A Perfect Gift!
If the December holiday crush finds you making long lists while drinking Tension Tamer tea you need to lay down that clenched pen and go outside for a walk through your garden. While you are outside shaking off today’s holiday and economic anxieties you may realize giving the revitalizing gift of time in nature would be perfect for everyone on your list! It is so hard to find a perfect gift, is it one that fits beautifully, or doesn’t need batteries, technical support and upgraded software? How wonderful to find a gift that can grow more dear over time and may be enjoyed again and again throughout the year. So how would one give a gift of nature? May I suggest a membership in the American Horticultural Society. This affordable gift will give your favorite people garden admission to over 240 public gardens, arboretums & conservatories throughout North America.
The value of a garden membership may seem obvious for master gardeners but I also suggest this gift for your overstressed sister-in-law, your workaholic brother, your tech absorbed nephew and your overachieving niece. Skeptics all perhaps, viewing public gardens as the land of little old ladies in hats. But evidence shows time spent in nature benefits everyone. Beyond the flowers, the trees and the unique plant life, gardens give us remarkable personal benefits. As gardeners we may know this instinctively but did you realize this is supported by scientific research and centuries of cultural teachings?
Recent research shows a walk in the woods provides us much more than simply a pleasant experience. Dr. Michael Berman at the University of Michigan tested 38 students for brain function and then the students were instructed to take a 3 mile walk. Some of the students walked through a busy urban area past retail shops and cafes. The remaining students walked through the university arboretum. At the completion of the walk all the students were retested for cognitive function and the students who walked through the arboretum scored significantly higher in brain function.
A walk through an urban area requires our brain to be constantly on guard, crossing the street, resisting shoe sales and peppermint lattes. Our brain functions as if we were working. A walk through a garden allows the brain to relax. Berman attributes the higher brain function to the restorative benefits of nature. Time in nature allows the brain to shift to “involuntary attention” noticing the soft fascinations of rustling leaves, rippling water, colors, patterns and scents found throughout the arboretum. Berman calls this Attention Restoration therapy (Psychological Science,Dec. 2008) Time spent in nature, in gardens is beneficial to to our brain. It provides a “mental break from the urban roil.”
Further benefits align with the spiritual and cultural practices taught throughout time. “For millennia and throughout world cultures, our predecessors conceived of human happiness in its perfected state as a garden existence.” (Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, RP Harrison) Gardens, whether large or small, symbolize hope and life. We may think we live in the most stressful of times but writings throughout the years have encouraged readers to return to the garden to cure their “weary nerves.” Buddha found enlightenment under a tree, Zen gardens incorporates elements of the landscape to foster meditation. The Shinto religion incorporates nature, Islam refuses to separate humanity from nature, while Judaism, Christianity, and Native American spiritual teachings all have creation stories which begin in a garden.
So a gift of gardens would give all those on your list access to restorative nature environments. The mission of the AHS is to make America “a nation of gardeners and a land of gardens.” The reciprocating admissions program is “designed to encourage people to visit gardens while traveling.” Participating gardens include our Desert Botanical Gardens, San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, Chicago, Missouri, Atlanta Botanical Gardens and many more.
You can do your shopping by connecting with the AHS website and send those gifts to faraway recipients with ease. If you have a gift for a local friend consider a membership to the Desert Botanical Garden which will connect you to the AHS reciprocating admissions program. Take a deep breath and relax, imagine your friend or family member experiencing that restful restorative time in nature and reflect on the words of Buddha:
If you are a happy person, a peaceful person,
Your family will benefit,
Your community will benefit,
Your world will benefit.
What better gift?
Previously published in Roots & Shoots