Having an outdoor garden in which to relax is truly a lovely thing. But you may feel disappointed because you don’t have an outdoor space in which to build one. Maybe you see photos online and they look beautiful and serene, but then you feel lousy that you don’t have the space, money, or time to live your dream. Well, you actually don’t need any of those things. Because sometimes the dream is just as powerful as the real life experience.
Take me, for instance. I’ve always loved those tidy European potagers I see in gardening books, magazines and websites. They’re often similar. They have gravel or crushed lime for a base. They’re laid out in squares or rectangles in a courtyard formation. Sometimes they’re lined with boxwood shrubs or stone borders. At the center, they always have a lovely birdbath or triangular obelisk. I often see lavender and rosemary blooming. Tomatoes and beans tumbling around. Just thinking about it soothes my soul.
Well, studies show that imagining is highly effective at growing our happiness. Also, learning about the potager’s dimensions, materials, plants, and all else can boost a person’s mood as well. And so, while I feel a little sad that I don’t live in the countryside in France where I could walk out in the sun every morning and pluck a sweet pea off a vine, I know living the dream in my head is a positive healthy thing for my mind.
How I Build my Dream Garden
Years ago, the best way to create a dream garden might have been to create a board of photos and articles. Tack up newspaper articles, diagrams from books, photos from glossy magazines. And you of course can still do that. The tactile experience can’t be beat. But you can also create a Pinterest account in seconds. Pin your diagrams, articles on vegetables from that site. You can also get a Pinterest plug in that allows you to pin any photo you see on the internet. It’s an easy, wonderful way to collect your favorite ideas and images.
Yes, it only exists virtually, but that’s okay, because the dream garden is there to soothe you when you need it. I often go to my French potager board when I’m stressed. I read, I pin, I aimlessly look around. There’s no pressure, there’s no expectations. I just allow myself to relax into the joyous escape of a dream garden.
What is your dream garden? My potager is more about a lifestyle. Living in a sunny place where I can simply grow my own food and wander the cheery serenity of a garden. Yours may be a brick patio with a fireplace for entertaining, maybe a cozy bench nestled in fragrant rose bushes. Whatever it is, let your mind fill with anything and everything you’ve ever desired. Don’t hold back and enjoy the exciting possibilities!
It’s no secret spending time with nature can lower stress and lead to a happier life. But sometimes people don’t know where to start. They feel overwhelmed by all the choices and unsure what to do. What’s more, a lot of folks have hardly spent time with nature. Maybe this is you. If so, there’s good news. You can discover your green personality regardless. All it takes is a little self-exploration.
Exploring Your History With Nature
Let’s start with my Green Personality exercise from Leaf Your Troubles Behind. The first step is to get a piece of lined paper and a pen. Then answer this question: what is your first memory related to plants or a natural landscape? How old were you? Where were you? Now write for as long as you can about that experience. If another more powerful experience pops in your head, follow that image and write in detail about it. Try to remember who you were with, the time of day, the sounds and smells around you. Make it vivid.
If this doesn’t jog your memory, try this: make a list of your favorite people from your childhood. Did you ever enjoy a nature-related activity with that person? If so, what was it? And why did you like it?
If there are no joyful memories, is there a sad one? What did it feel like? Describe that in as much detail as you can. Then, when you’ve got it all down on paper, start a new paragraph. How can you reclaim that experience and turn it into a good one? What can you do differently? You have the power to change your life for the better.
Maybe you’re still in need of ideas, so here’s another prompt: if money and time weren’t an issue, what natural experience would you like to do? Would you hike in Hawaii? Camp in a forest? Grow exotic houseplants? Or just have a beautiful little garden in which to sit? You’re only bound by your imagination.
Making Sense of the Memories
Now, from all that you’ve written, circle the words describing positive feelings. Like “enjoyed” or “peaceful” or “fun” or “accepted,” etc. Then circle the activities that appeal to you. Maybe it’s kayaking on a placid lake. It could be riding a bike down a country road. Maybe it’s shopping at a plant nursery or puttering among tomato plants.
Next, put those feelings and activities together and see if you can create a mission statement. Like I want to [nature activity] so I can feel [positive emotions]. This is what will guide you going forward.
This may seem like a lot of work but discovering your green personality is key. You need to know how you’d like to spend time in nature in a way that’s right for you! And once you have your mission statement, you’ll never be confused. You’ll have a north star to guide you on your journey toward stress relief and a green wellness practice.
If you want more information on that practice, you can buy Leaf Your Troubles Behind, or watch my upcoming webinar, available in April, 2023.
During 2020, I was kinda jealous of all the folks I saw on social media producing artistic projects and launching at-home start-up companies. I didn’t have a “pandemic project” as it were and felt so lame. Then in October a close editor friend of mine asked if I wanted to work with her on “that plants and mental health” book I’d always wanted to write. She needed a practice client for her book coaching certification program. So thinking I had some knowledge that might help people, I said yes. We then had a fun four months or so solidifying the book concept, forming the proposal, and all else. Afterward, I even sold it. And now over a year later, I’m thrilled to share with you the cover of a book that will help anyone who wants more happiness in their life: Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants.
The book features over a dozen illustrations by the amazing Colorado artist Kara Fellows. Kara’s work is modern and hip, yet fun and friendly. I adore it. Kara was my first choice for illustrations and I was so happy when she agreed to take on the project. A gardener herself, she loves plants too and brought all of my ideas to wonderful visual life. She even did the main drawing that appears on the cover: the city windowsill with the cozy collection of plants.
The Ideas Behind it All
Over the last ten years, I’ve been reading more and more scientific studies showing how plants can literally reduce stress and help productivity and performance. This scanned with my own experience of what my gardening clients told me over the years. So I dove into the psychological research on happiness as well as the latest science on plants and mental health. That combined with my own knowledge of what worked in my life led me to create a new method for growing happiness.
My hope for this book is that it will help you lower your stress and gain more peace in your life. Plus, there’s so much great research on the happy-making effects of plants, it’s fun to explore it all.
The book doesn’t come out until July, 2022, but I’ll be sharing tidbits of related advice in the next few months.
More Details, Please
If you want to learn more, rather than having me blather on, just read the description of the book. It nicely sums up what it’s about:
Have you ever felt happier after a walk in the woods or fiddling with houseplants but your hectic life stressed you out again? In our rushed, tech-based, indoor society, we may yearn for a break but only manage to get through a noisy day and collapse in bed. Regaining a peaceful mind seems beyond reach. But what if there were easy, low-cost activities to heal the soul? What if we could regularly access tranquility? How would we do that? The answer may be in the simplest, most abundant thing all around us: plants.
Plants are like a magic pill for our mental health. Growing science tells us they lower heart rates, make us more relaxed and productive, boost our immune system, help us live longer, and provide air, food, fragrance, and beauty. In Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants, horticulturalist Karen Hugg draws on the science and two decades of professional gardening experience to help readers reduce stress and increase happiness. Through her original, approachable system of “Green Leisure,” you will:
-discover nature’s scientifically proven power to heal us from stress
-explore what “green leisure” activities are right for you
-create a soothing green lounge at home, either via plants or just photos and décor
-gain confidence in growing low-maintenance but rewarding plants, indoors and out
-develop “green leisure” habits to ensure care for your soul any time of year
With personal stories, the latest research, and fun easy-to-do activities, Karen guides readers in delving into the wonders of plants while “leafing” their daily stress behind and growing joy.
Pre-orders Are Ready to Go
You can pre-order the book through Amazon right now. In weeks to come, I’ll be planning some special giveaways for those who order by this spring. And if you’re interested, you can read what I’ve already discovered about some of the science and strategies.
Until then, I wish you a peaceful week,