Neighbourhood Watch Reimagined
While Sydney is under lockdown, to a greater or lesser extent depending on where you live, leaving the house for an hour’s exercise is one of the few things we’re all still allowed to do. That’s because there’s an understanding amongst health professionals that getting out into the fresh air brings with it a connection to the natural world that running on a treadmill at home just can’t match.
Studies around the world have now confirmed what garden lovers and bushwalkers have long known – that the natural environment has beneficial effects on our mental health and wellbeing.
Design consultant at Secret Gardens, Mark Curtis, says as winter makes way for spring, it’s the perfect opportunity to take some time out and enjoy the public and private gardens in our neighbourhoods.
“Going outside presents us with a mental refresh and time for reflection on the seasonal changes in nature,” he says. “Given the environment we are all in and that everyone is talking about wellbeing, it’s a chance to slow down a bit.”
“Going outside presents us with a mental refresh and time for reflection on the seasonal changes in nature. Given the environment we are all in and that everyone is talking about wellbeing, it’s a chance to slow down a bit.”
Even if you’re not much of a green thumb, Mark says it’s not difficult to see when trees and shrubs have gone from bare branches to flowering or coming into leaf.
“The magnolia trees and jasmine are in flower now,” he says. “They’re even more beautiful because those flowers are so delicate and they only last for a matter of weeks.”
While Sydney is blessed with some of the most accessible parks and reserves in the country, not everyone has public green space within walking distance of their own home. Mark says neighbourhood gardens can often fill the gaps.
“We are a little obsessed with privacy but generally, you still have an opportunity to have a little look in the neighbours’ front gardens,” he says.
Depending on how well you know the neighbours, it’s preferable to adopt a ‘look but don’t touch’ policy with private gardens. But if you’re more accustomed to jogging on rather than taking life at a slower pace, literally stopping to smell the roses can feel a bit odd at first.
Try seeing your neighbourhood through a child’s eyes. Small children often have a keen eye for detail and can be more aware of their immediate environment, such as dew on spiders’ webs, birdsong and flower fragrances. If you do have younger children, let them lead the walk without being in a hurry to move on when they stop to look.
If you do want to get your daily dose of aerobic exercise, Mark says you can still enjoy your preferred park at a pace.
“In my daily routine, I go for a jog early in the morning,” he says. “But I am mentally preparing myself for what is around the corner and what changes I might see.”
As we move on from this mandated isolation period, Mark says these mindfulness practices we’re learning now will continue to have value as we all gain a deeper appreciation and gratitude for our green city.
“People are looking for an opportunity to hit the reset button,” he says. “It’s something I am conscious of more than I ever have been – to be more aware of how the plants and gardens are growing and changing with the seasons.
“It might be one of the few positives out of this experience.”
Try these simple ideas to explore your own green spaces:
- Go it alone. If you’re meeting a friend in your LGA for a walk, chances are you’ll have a lot to catch up on. Taking a walk on your own will make you more aware of your surrounds.
- Take your time. The more you look, the more you will see.
- Walk the same route again a couple of weeks apart to spot the changes to the plants, particularly now as we head into spring.
- Don’t rush the kids. With most activities on hold, this is precious time to let them wander, ask questions and explore the natural world around them.
- Stay in the moment. Resist the urge to pull your phone out to grab shots for your Instagram feed and just enjoy being there.
- Be open to all your senses – the sweet scent of jasmine, the wind moving through the trees, the velvet touch of fallen magnolia flowers.
- Be aware of your neighbourhood streetscape. This will often provide a sense of place and identity.
- Use the opportunity to increase your own awareness of the different plants. Which plants speak to you and why? Where have you seen this plant before?