Benefits of an informal garden

The number of anecdotal studies pointing to natural, green space as not only calming, but physically healing, is abundant in scientific, religious and metaphysical papers, articles, books, videos and even Ted Talks over the past 30 years (though discussed for millennia). 

In more recent years, scientists have studied brain waves in controlled research to support those claims.  Less, however, has been studied on what “types” of gardens are more restorative to our mind and body … until recently.  In 2016, a group of researchers provided evidence to what many designers already guessed – informal gardens, those mimicking the “natural world,” are more restorative than formal spaces.

“Conceptually, gardens are often considered to be restorative spaces and to contain an abundance of natural elements, though there is great variability in how gardens are designed that might impact their restorative potential” stated authors in a study titled Designed Natural Spaces: Informal Gardens Are Perceived to Be More Restorative than Formal Gardens, by Twedt, Rainey, Proffitt, in Frontiers in Psychology, 2016. “Participants perceived informal gardens to have greater restorative potential than formal gardens. In addition, gardens that were more visually appealing and more natural-looking were perceived to have greater restorative potential than less visually appealing and less natural gardens.”

You can take these words to heart in your garden designs in the following ways.

1. Keep paths wavy and adjacent to free-flowing, less manicured plants.

2. Look for ways to have a “local” feel with trees and native flowers you see in natural areas close to your home.

3. Keep your outside less paved over with sitting places surrounded by nature.

4. Choose plants that attract wildlife.

5. Avoid the tendency to make everything centered. Align the design in terms of the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci sequence. Google these terms and learn more about them.

6. Don’t deadhead and cut everything to the ground the minute they look dead or ragged. Give nature her due – allow the beauty of seed heads and more to add to the complexity of the garden space, especially over the winter.

You will be amazed at what an informal garden can do for you and your guests. As the study suggests …

“These … green spaces (are) intended to provide relief from stress and to foster cognitive restoration.” (Twedt, Rainey, Proffitt)

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