Form and structure in the garden is good … to a point. Too much hardscape and geometric pruning, can, in fact, recreate those indoor and urban settings we are trying to build gardens to get away from. If your space is mostly pergolas, rendered walls, shaved box hedge, tile, potting sheds, swimming pools, pots, and sculpture, getting outside might really just be more of the inside … in your brain.
Yes, symmetry has its place in beauty. According to a 2019 report in Psychology Today, “Across many clever experimental designs, researchers have confirmed that we rate faces that are more symmetrical as more attractive than those with less symmetry.” Same can be said for our outdoor spaces. Anyone who has sat looking at the same devices in a well-designed garden know, in their gut, the power a symmetrical garden can have. It can take our breath away.
But, don’t leave out the raw nature. Be sure symmetry is balanced with plenty of “natural” elements, too. Those off-center effects, natural bends, insets, and ragged lines – the ones more like what Mother Nature does in her landscapes, are equally important … and have an impact on our mental health and happiness.
In a piece in Mind and Body, author Jill Suttie wrote, “In one recent experiment conducted in Japan, participants were assigned to walk either in a forest or in an urban center (taking walks of equal length and difficulty) while having their heart rate variability, heart rate, and blood pressure measured. The participants also filled out questionnaires about their moods, stress levels, and other psychological measures.
Results showed that those who walked in forests had significantly lower heart rates and higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress), and reported better moods and less anxiety, than those who walked in urban settings. The researchers concluded that there’s something about being in nature that had a beneficial effect on stress reduction, above and beyond what exercise alone might have produced.”
She continued …
“In another study, researchers in Finland found that urban dwellers who strolled for as little as 20 minutes through an urban park or woodland reported significantly more stress relief than those who strolled in a city center.”
Suttie concluded, “These studies and others provide evidence that being in natural spaces— or even just looking out of a window onto a natural scene—somehow soothes us and relieves stress.”
What we find interesting is that these spaces are woods, which are not “designed,” – at least not by humans. And yet, they have profound and positive effects on our well-being. It’s why, in a designed garden, there still needs to be a lot of “nature.” Structure – fine. A potting shed – lovely. Swimming pool – hell yes! Just don’t leave out lots of plants, and let some of them be free to lower your stress by replicating nature and not nurture.