Art in the landscape in Provence

I have quite a fondness for the south of France, even when the days are cold, crisp, and still. Perhaps in Provence the lavender in the heat can no longer tickle the nose, but the shimmering autumn colour can dazzle the eye as you drive through the rolling hills.

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Bathe in the forest

Forest Bathing is the art of slowing down and noticing with your whole body. There is no cognitive effort required to learn the names or uses of plants and there is no objective to climb a mountain or arrive somewhere.  It’s a mindfulness practice that you can become skillful at over time.

Forest bathing is a literal translation from the Japanese Shinrin Yoku and is defined as an immersive, sensory experience in nature.  It involves moving slowly and mindfully in a natural place and using all your senses to connect to the world around you. It’s like a calming, soothing ‘bath’ for the nervous system in which you let nature soak in.

A typical forest bathing session involves a guided meditation, some very slow, mindful walking and various invitations to connect to nature through different senses. This often moves imagination, directional sense and intuition. Participants then come together in a group and are invited to share experiences. This practice is socially connecting and soothing.

 

Pine Grove, Centennial Park Sydney

 

The beginning: The term forest bathing was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Government in response to high levels of stress and burnout in the urban working population. Another term was created for this phenomenon; karoshi, death by overwork. The Japanese Government funds scientific studies that measure the physiological effects, or changes in heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol, of walking on forest trails. Currently there are 48 official forest therapy trails designated for Shinrin Yoku by Japan’s Forestry Agency. Forest bathing is standard preventative medicine and wellness science in Japan. Doctors can recommend forest bathing as a preventative measure or complementary treatment for stress-related illness.

The health benefits: There is growing evidence suggesting that human physical and psychological wellbeing is highly dependent on nature. Compared to urban walks, leisurely forest walks have been shown to lower sympathetic nervous activity, blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol. They can improve our mood and decrease stress, anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that forest walks can stimulate the production and activity of Natural Killer Cells, the immune system’s anti-tumour and anti-viral cells, by as much as 50 per cent after just three 2-hour forest walks. Nature also helps us to be more empathetic, focused and grounded and increases our cognitive function, mental clarity, creativity, optimism and hopefulness.

 

Connecting with nature

 

The science: A variety of EEG (electroencephalography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) studies have been performed both out in nature and in laboratories (with people viewing nature scenes) to examine the effects of nature on the brain. They have shown that when people are in or viewing urban environments, there is activity in the prefrontal cortex (the task-orientated part of the brain, which becomes fatigued by continuous stimulation and attention) and the amygdala, which is associated with fear and anxiety. In contrast, when we are in nature or viewing nature, the prefrontal cortex and amygdala are generally less active and blood goes to other parts of the brain associated with pleasure, empathy, compassion and unconstrained thinking. What’s called the executive network of the brain has a rest and time to restore, whilst the default network (the day dreaming, free ranging part of the brain associated with creativity) comes alive.

Japanese studies have also focussed on phytoncides, the nice smelling organic compounds secreted by trees in response to pathogens. They are part of the tree’s immune system and they seem to act on our immune system as well. Studies have shown 50 per cent increases in number and activity of the human body’s anti-tumour, anti-cancer and anti-viral cells or Natural Killer (NK) cells) after people went Forest Bathing for three days in a row. The increases in NK cell activity remained a month after returning to urban environments. These results were also found in a lab experiment, where NK cells exposed to phytoncides increased their expression of anti-cancer proteins.

 

Being in the forest

 

Do you need a forest? Brain scans of people viewing nature scenes in labs would suggest that you don’t have to be out in nature to produce a physiological effect in the brain. Simply looking at an image of nature can be restorative.  However, the effects are likely amplified when all the senses are engaged and we’re actually out in nature- listening, smelling, feeling and moving in a mindful way. Also, with nature it’s a dose-response effect. The bigger and more awe-inspiring the nature, and the more fully immersed in it you are, the more powerful the restorative effect will be.  However, as long as we’re being mindful and fully absorbed, we can have meaningful and effective interactions with nature on small scales on a daily basis. Even having a pot plant on your desk at work has been shown to have a restorative effect on your cognition and attention. Let yourself examine its leaves and smell its flowers. Have a mini green-meditation routine a few times a day.

 

Forest bathing in Centennial Park:As one of the few forested areas in Sydney and one of its best loved green-spaces, Centennial Parklands runs Shinrin-yoku inspired forest bathing walks. The purpose is to give Sydney-siders that much needed break from the face-paced, stressful lifestyle of the city.

 

 

The jewel of Kew Gardens

What a summer we are having in London! The thermometer has sat in the high twenties for nearly a month now and there is no sign of rain. As an expat Australian working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, I’m enjoying the warmth after the bleak cold and snow of February – the only downside is that the Gardens could really do with a big drink.

 

The Temperate House. Image credit Gareth Gardner

 

I arrived at Kew in March 2017 to start a new role as Head of Interpretation. My first big project was to recruit and establish the team that would develop and deliver the stories within the refurbished Temperate House. After 18 years at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, the chance to work at Kew on such an incredible project was too good an opportunity to pass up – a dream job for a storyteller.

With only a year to opening the Temperate House to the public, we needed to hit the ground running. The Temperate House contains many plants that are rare and threatened in the wild. Temperate plants exist at the very frontier of global change and are most threatened by human activity. The temperate world is where most of us live, where we build most of our cities and clear land for agriculture. The Temperate House has provided us with a space in which we can share stories about contemporary Kew science and the role of botanic gardens in the conservation of the world’s flora.

In the midst of this Melbourne style heatwave, it seems incongruous to be talking about ‘temperate climate’ plants.  The Temperate House at Kew was first proposed in 1859 by Director William Hooker.  At that time Kew’s plant hunters were still sending back to London temperate plants from Britain’s colonies: India, Australian, New Zealand and Africa.  Hooker was concerned that these horticultural treasures would be lost to London frosts hence his proposal to construct a glasshouse to keep them safe.

 

Protea cynaroides

 

The architect Decimus Burton was engaged by Hooker to design the Temperate House.  Burton had previously designed the ‘Great Stove’ glasshouse for Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth.  The first section of the Temperate House opened to the public in 1863 though it took Kew another 40 years to open the full house due to difficulties in finding funding.  The glasshouse that Burton created, new refurbished and returned to its 1863 glory, twinkles in the sunlight like a large Victorian jewellery box.

 

The central space is cathedral like. Image credit, Gareth Gardner

 

The central space feels like a cathedral with tall white columns and spandrels hanging in the air overhead.  The light inside the glasshouse is white and clear and, in the warmth, the scented specimens that are planted close to each entrance perfume the air.  The main entrance to the glasshouse is surmounted by two statues of one of Flora the goddess of flowers and the other, a larger than life-sized, Silvanus the god of trees – it truly is a temple to the flora of the temperate world.

 

Statues adorn the entrance

 

My favourite story is that of the Dombeya mauritiana.  In 1994 the lone tree that survived on Mauritius died and the plant was considered extinct in the wild.  Luckily a few cuttings taken from this plant survived in cultivation.  Fifteen years later another wild survivor was found on Mauritius and staff from Kew were able to fight their way through a guava thicket to take more cuttings and propagate more plants.  Bringing this plant back from the brink.

The rise of the Instagram gardener

What has the world come to that we are reducing everything to a series of words pre-empted by a hash tag? #gardening #pot plants #indoors  #foliage . Whatever the less social media savvy might think, social media is very much part of the modern world. It’s here to stay and is influencing and shaping modern gardening in a positive way.

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Malahide Castle gardens

Malahide Castle and its gardens, north of Dublin city in County Dublin, are a very worthwhile visit for at least three reasons. The first is the historic Malahide Castle itself, owned continuously for about 800 years by the Talbot family. The lands and harbour of Malahide were granted to founder Richard Talbot by Henry II in return for his part played in the Anglo- Norman invasion of Ireland.

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Olive Pink: A life in flowers

“Neither Art nor Science are very materially remunerative professions but very soul-satisfying both.”  OLIVE PINK TO WILLIAM CROWTHER, 1935.  A fiercely independent woman ahead of her time, Olive Pink is best known for her staunch support of the Aboriginal People of Central Australia, which is illustrated in this edited extract of the book Olive Pink: Artist, Activist and Gardener

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Garden colour hit

SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – is exactly that. When winter skies hang low, we start to feel a little dreary. But gardeners instinctively know what to do. We head into the garden to potter around and turn our faces to the winter sun. We also crave and look for colour in the garden.

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Jonquils and other narcissus

Jonquils are in full bloom in my garden and the scent from a bunch I’ve picked is wafting through the kitchen. Jonquils are thought of as spring bulbs but these fragrant, yellow-flowered bulbs bloom in winter in my garden. In warmer zones than my Tasmanian garden they can begin to flower in late autumn.

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Water in the garden

Water in the garden has a long history, as long as gardens themselves. Any history of gardens and gardening will show that the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, Japanese, Persian, Mughal, Aztec, French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish gardens all featured water prominently in their designs.

 

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Love leaves a memory that no one can steal

Thank you…To Mark and Faye Leveson, for letting us into your lives and for allowing us to bring to you what we do best – to make a garden in memory of your son, Matty. While we know that nothing can replace Matty our entire team hope this token of creation will help you slowly find some form of normality in your lives.

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Heywood Gardens, an Irish gem

There are but a handful of gardens in Ireland designed by the Englishman Edwin Lutyens and Heywood Gardens is one of them. As if this isn’t recommendation enough, he collaborated with the renowned plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll in designing the formal gardens at Heywood in about 1912.

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