants will impact the viewer, offering a creative way to open the mind and encourage exploration.

Sound: We’ve already discussed blocking and muting the unwanted sound, but here we want to encourage sound as a way to stimulate the mind. The delicate music of wind chimes or the splash of a fountain or other water feature is excellent ways to achieve this. Certain plants can also promote beneficial sounds: consider the wind rustling through ornamental grasses {showy, large species such as pampas or feather reed grass ‘Karl Foerster’}, or tall, leafy herbs including dill, lemongrass, Russian sage, angelica, and borage.

Scent: The fragrance of certain herbs and flowers can have a huge impact on mental alertness, emotion, and the creation of olfactory memories. Select highly fragrant and appealing plants for the sensory section of your garden: rose, mint, lavender, anise hyssop, basil, and sweet peas all work well. Don’t forget that most of these wonderful flowering plants also attract butterflies and bees, so focus on planting a diverse mix of species for best results.

Taste and touch: In a complete sensory garden, you want to include flavor and texture, but if your garden is open to others, you may want to have signage that lets visitors know which plants are edible and safe to touch {avoid planting toxic species in a wellness garden design!}. Besides fruits and vegetables, plant edible and beautiful herbs and flowers such as pansies, lemon balm, and nasturtium. Touchable plants with varied textures include soft, furry lamb’s ear, spiky yarrow, coneflower, and feathery fennel.

Tending to Your Garden

Care and maintenance of your welltality garden depend on the size and scale of your plantings, as well as the needs of individual plants. Keep up with regular watering, fertilizing, and weeding, and routinely check all plants for evidence of pests and diseases. Try not to look at these tasks as chores, but rather as an invitation to mindful participation in the growth of your garden. And even though it’s hard to resist placing plants where you would prefer them to grow, especially in a garden as expansive as this, those sited properly according to their requirements for sun, soil, and water will perform much better.

Make sure, too, that you have a combination of seating areas for contemplation, along with walking paths providing access to all parts of the garden. You want your visitors to fully immerse in the surrounding environment.

With thoughtful planning and attention to these five elements, your welltality garden is sure to be a nourishing, sustaining place to relax and enjoy!

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