12 Garden Design Ideas to Lower Stress

Landscape designer and ‘Heaven Is a Garden’ author Jan Johnsen shares tips for creating a peaceful outdoor space. 

Photo By: All images courtesy of Jan Johnsen

Sanctuary, Simplicity And Delight

Jan Johnsen, landscape designer and author of Heaven Is a Garden: Designing Serene Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection says the goal of every garden she designs is sanctuary, simplicity and delight. “I call this the lure of the sheltered corner,” she says. “I created this niche in a wall so that our backs are protected and we have a view looking out. The dwarf fountain grass atop the wall softens the look and the flowering Kousa dogwoods act as twin sentinels.”

Instant Relaxation

“This intimate corner called for a bench or something similar,” says the award-winning instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and Columbia University. “The property owner found this ‘pod’ and we put it in front of the evergreen arborvitae backdrop. Everyone loves sitting here—it’s instant relaxation.”

Power Spot

Heaven is a Garden author Johnsen says every garden has a “power spot,” or the possibility of one. “It can be a high point or a shady nook,” she says. “Here we made a rustic stone walk up to an old apple tree. No one can resist a secret path!”

Eastern View

Johnsen recommends placing a bench or hammock facing east for meditation and contemplation in the morning sun. “The ‘Neon Lights’ foamflowers that bloom in the spring like it, too,” she says.

Serene and Functional

“We all instinctively head towards the light, indoors and out,” Johnsen says. “Knowing this, you can direct people just by knowing where the sun is in your garden. I laid out this stepped garden path with the sunlight in mind. It is serene and functional at the same time.”

Garden Metaphor

Johnsen says a “dry stream” adds all-season interest to a small space and creates a feeling of peace. “This is an example of what I call a ‘garden metaphor,’ which is any landscape feature that recreates a scene of natural beauty on a smaller scale,” she says.

Music for the Eye

Heaven is a Garden author Johnsen says the rose garden at Naumkeag, a public estate in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is an example of how flowing lines imply moving water. “The marvelous fluidity illustrates how form and line in a landscape can create ‘music for the eye,’” she says.

Curves Ahead

“A curving line is perhaps the most beguiling shape in the garden,” Johnsen says. “Graceful arcs reflect the forms we see in nature and this instills a feeling of calm to an outdoor scene. This curving path I designed makes a simple garden walk much more compelling.”

Dappled Shade

According to Johnsen, “dappled shade” is one of the most preferred outdoor settings. “This allee of olive trees in Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California, evokes the quiet play of light under a lightly shaded canopy,” she says. “Scientists have found our blood pressure drops and muscle tensions ease when we are near trees or even look at them.”

Magical Ingredient

“Water is the magical ingredient in a garden,” says Johnsen, who blogs at Serenity in the Garden. “The serene appeal of water lies in its never-ending ability to refresh our spirits. A simple recirculating cascade can add a dynamic effect to a forgotten corner. Add some water-loving iris and you’ve made magic!”

Memory Keepers

Johnsen sees rocks as “memory keepers,” and elements of a garden that will be there long after the gardener has gone. “Large boulders provide a feeling of calming stability to a space,” she says. “Here, spring blooming Kurume azaleas drape over an outcrop at the rock garden in the New York Botanical Garden.”

Go Green

“Green is the most restful of all the colors,” Johnsen says. “Here, flowering Lady’s mantle and grass steps add texture and interest to a verdant garden.”