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Take It Outside (The Country)

Roamin’ Holiday 

I recently went on a trip to Europe, with stops in Athens and Mykonos in Greece, and I also spent several days touring sites in Rome.  What a trip it was! I guess you could say Maxwell Landscaping went on a European tour, since although I was physically out of the office my thoughts were very much still focused on our projects, to-do lists, pipeline of work, and so on. Despite that (or maybe because of it), I found time to recharge and discover inspiration in the breathtaking architecture around me. 

One thing I noticed about my trip: the most relaxing moments – times when I forgot about work and was able to be fully present – came when I was outside. Whether I was touring the Roman Forum or hiking around the ancient Greek island and settlement of Delos, I found was able to “get away” not just physically, but mentally.

Just Get Out There: It’s Good for You. 

Just before leaving I started reading The Well Gardened Mind, by Sue Stuart-Smith, a British author, avid gardener, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, on the effects of being outside on brain chemistry, mental health and overall well-being. It turns out the benefits are numerous: spending time outside has been shown to lead to improved cognitive performance and memory, reduced levels of stress, anxiety and depression, a decrease in BMI, reduced blood pressure, increased levels of Vitamin D and serotonin and, well, the list goes on.

It’s been true for me on an everyday basis, and it works for me during periods of unusual or extended stress, too.

For example, during graduate school at Clemson University, my department buildings were going through a major renovation as well as adding new degree programs that brought with them additional faculty and students. There simply wasn’t enough room for all of us. The solution at the time, much like what we’ve experienced this last year and half with the pandemic, was to work from home.  

Now, I find when I work from home, I rarely come up for air.  I get in the zone. Without distractions and others around to make casual “water cooler” conversation, I work, well… more. What I discovered, though, is that while researching and writing my thesis from home I needed breaks.  

Whenever I started to experience writer’s block – interfering with getting my thoughts to the keyboard – I opted to go outside and spend a few moments gardening. I would alternate research and writing with planting, weeding, and watering. When my thoughts were jumbled, and I couldn’t find the right words, it allowed me to clear my head, hit the reset button, and refocus.   

And over time, those breaks culminated visibly in a parterre-ish, four-square, color-coded perennial garden centered around a water fountain with an English-style garden border and chicken coop.

It Worked for Me; It’s Going to Work for You. 

This is what gardening and being outside can do for us.  It’s centering and grounding. Sue Stuart-Smith, describing her grandfather’s post-WWI rehabilitation, attributed it to the “restorative effects of gardening and working the land.”  Increasingly, new work campuses are being designed and developed with these principles in mind, building with an indoor-outdoor focus complete with gardens and spaces for people to come outside and connect with nature. 

A Setting for Healing. 

Hospitals, healthcare facilities, retirement homes and more are now featuring gardens, landscapes, and nature views.  Studies have shown that just views of green space and plants can alter EEG recordings and reduce stress, fear, anger and sadness, in addition to lowering blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension. When my mother was undergoing cancer treatment at M.D. Anderson in Houston, she loved the gardens there, and talked about them often. The excitement in her voice was all the proof I needed.

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