As focus on the wellbeing benefits of plants and nature grows, RHS scientist Alistair Griffiths talks to Hannah Stephenson about mindfulness corners.
RHS director of science, Professor Alistair Griffiths has done a lot of research into wellbeing and gardens.
Now, he’s teamed up with award-winning garden designer Matt Keightley to help more of us dig into these benefits with a new book, RHS Your Wellbeing Garden, in which the pair offer a range of ideas for using greenery and gardens to distract from the stresses of life, whether it be butterflies, birdsong, or sensory and scented plants.
“I hope this book will say, ‘Listen people, you are part of nature’,” Griffiths explains. “We’ve done lots of work into how we look after birds and bees, but we haven’t really looked at what a garden means for our own health.”
PICTURED ABOVE: A garden bench surrounded by scented plants | iStock/PA
PICTURED ABOVE: The Massachusetts Garden designed by Susannah Hunter, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013 | Peter Anderson/Dorling Kindersley/PA
There’s lots of evidence that being in nature is good for us – so why not create spaces specifically for this purpose? The idea is to create a peaceful corner, surrounded by plants, where you can practice some mindfulness.
A fan of checking in for a “body health check”, Griffiths suggests: “Breathe more deeply and think about the different parts of your body and working through them to check your health status, surrounded by nature.
“It’s about being in the present, backed by evidence which shows that if you spend a little bit of time just stopping and thinking about yourself and how you are feeling, it helps to be surrounded by the right elements of your natural habitat.”
Researchers in Edinburgh also found people living closer to green space had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those living further away, he adds. “There’s a worry that we’ll get ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, where the less nature we have within our habitat has a negative effect on our anxiety and stress,” says Griffiths.
PICTURED ABOVE: A bee on an aster | iStock/PA
Curious to ‘grow’ some nature-inspired wellbeing or create a garden mindfulness corner of your own? Read on for Griffiths’ top tips…
What should you include?
“Key elements of life, like shelter and water, are relevant to a mindfulness corner, which is trying to create a refuge but with an ability to view outside of that,” says Griffiths.
Where do you start?
“Create an area of seating where you can sit alone, or with friends and family,” he suggests. Try to make room for plants which attract butterflies, bees and wildlife to distract you from everyday life.
“Even on a balcony, if you can look at your wider view and see a wider part of nature. Picture-frame those,” adds Griffiths. “If there are trees in the city you can help to create a design to picture-frame that bit, like a window to nature.”
Think about water
It’s good to have an element of water, where you have the ability to see and hear the water and look at its reflectiveness, he advises.
PICTURED ABOVE: A mindfulness corner indoors | Rob Streeter/Dorling Kindersley/PA
And if you only have a balcony, or no outdoor space at all?
“Bring nature indoors,” says Griffiths. “You can make a mindfulness corner in your house, bringing greenery into those spaces, which will be more critical in relation to the future. Interior green walls are developing, which are becoming quite easy to maintain.
“In my house, I have a couple of nice palms in self-watering containers and some ferns in a corner. They sit in my office along with asparagus ferns along my windowsill. The greenery connects to the wider landscape. Even just having a couple of plants is the first connection people have with nature.”
Focus on fragrance
“Scent is critical,” says Griffiths. “Choose things which are fragrant. There’s scientific evidence linking lavender to calm and sleep. The beauty of lavender is that it attracts bees and other distractions [too].”
Wildlife is important
“Even if you live in a high-rise flats, have bird feeders. Bees also get up there and other wildlife will find it. Having things that attract wildlife is a key aspect,” says Griffiths.
“In the RHS Wellbeing Garden at Wisley, we’ve looked at the psychology of colour and how its hues have an impact on us emotionally, but what seems to have more of an impact is the intensity of that colour. The brighter the colours, the more impact they have on our emotions,” Griffiths explains.
“A mindfulness corner is about trying to surround yourself with different types of greens, because green is a colour that seems to be universally liked by people across the world, as is blue. When you add water to the scene, it gives you the blues and the greens. They are commonly thought of as calming colours, linking nature, water and the sky, the things that give us life.”
Have elements of touch
Just as you’re thinking about sounds and scents, touch is another of the senses that can be tapped into. “Include plants around touch, such as soft ornamental grasses, the sort of plants that you want to run your hand through when you walk past,” suggests Griffiths. “Again, it’s about the connection with nature.”
Don’t over-complicate things
Keep it relatively simple and opt for plants you’ll be able to care for. Griffiths notes that aiming to grow plants for success can boost self-esteem. For example, put strawberries in your mindfulness corner to attract wildlife, he suggests, and you are almost guaranteed a crop in your first year – and you get to taste the fruits of your labour.
PICTURED ABOVE: A couple smiling in a corner of the garden | iStock/PA
RHS Your Wellbeing Garden by Alistair Griffiths and Matt Keightley is published by Dorling Kindersley, priced £16.99. Available now.
Words by Hannah Stephenson, PA