Use landscape design to create your own outdoor retreat

Use landscape design to create your own outdoor retreat

by Jacqueline Soule

People need plants. Not just for the oxygen they make for us from our waste carbon dioxide either. Human need of plants goes far deeper than the air we breathe. Studies show that with plants around us we think clearer, heal faster, react better under stress, live longer, behave in a more humane fashion and just plain feel better.

Why do plants make us feel better? Stephen Kaplan, an environmental psychologist, concludes that the human brain itself is soothed by nature. It apparently processes information from the natural world more smoothly than information from the human-made world. The stress of "decoding" input is less when you're dealing with plants than with objects.

Studies show that when the brain and body are under stress, cognitive function is lost. In other words, people under stress find it difficult to think clearly.

This is especially true of people suffering the physical and mental stress of illness, recent loss, or even the stress of retiring or moving to a new home. Any change in lifestyle is stressful and leads to unclear thinking, but the solution to the problem is as close as your own backyard.

To restore calm, reduce stress and reclaim a clear head — head out into your yard. May is the perfect month to do so, since it is National Meditation Month. No, you don't have to sit in a lotus position and chant mantras to meditate. Meditation can take many forms.

Go outside, sit in a comfortable chair, and read a book. While the brain is reading, it is also processing the soothing sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze, birds singing and water trickling.

Smells are important, too, and the smell of fresh air, which may have no particular fragrance at all, is much better for the brain than the trapped air of a house.

While you are reading, part of your brain is relaxing, and that is a form of meditation.

With a little planning, your yard can be a serene and pleasing place to be. Using the seven principles of Xeriscape, an environmentally conscious approach to landscape that aims to minimize water usage, you can create a yard that saves you money and time spent on maintenance, plus is greener.

The seven principles of Xeriscape are as follows.

  1. Plan your design.
  2. Select plants adapted to the area.
  3. Improve your soil.
  4. Use proper watering techniques.
  5. Use mulches.
  6.  Maintain an appropriate- sized lawn.
  7. Use proper maintenance practices.

Even if you live in a place with ample rainfall, these principles are useful. First and foremost, a planned design is important. Even if you have lived in your home for 20 years, a specialist can help you create a low-maintenance yard.

Select a landscape designer from Angie's List who knows your area well and work closely with him or her to plan your yard so that it's an enjoyable place to be.

Less work, more relaxation, save money, live green. It's a winning environment for you and the planet.

Jacqueline Soule is a garden writer based in Tucson, Ariz. She has lived and gardened in almost every U.S. Department of Agriculture zone from 2A to 9B. Everywhere she lives, she strives to make her yard a haven of serenity.

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I just built a new home thus a new garden is under way! Should I use cow manure as a base soil starter?

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