Will this post calm me down?

Two days ago, I wrote Read this post if you want to WAKE UP!!!

In this post I applied the principles of Sensory Integration therapy to garden design.  Sensory Integration relates to how our brain interprets sensory information from many channels in order to make sense of the world.  Some sensory inputs are alerting, some are calming, and some are disorganising.  Once we are aware of what our triggers are, we can use sensory stimulation to help alter our levels of arousal, focus or calm.

Alerting sensory inputs include:

  • crunching on crackers
  • walking barefoot on grass
  • drinking a cold, fizzy drink
  • watching fluttering leaves

Calming sensory inputs include:

  • humming to ourselves
  • carrying heavy bags
  • digging in the garden
  • looking closely at a flower

disorganising sensory inputs include:

  • a blast of noise from a hand-drier
  • being squirted with water
  • going out in windy weather
  • eating popping candy

Calming or alerting activities help us to re-establish organised responses to stimuli.  They can be used as an antidote to disorganising stimuli.  They can also be used to help us cope with fatigue or anxiety.  When we are tired or lacking in focus, we can use alerting stimuli.  When we are stressed or anxious, we can use calming stimuli.

These photos were all taken at Great Dixter on the same day as my previous post, but I find these images more calming.  Of course all of this is personal.

I love dogs, and so the sight of all these dachshunds was calming.  Feeling the weight of a warm dog on your lap with its regular breathing is calming.  Dogs like firm pressure and rhythmic stroking, and we get the calming benefits from bestowing this upon them.


This is a green roof over the loggia cafe at Great Dixter. Having a weight on our head, shoulders or lap is calming because it helps us to feel where we are in space.  If we are feeling stressed in a meeting, we can surreptitiously calm ourselves by knitting our hands together and then pressing them firmly down on top of our heads.  The deep pressure grounds us.


This picture has calming colours, but the textures are alerting and if we were suddenly brushed by them, they could be disorganising.  Swishing grasses can be calming if the movement is regular, but if there are swirling sudden gusts of wind, it is disorganising.


I gazed at these seedheads for quite some time because I loved the patterns and textures.  Because they were quite still, I found them calming and alerting.  I could control how they moved.  The way they felt was consistent with how they looked.


I find that the repeated colour, shape and pattern of this euonymus, along with the softly fading background, is calming.


The different angles of stems could tip over into disorganising, but I generally find that white is calming.  Particularly with green.  I think our brains are wired to find natural colours calming.


The higher contrast of the pale flowers and dark foliage of this dahlia is more alerting.


I wonder if I find Great Dixter an exciting and relaxing place to be because there is a good balance of alerting and calming planting schemes? Christopher Lloyd was not averse to setting the cat among the pigeons, making use of the odd disorganising colour clash. Maybe I am a thrill-seeker too?

Here are some fireworks to see if you are too?


We will have to calm down with some deep pressure to the head.  How about a dinnerplate dahlia?


This ivy was buzzing with bees.  A low hum is calming.


The coherence of greens and golds is also calming, with alerting points of interest to guide our focus.


If we focus our gaze first on one flower and then the next, and notice the similarities and repeating patterns, this is calming.


Solid stone walls are calming.  Particularly if their edges are softened with self-sown plants of similar hues.  Watching others being quietly absorbed in what they are doing is also calming.


I find these tones of pink, white, brown and sage very restful.


Is someone trying to disorganise us?

We can regain our equanimity be focusing in on detail.


Focusing first on one thing, and then on another.


We can control our own focus of attention, which is calming.  Have you ever found yourself examining the network of lines on your hands when you are in a tight spot?



Gazing into water is very calming.  Our brains like the ripples and waves.  Water boatmen and pond-skaters are delightfully alerting.  As are the contrasting colours and shapes of dahlias and salvia.


Warm sunlight on a still day is calming.


These autumn-flowering crocuses invite our close and calm attention.  The network of veins mirrors our own.  It is a pattern used in Gothic arches and stained glass windows.  I wonder if there was a subconscious awareness of its calming effects?


I hope that this post gave you a little oasis of calm in a hectic day.  Do you agree with my assessment of calming colours and shapes?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Do you have any other techniques to calm yourself in stressful situations?

The Mindful Gardener is a website designed to bring a sense of wonder and calm and peacefulness in a frantic world.

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18 Comments Add yours

  1. I went to Dixter last week and loved it of course. I enjoyed reading your take on things in the garden as it opened my eyes to things I didn’t realise I had noticed.

    1. Ali says:

      Dixter is currently my favourite garden to visit. It’s such a special place.

      1. Couldn’t agree more

  2. photosociology says:

    Great post. I hadn’t fully considered this before. Photography can help to stimulate me, or calm and ground me. Today has been for a bit of both.

    1. Ali says:

      Taking and looking at photos is quite powerful, isn’t it? I guess it’s good to know we have a choice about what we look at depending on what our minds and bodies need at that moment.

  3. shazza says:

    I found your post to be an oasis of calm . 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, that’s good to know, Shazza!

  4. Just lovely, and I’ve not really looked at gardens this way though as I read I realised it’s something we do naturally. Just off to read the wake up post now!

  5. Not a hectic day for me as I’m reading your post on a Sunday, but a less than calm mind after cleaning up dog piddle twice today (not, he’s not a puppy but a five-year-old adult dog). Your pictures and words soothed me. Now I’m calm again. This post could be re-titled something like “The Psychology of Flowers” perhaps. That’s what it’s about. Love it!

    1. Ali says:

      I am glad it helped you at a challenging time. My dogs occasionally do inexplicably naughty things!

  6. Heyjude says:

    I’m not a dachshund fan, but the photo / expression of that long-haired dachshund is beautiful. I haven’t owned a dog for many, many years, but did find stroking a cat to be very calming. Haven’t had one of those for a while now either.

    1. Ali says:

      It is a particularly fine dog, isn’t it?

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    Interesting food for thought, Ali. I think a visit to Dixter would definitely calm me down, snuggling with cute dogs, or at least a walk in nature always does.

  8. Lovely as usual! Gardening is my go-to for calming. When I can’t do that, I like to listen to John Denver sing familiar favorites. Another trick, especially when I can’t sleep, is to listen to repeats of low-key HGTV shows like Property Brothers or Fixer Upper. There is something reassuring about Jonathan and Drew, and Chip and Joanna. Even when things go wrong, there isn’t a lot of drama, and it all works out in the end.

    1. Ali says:

      That is a great collection of soothers. I have a few favourite albums I return to when I need comfort too.

  9. M.B. Henry says:

    These pictures calm me down because they’re lovely

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