WHISPERING GRASSES, the plashing of a fountain, the hypnotizing crunch of gravel underfootJapanese priests have nurtured contemplative plots for centuries. Now housebound Americans seeking distraction and escape are establishing home gardens that evoke some of that Eastern horticulture wisdom.SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
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At Soothing Company, a St. George, Utah, retailer that specializes in outdoor décor, year-over-year sales in home fountains burbled up 35% in 2020. And when Burpee, a plant and seed purveyor in Warminster, Penn., drilled down into the 30% growth in sales it experienced from 2019 to 2020, a pattern emerged: Buyers sought plants that exude calm. Sales spiked for ornamental grasses and for flowers in historically less-popular colors like white and pale blue. Burpee declared quiet gardens a trend for 2021.
The soft rustle of bamboo adds soothing sounds to the garden, similar to a fountain.
What differentiates an oasis of calm from a typical backyard? A more immersive experience. Your attention is occupied by sights, sounds, smells, texturesand the more multisensory you make something, the less likely you are to think about work, said Giulia Poerio, Ph.D., a psychology researcher who focuses on emotion and well-being at Englands University of Essex. Heres how to build your botanical chill pill.
Turn Down the Colors
Loud hues dont cultivate serenity. Reds, oranges and yellow are hot colors that stir passion, said New York landscape architect Edmund Hollander, who recommends mining the other end of the spectrum for tranquility. The gradation of blues into greens is almost the colors of a stream, with whites and creams representing movement, if you will.
Avoid Wide Open Space
When a view is partially screened, you establish a sense of perspective and discovery, said Los Angeles landscape architect Patricia Benner. Designer John Sharp, a fellow Angeleno, favors trails that wind through the landscape. He introduces structure with plants like spiring Italian cypress trees or voluminous Mexican bush sage, and he softens hard edgesfencing, walls, sheds, staircaseswith greenery. Mr. Hollander stresses the concept of journey. You cant come out of the house and be in that space. You have to go somewhere, even if its only three steps.
Feed on Grasses
If youre sitting in a chair next to taller plants, you feel protected, said George Ball, chairman of Burpee. Lanky ornamental grasses can guard you well and also dance languorously in the wind. The kinetic quality of grasses can create a diaphanous haze that is lovely to behold, said Ms. Benner. Juli Risner, co-owner of Grounded, a retail store and landscape architecture firm in Encinitas, Calif., loves the aural quality of clumping bamboo when its animated by a breeze. The soft rustle adds soothing sounds to the garden, similar to a fountain.
Speaking of Fountains…
Nothing creates a greater sense of peace than the sound of water, said Mr. Hollander. For his part, Mr. Sharp looks for fountains that echo a homes aestheticpairing, say, a high stone fountain adorned with Spanish ceramic tiles with a Mission Revival residence. Similarly, under a canopy of river birch on a terrace outside a Manhattan apartment, Mr. Hollander placed a pair of weathered-zinc bowl fountains that are minimalist enough to reflect the clean lines of the homes interior.
Opt for Organic Furniture
Reject cold metals and synthetic materials. Rattan, wood and cane let you underline the earthy theme of the quiet garden. Chicago interior designer Amanda Norcross, co-owner of Norcross + Scott, relies on open-weave materials like wicker that can offset the rigidity of decking and stone. Woven furniture also brings this subconscious connection to the maker, she said. It has a life to it.
Five outdoor decorative elements that adhere to the quiet garden aesthetic. Clockwise from top left: Gartner Teak Lounge Chair, $999, cb2.com; Peter Calaboyias Vintage Mid-Century Brutalist Metal Sculpture, $1,999, chairish.com; Dash & Albert Veranda Natural Indoor/Outdoor Rug, $1,042 for 5 feet by 8 feet, annieselke.com; Modern Slate Box Fountain, $1,820, chairish.com; Bover Garota P/01 Outdoor Table Lamp, $1,604, 2modern.com
Take Art to Heart
Some hard lines, especially those of sculptures, complement quietude. Contrasting the natural forms found in gardens with controlled elements of structure is important, said Mr. Sharp. Hes fond of rust-colored totem-like pieces, sometimes placed on a coffee table or along a path. Creating a juxtaposing line creates an unexpected dimensional layer. Mr. Sharp extends the definition of sculpture to strongly defined plants such as the columnar silver-torch cactus.
Hear Every Step
I love the textural quality that gravel brings, said Ms. Benner, who lays it down on walkways and patios. It is a softer way to hardscape. Loose, organic edges let the green weave in and out. The quiet crunch underfoot adds to the meditative effect.
Working with an existing deck or terrace? Knobby knotted outdoor rugs can create the illusion of earth beneath your feet. Ms. Norcross sees no need to fret about the carpets size. Identify a seating group and let [the rug] float in front, not under any legs. If your quest for backyard Zen goes well, you might be fretting a lot less in general.
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