The many facets of the beauty of plants

The sense of satisfaction that comes from contemplating a garden is one of the main motivations for creating a garden and maintaining it. Simply gazing at plants makes us happier, and plants are known for easing tension and relaxing the mind. All this is consistent with the fact that the beauty of a garden and the plants that comprise it have a clear impact on mood. But when asked to define more precisely what makes a garden or flower beautiful, everyone has a different answer.

Sensory experience

Of course, sight is the first sense mentioned when people try to define a beautiful garden. It only takes a glance to get an overall appreciation of what you’re looking at. Then we look at it in detail, scrutinizing each plant, noting its colours, shapes and textures. A more subtle appreciation notes the effect of light and shadow or the movement produced by a breeze. And then we perceive sounds: birds singing, insects buzzing, leaves rustling.

On another level, we notice the fragrance of flowers and the smell of aromatic leaves when we crinkle them in our fingers. We use our fingertips to touch and caress foliage and bark. No one remains unmoved by the soft foliage of betony (Stachys sp.), or the scratchiness of certain grasses. Taste comes into it too, and its epitome is doubtless biting into a freshly picked tomato in a vegetable garden.

The beauty of a garden becomes even more complex with the changing seasons. Every day of the year, the garden is shifting, constantly changing.

Personal experience

The beauty of a garden is not limited to what we can see, touch or hear. Even if we objectively defined what makes a garden landscape successful, its appreciation ultimately depends on the person who is looking at it. Although all tastes are natural, we individually decide what we want to include in our personal definition of a beautiful garden.

Enhanced by the landscaper’s creativity and personal touch, the amalgam of a garden’s shapes, textures and colours can lend itself to different interpretations and styles and suggest numerous themes. A modern minimalist garden can be just as attractive as a wild, free, cottage garden. A French-style symmetrical, exuberant garden can have just as much value as a sedate, naturalist Asian one.

Emotional experience

As well as personal preferences, we have emotions. We only have to imagine a majestic tree, a shrub covered with flowers or a flower connected with a family memory to realize that garden trees and plants leave an emotional footprint in our minds. Everyone has a picture in their head when asked to imagine a flowering lilac. This Eden-like memory subtly influences the construction of our personal image of the perfect garden. Thus, childhood memories, wonderful moments in adulthood, or special events rise to the surface whenever we come across plants that figured in those moments.

The same is true for travel. A plant that we may have gazed at when travelling abroad leaves its mark and influences our definition of beauty. Bougainvillea, poinsettias, jasmine or larkspur evoke memorable destinations and an ambience that make us smile inside.

 

The conclusion of this story, is that a garden must be beautiful in the eyes of the person who creates it, and it is impossible to create a perfect garden that will be unanimously loved for its beauty. 

 

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Resources:

Clayton, Susan. 2007. Domesticated nature: Motivations for gardening and perceptions of environmental impact. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Volume 27, No 3, September 2007, Pages 215–224

Moir Messervy, Julie. 2007. The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning. Bunker Hill Publishing Inc.; 2nd edition. 256 pages.

Schupp, Justin L. and Sharp, Jeff S. 2012. Exploring the social bases of home gardening. Agriculture and Human Values. Mars 2012, Volume 29, No 1, pp 93-105

 

 

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