Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
– May Sarton
Creating space for grace is truly the dream of every gardener, even if the gardener never verbalizes such a goal. With every vigorous day of digging, building, designing, and planting, the intrinsic goal of the gardener is to have a spot of earth that is beautiful with an element of functionality whether it be a beauty for beauty’s sake or beauty combined with utility as in an edible landscape, or both.
But what interests and captivates most who appreciate a lovely little area is the feeling, the Ah! Effect … the, “Oh, I wish I could sit there and enjoy a cup of tea” feeling. It is what makes all the backbreaking work worthwhile.
Few quiet moments exist without intentional effort, and the ability to slip away to a special place in the garden to relax, or even snooze a bit, is one of the greatest joys of being a gardener.
Meet the hammock. Hammocks and gardens make a great pair, like peanut butter and jelly, they need each other; hammocks and gardens invite any visitor to sit and reflect, to pause for a deep breath, to say, “Yes, join me for a moment; rest, relax, and just be still.”
Even a picture of a hammock in a lovely setting invites the viewer to long for that place, that snippet of quiet – where grace and peace take over our brain, help fulfill our desire for stillness, and we say when we view the photo, I want to be there, or I want a garden with a hammock.
There are FOUR C’s to a relaxing hammock area:
Create a space where the shade is abundant. Hammocks can be hung between mature trees providing a blanket of shade, or a garden can host a freestanding hammock among emerging trees, or two poles could be installed and with vines planted alongside. Look for an idyllic corner; be like a bird making a nest. Look for the right location and then make that spot an intended destination with a path bordered by leafy ferns and white flowers.
Choose Calm. When choosing plants for a hammock garden, one must tailor the site while factoring in critical requirements like sunlight, water, climate, and soil type. Research plants that are known for their peaceful properties, or select a theme of all white flowers. Try edging your private retreat with large white-blooming shrubs. Delicate fragrances enhance a special hideaway and foster peace.
Plants like sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) make great conversation pieces in the garden. Medieval culture believed this plant calmed nerves and ensured satisfying sleep. With its green whorls of fragrant leaves and little white springtime flowers, it is a good plant for the deep shade and humusy soil at the base of a tree.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is an elegant addition to any shade garden. Many gardeners, who use natural remedies for aging, swear that drying the herb and sewing it in pillow sachets ensures a good night’s sleep, improves disposition, and keeps the body cool.
Add Curiosity. There is nothing like being surprised by beauty and art in a garden. Lie in the hammock and look up. Maybe climb the trees anchoring the hammock and wire artistic garden art, like a butterfly or bird. Whimsy evokes play, which reminds us life should have an element of humor to it. Hide surprises of small garden art that will delight the visitor. It is like you have let them in on a little secret: don’t take life or yourself too seriously. By adding curiosity, you have added humor, which releases endorphins, another great stress buster.
Think comfort. Lying in a hammock should be relaxing – not dangerous from hanging it too high, or too low. Use strong straps that are designed for hanging a hammock. Much like shopping for an easy chair, think about how you like to rest. A lot of space is a good thing. Once you have your lemonade and have gathered your reading material, you want to be able to spread out and feel like you are on your island. Some folks love the ENO brand, and carry them with them and hook up to trees in public parks or college campuses. The breathable, quick-drying nylon is easy to compress and pack. They are very sturdy made of new high technology nylon and weather extremely well.
Many choose a traditional cotton rope, or a thick cotton fabric –the choices can be endless, but choose comfort over looks. After all the plants in the garden capture the beauty of our world and the hammock provides the spot to stop and smell the roses, the herbs, and the fresh air while suspending us in a moment of grace.
A version of this article appeared in a April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Tricia Stearns, Rosemary Arnold, ©79mtk/shutterstock.com, ©joannawhuk/shutterstock.com