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Cultivating Well-Being Through Gardening: 3 Tips from D.C. Based Landscape Designer Steven Mackler

The Autumn season is upon us, and as I spent the weekend trimming back spent perennials and collecting seed heads, I considered what elements of the garden worked, and what did not. Every year I consider expanding the front gardens – or not. As winter sets in, I get out my gardening books and begin sketching out new ideas. Should I expand the patio? Add a water feature? And how can I make my backyard less mosquito friendly!?

These questions led me to this article on the Sotheby’s International Real Estate blog. Probably the one I should take to heart is “Think Deep, and Start Small” as I tend to use “garden” as a noun and not a verb. See which tip speaks to you. Excerpts from the article appear below. Read the entire Interview with Landscape Designer Steven Mackler for Sotheby’s International Realty here.

A lot has changed over the course of Steven Mackler’s 45-year career in gardening—and much of it has been for the better. “There’s been a tremendous increase in beautiful new plant varieties and cultivars, and the ability for both professional and lay gardeners to access them,” he explains. That’s why he encourages every homeowner to get better acquainted with their gardens, whether indoor or outdoor.

Mackler’s company, The Landscape Group LTD (and also known as TLG Design), has created award-winning gardens for both residential and commercial properties since 1978, with a focus on high-end single-family homes. But as the founder and principal of the firm, Mackler is adamant that anyone can enhance their quality of life, and the aesthetics of their space, by nurturing a green environment of their own. Here, he offers advice on how to do just that, no matter what kind of property you have.

Think Deep, and Start Small

Don’t take on more than you can handle,” says Mackler. “Start with a small space that really matters to you and needs improvement, and get control of it.” Once you have a defined area to focus on, it can become a personal passion project to decide what will bring joy and beauty to your life.

Build Around the Hardscape

All homes have outdoor and indoor features that define the shape and space of the garden. For landscape professionals like Mackler, these fixed, non-natural areas are known as the hardscape.

Along with the plants themselves, you can add new paving patterns, colorful planters in any shape and size, distinctive or intimate water features that add movement and sound to the space, and of course comfortable outdoor furniture to help bring the built environment to life. But all of this should serve to elevate the architecture of the home.

Prioritize All of Your Senses

Natural spaces are inherently good for mental health. Colors such as blue and green, which mirror the sky, water, and trees, are relaxing on an instinctual level, and studies show that time spent in nature helps to reduce blood pressure, improve cognitive function, and decrease the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

As Mackler explains, it’s essential that gardens are a holistic experience—after all, beauty isn’t just perceived through the eyes.

“I’ve always tried to play upon the five senses in the garden,” he says—and the science backs him up. Phytoncides, a chemical produced by plants and trees, is great for the immune system, and is likely responsible for several benefits of shinrin-yoku—or “forest bathing”—an age-old Japanese practice that has recently gained immense popularity in the contemporary world.

“I’d encourage every person to work with plants and put their hands in the soil,” says Mackler.

“It connects you physically, intimately, and immediately to the planet. With everything happening in the world right now, the Earth has become something that we need to understand more than ever. We have to understand our place here, and how we can each help in our own little way to make it a better, cleaner, and safer place.”


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