Gardens have always been designed for beauty or sustenance, but in the past few decades garden styles that offer more focused nurturing of our planet and its inhabitants have become popular, and with good reason. These are garden styles that help support and nurture our ecosystem and us as its inhabitants. They take things beyond beautiful blooms, tasty tomatoes, and herbal infusions.
Four such styles are rain gardens, native plant gardens, sensory gardens, and meditation gardens. The first two most directly nurture the environment; conserving, rebuilding and rebalancing natural resources. The third and fourth are meant to nurture humans in ways that can be stimulating, or soothing and rebalancing.
A rain garden is, as most simply defined by raingardens.org, “a bowl-shaped or saucer-shaped garden with deep, loose soil, designed to absorb storm water run-off from impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots.” They also note that 70% of pollution to our waterways comes from storm water run off. The plant roots and soil of a rain garden serve to filter pollutants out. These contaminants are eventually broken down or neutralized through their interaction with minerals and micro-organisms in the soil and even sometimes through uptake by the plants. Aside from cleaning water, rain gardens also conserve water – as they are planted with flora that is native to the garden’s location and thus suited to having its water needs met by the typical rainfall for said location.
Native plant gardens conserve water for the same reasons listed above. They also assist in rebuilding of depleted soils and greatly reduce the contamination of soil and groundwater by fertilizers and pesticides, which are commonly resorted to just to keep non-native plants alive. Native plants don’t need to be coddled, coaxed or coerced the way “foreigners” often do. With less fuss needed native plant gardens are obviously easier to care for – bringing some balance to the gardener’s life. That they also provide food and shelter for our native bird and animal friends restores additional balance to nature, and smiles to our faces.
Sensory gardens more directly address balance – in the lives of those with impaired senses. They are specifically designed to stimulate, soothe, or engage based on the special needs of who they are designed for. A sensory garden might be easily accessed plantings of old-fashioned flowers, in serene combinations with plenty of seating to suit dementia patients. It could consist of raised beds of herbs, flowers and vegetables to allow a wheelchair user to interact. Plantings might also be geared to provide bright blooms and rustling foliage for those with fading eyesight. Sensory gardens are generally designed by licensed landscapers for nursing homes, medical facilities and daycare centers. For those with levels of impairment that allow them to reside at home, a private sensory garden could be doable with thorough research and/or a bit of professional assistance. The plethora of general and highly personalized possibilities seems endless to me, as a garden designer and as a compassionate human. This type of garden could also serve well those who just need a counterbalance to a stressful job or to being a caregiver to someone of special needs.
Meditation gardens are perfect for providing counterbalance to a stress-filled life as well. They are meant to be places of sanctuary and reflection and are composed of soothing, non-intrusive elements. A palette of green foliage and pleasant textures is generally used, rather than bright blooms. Comfy sheltered seating and the subtle sounds of water, rustling foliage or wind chimes are often key elements in the creation of these transformational spaces. Meditation gardens may include meandering, disappearing paths that cause you to slow down, yet continue forward toward what mysteries lay ahead. These gardens are simple, yet easily filled with symbolism and healing energy.
For those unsure where to start in the gardening world or seasoned gardeners seeking to try something new, choosing one of these purposeful styles of gardens will provide an excellent framework to serve as a guide while still allowing for creativity and personalization.