Since spending so much time at home this spring, how often have you heard a variation of this story? While working in the living room or kitchen, a minor ding in the wall suddenly looks like a golf divot. The crack is fixed, and the one wall is repainted. Now the other walls in the room look shabby in comparison so they are repainted as well. House interiors—including utter clutter purges and cleaning deep-dives—have never looked better after being under a 24/7 microscope these past months.
As the weather improves and we spend more time outdoors but still at home, here are some ideas in which to focus a keen “home improvement” eye to exterior spaces as oases of relaxation.
One need only sway in a hammock to understand restful and dreamy bliss. Here’s why: Scientists in Switzerland conducted a study proving that the hammock’s swinging motion synchronizes brain waves, allowing those swaddled in its embrace to doze off faster and attain a deeper state of snooze. This is the reason parents have rocked babies since the beginning of time, not because they were aware of the brain wave component, but because it worked.
Hammocks date back to the Mayans. They ingeniously saw that suspended beds above the ground protected sleepers from snakes, rodents, and other unwelcome jungle creatures. Hammocks migrated worldwide as a utilitarian sleeping solution in warships and while digging the Panama Canal, ultimately becoming a feature of luxury homes at the turn of the century.
Waves lapping on a sugary beach are simply more serene from a hammock’s vantage, and mountain views more majestic, too. Even your own backyard takes on a fresh perspective. Find a quiet nook, install a hammock and let the calm wash over you. Two spaced trees not required as many hammocks are now sold with a base.
Install Outdoor Art in Your Garden
No less authorities than UC Berkley and Johns Hopkins universities have published papers on the stress-reducing benefits of art—be that viewing it or creating it in all its forms. The same has been said about gardening, citing the potent healing power of nature and taking out pent-up frustrations on deep-weed roots or chopping off unruly tree limbs. And when we exercise, which gardening most definitely is, levels of serotonin and dopamine—the hormones that make us feel good—go up.
So why not combine the two? Christie’s has sold the world’s top outdoor sculptures, including Jeff Koons’s 10-foot tall Balloon Dog (Orange), which achieved US$58,405,000 in November of 2013, making it the most expensive work by a living artist to be sold at auction, a benchmark he surpassed in 2019 with the sale of Rabbit (not an outdoor sculpture) for US$91,075,000. Koons told Christie’s that his intent was to impart joy with this work.
The joy of art in concert with nature is the overriding message. So find a sculpture that makes you happy (million-dollar price tags not necessary). Dig in the dirt. And if so inclined, paint, make music, or write, basking in the fruits of your gardening efforts. Or just simply play your favorite song list while enjoying your garden . . . and swaying in your hammock.
Like it or not, we’ve all been cooking more. So while tending to your garden, think about buying a flat of herbs instead of another flat of perennials. Herbs can grow in gardens or in pots to take indoors when the night temperatures cool come October.
Egyptian schools of herbalists have existed since 3000 B.C. Herbs are mentioned in Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible. To amateur gardeners, all this is good news because it underscores the hardiness of the plants so even the least green-thumbed gardeners can realize success.
A gazebo is basically an outdoor room, making this a more ambitious project but offering multiple uses by allowing household members to reserve a slot then vacate for the next user. Because gazebos are, by definition, separate from the main residence, it affords “family distancing” when togetherness becomes overwhelming.
Dating back 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, the original concept was a retreat for the wealthy to divert precious water to enjoy flowers and vines to climb the pillars, cultivating grape wines and raisins. The Greeks disagreed with gardens as the province of the elite and so created public gardens with gazebos next to temples, which in turn, made gazebos sacred places. In Japan, a gazebo was used as a makeshift tea house, hosting tea ceremonies. More recently, the structures famously co-starred in film classics such as The Sound of Music and more recently Twilight—a romantic setting for star-crossed lovers.
Gazebos can be ornate or simple, basically an open-sided roofed platform, offering shelter from sun and rain, and designed for solitude and to bask in nature. Multiple uses include an alfresco yoga studio, reprise the peaceful Japanese tea ceremonies, or set a time for personal meditation. How about a temporary classroom for kids still learning remotely or a satellite home office? Charge up the laptop and cell phone, open the hotspot and get the job done with nature as coworker.
This meditative technique has been around for ages, literally, but is still somewhat obscure in the modern public consciousness. Rewind way back to ancient Scandinavia, where the meditative walkway was constructed of massive stone structures to ward off trolls. They are depicted in old Roman mosaics. In the Middle Ages across Western Europe, labyrinth paths were embedded in cathedrals so the faithful who couldn’t make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem could walk a sacred path.
Since, labyrinths have evolved into a nondenominational meditative solution, especially for those who find sitting still while meditating a challenge. While it may appear to be a maze, the Labyrinth is a single path on a circuitous route with no wrong turns. The journey can begin by sounding a beautiful gong. As you walk the path, look inward, letting the world beyond disappear as you walk to the labyrinth’s core, the rosette. Here you stand, reflect and meditate as long as needed. As you slowly walk out the same path entered, the world is allowed back in. Sound the gong again. Because of time spent in the rosette, you are recharged, refocused, and empowered.
While the design is largely consistent, materials used to recreate the paths are as vast as the imagination, including low hedges, natural rock, paver stones, and gravel.