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National Public Gardens Day is Friday, May 10th.
As someone with anxiety and depression, I’ve found that spending time outdoors—moving my body and being in nature—is absolutely essential in minimizing my symptoms.
I am happiest when I’m outside among tall trees and bright flowers. I feel good watching the scurrying squirrels, listening to the symphony of birds with whom I share my neighborhood. Because nature is so revitalizing, I set aside plenty of time each day to get up, get out, and get moving.
The catch is, I don’t live in a wooded area.
In fact, although I do live near the ocean, my neighborhood is pretty heavily developed. This has always disappointed me, because some of my best memories are of a childhood spent rambling through forests and playing in rocky brooks. I can’t really do that in my current setting.
At least I thought I couldn’t.
A few years ago, I discovered that I live near a magnificent public garden. The grounds surround a historic estate, which was once the home of a wealthy family of artists. Decades ago, the home’s last heiress donated the home to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, turning it into a museum available for everyone’s enjoyment.
I cannot thank her enough, because her selfless act has brought me hours of joy and healing.
I purchased a membership which permits me unlimited visits, and I go a few times a week to walk the magnificent grounds where I revel in the enormous old trees, the flower lined walkways, and the variety of wildlife which has made the garden its home. There is even a wild monkey swinging in the branches of the banyans, and manatees lazily adrift in the home’s sleepy canals.
The place is magical.
I began to seek out other public gardens and found several within an hour’s drive of my home. Although I’ve lived here for 20 years, I had no idea that most of these places existed, but I’ve made it my mission to find them all.
Each time I visit a botanical garden, I feel a sense of peace and well-being, and I can’t get enough.
A New York Times article by the late, well-known medical pioneer Dr. Oliver Sacks, entitled “The Healing Power of Gardens” discusses the very phenomenon I experienced. He writes that when we spend time in gardens, we find ourselves “simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit.”
Dr. Sacks goes on to explain that two types of therapy were “vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.” I know that he’s right, because I feel my best when I’m strolling a garden path.
Whenever I travel, I research and visit the local botanical gardens. I’ve seen the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and Winterthur in Delaware. Mount Vernon in Virginia had an impressive colonial garden, and at Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead, Florida, nearly everything they grow is fragrant or edible, and yes, there are free samples! In Corona del Mar, California, I sat under a Bodhi tree at the Sherman Library and Gardens where their succulent garden is unrivaled. My daughter loved their turtle pond.
Everywhere I go, I find gardens, and I’ve even begun planning my travel around what I like to call my botanical bucket list. When I can’t travel, I peruse garden photos on Instagram. Follow #GardensofInstagram and you’ll see what I mean.
This Friday, May 10th, is National Public Gardens Day. Created in 2009 by the American Public Gardens Association, the day was designed to bring exposure to the many beautiful gardens open to the public across the United States.
These gardens are vital parts of our communities. They’re great for tourism, ecology, education, and, as Dr. Sacks and I would agree, for our collective health and well-being.
More than that, public gardens enrich our local landscapes and bring awareness to the important environmental issues facing our world today. They show us how important it is to have a close relationship with nature and demonstrate the need to preserve our natural world.
In addition, they foster our appreciation of beauty and inspire our childlike sense of wonder, awe, and delight.
Gardens are important!
Celebrate this Friday by visiting a public garden close to you. Most of the public gardens in the U.S. are honoring the day with free or discounted admission, lower rates on membership packages, and lots of fun special events like art installments and live performances. Check out this list of participating gardens for more information and to find a garden in your area.
I sincerely hope that this Friday, you’ll remember National Public Gardens Day and choose to visit a garden close to you.
Stop and breathe the fresh air, give thanks for the amazing beauty of nature, and notice the healing power of trees, plants, flowers, and wildlife. May you may find the experience as healing and transformative as I did.