Art in the Landscape

By Mary and Hugh Williamson

shutterstock_124899329There are few among us that do not feel energized after a walk in the woods, a stroll through the garden or even a round of golf. Demonstrated scientific findings support the “getting back to nature” health and well-being trends.

However, there are many of us who believe that if it is free, it is worthless.  “Bathing in the Forest”, or the Japanese study of “Shinrin-Yoku” disputes this in a way that we all can test, whether you have a massive landscape, or a condominium patio or balcony.

A Little History
The therapeutic effects of nature, on any scale, have been discussed and debated for decades in this country and for centuries in Asian schools.  Nature as a “healer” has been recognized from the “healing gardens” of the Middle Ages, to Florence Nightingale’s findings in 1860, to the more recent attempts starting in the 1970s to hasten the healing of emotional depression and stress. Tuberculosis treatment facilities in the 1930s traditionally incorporated “nature atriums”, and some were even located in forests.  There was a sound reason for this.

A Little Science
Phytoncides are produced by plants and trees.  These substances protect the plants themselves from harmful insects and germs as well.  And there is a real benefit to humans breathing in a forest!    These phytoncides have antifungal and antibacterial qualities that help humans fight disease.  This is one of life’s few win-win-win scenarios…  free, beautiful and beneficial!  There is also ongoing research being conducted to explore the possibility that these seemingly magical substances can fight cancer.

When you combine this captivating possibility with the visual enjoyment of wind-swept plantings, the gurgle of water, the soothing sounds of wildlife, the soft or vibrant colors of flowers and the fresh green of grasses, it is no wonder that nature can lower stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate.  “Forest bathing” can also improve mood, hasten recovery from surgery, heighten both energy levels and the ability to focus.   The enjoyment of swaying plants, dappled light and fragrant blooms can be sweet medicine. There is now a pronounced forest therapy movement to enlighten followers regarding the organic compounds that bolster the body’s natural killer (NK) cells that fight catastrophic illness and boostimmune functioning.

A Glamorous Application
A “Forest Bathing Trip” in Japan is leisurely, and combines aromatherapy, relaxation, recreation and the resuscitating inhalation of those tree-derived compounds that reduce stress and perhaps provide untold benefits.  If a Shinrin-Yoku trip to Japan is not in your schedule, and the South Florida lifestyle is too good to leave, keep a portion of your landscape as nature intended …

It Started 300 Million Years Ago
The history of Florida’s flora at the end of the Carboniferous period is fascinating, with the prehistoric process that witnessed the advancing and waning glaciers that affected sea level changes.  Those changes eventually caused our beautiful peninsula to emerge.  Seeds sent on the wind and through (literally) birds from the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies found a home here.  We now see species of pines, cypress and juniper conifers (gymnosperms) that grace our area, offering precious, inhalable phytoncides!  Incorporate them in your landscape or patio plantings, and take a deep breath!

A simple corner of your landscape or patio planted with pine, grasses and wildflowers, combined with a bubbling water feature can provide a healing, energizing and revitalizing moment in your day.

See the Shinrin-Yoku Organization for further studies.