Like so many others around the world, I’ve been “grounded” by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve found myself unexpectedly at home since mid-March. This is the first summer we haven’t been in Europe for almost 20 years. But inspired by the many types of gardens I’ve experienced in Europe, this year I’m finding happiness in flowers.
As I shared in my last two blog posts, I’m continuing to Seek Simplicity and Make Lemonade. Although our planned European Experiences tours haven’t been possible so far this year, we’ve been fortunate to stay healthy. (I hope that you and those you’re close to have stayed safe and healthy too.)
But in the meantime I’ve found some silver linings in this dark cloud. I have time to work on improvements and plans for future trips, and I have time for projects and hobbies I’ve put aside for many years.
Perhaps my greatest pleasure this summer is working in my garden, focusing on the small areas in front of and on the side our home. These are areas that get good sun, that we see often, and that our neighbors can also enjoy. Since we’re usually in Europe from April/May to early August, I’ve done very little gardening the last several years. After years of enjoying the bountiful flowers and gardens of Europe, in 2020 I’m finding happiness in my own flowers.
We’re also enjoying growing some plants we can eat, since cooking is another big project in this summer of 2020. We have a container herb garden on the sunny area of our back porch—- where the basil is especially bountiful– and Charley has a few tomato plants in a hidden spot on the side.
I spend about an hour a day tending to our small garden, usually in the early morning before it gets too hot. I putter around… watering, deadheading, weeding, digging… and I enjoy observing the way nature changes on a daily basis. Bees and butterflies are now regular visitors, and I’m trying to attract hummingbirds. When I need a mental-health break, I just go outside and make a little tour of our colorful garden for five minutes. Or I look out my office windows at the pretty new window boxes. Just a few minutes looking at nature and flowers helps!
Inspired by Europe’s Formal Gardens
I’ve learned a lot about gardens through my European travels, as I’ve been fortunate to visit many spectacular gardens in England, France and Italy. Most of our trips include a visit to at least one garden, and we had been looking forward to a special Cotswold Gardens week this month.
I especially enjoy the gardens in England (in the Cotswolds, Cornwall, and Kent), where the mild climate and rich soil help plants, shrubs and trees flourish. Gardening and visiting gardens are popular pastimes in England, and there are hundreds of gardens and arboretums open to visitors on a regular basis. Some gardens are part of historic homes or castles and others are privately-owned. The National Trust cares for over 200 parks and gardens, including several that we visit on our Cotswolds and Cornwall trips. The National Garden Scheme opens privately owned gardens in England and Wales on selected dates for charity, and lists over 3,500 gardens on its website.
France also has a big emphasis on gardens, and their Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France (Committee for Parks and Gardens of France) lists over 1,500 gardens on their website: large and small, public and private, open regularly or by appointment. More than 300 of these gardens have been designated as jardins remarquables (remarkable gardens); we visit several of these with our groups. I’m always proud to take people to the exquisite jardin de la Louve, a private garden in our own village of Bonnieux, where the owner hosts our visit.
Italy also promotes its spectacular gardens. Grandi Giardini Italiani (Great Italian Gardens) is an association of over 80 major gardens in Italy and Malta.
Inspired by Europe’s Personal Gardens
But although I love the big showcase gardens, tended by professional gardeners and open to the public, the gardens that most inspire me in Europe are the personal gardens: someone’s own little patch of loveliness, carefully cared for by the homeowner, shopkeeper or small business owner.
I love the priority that many small villages and towns in Europe place on decorating with flowers, enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors. France has a special designation for villes et villages fleuris (towns and villages in bloom), recognizing over 4,900 communities based on the efforts of the local government, homeowners and businesses to create an attractive environment and enhance the quality of life.
Finding Happiness in Flowers
Research has shown flowers make people happy! We respond to the colors, the scents, the arrangement… flowers actually stimulate a reaction in our brain. We feel a greater sense of well-being and trust; we feel more relaxed, especially important during the unsettling time of the pandemic. (See this recent article in Vogue magazine.)
Gardens can be cultivated for flowers or growing food; used as spaces for exercise, relaxation, solace and recovery; or used as places to play, meet and volunteer. A major health care study in England in 2016 estimated that 87% of English households have a garden and that gardening and spending time in gardens have a positive impact on overall health and mental health. Perhaps more of us should pursue interests involving gardens!
I’ve done my own informal research project the last four months. Every day since March 19 (130 days now), I’ve posted a daily photo or a set of photos on our European Experiences Facebook page. The photos have covered a broad range of places in Europe and a variety of subject matter: coastal scenery, cities and villages, animals, food, historic sites, unique buildings, people, gardens and flowers. Most of the photos that have received a high response had a focus on flowers or gardens, including the four photos with the most reactions, comments and shares. All four of those photos are included in this post.
I’m still learning and experimenting with my own garden here in humid East Tennessee, but I can personally attest that it’s given me—and my neighbors—a great deal of pleasure.
Even though I’m not in Europe this summer, I’m inspired by the gardens and flowers I’ve experienced in Europe, and I’m finding happiness in flowers. I hope you found some happiness among these flowers here today!
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Learn more about our European Experiences involving gardens and flowers in these blog posts:
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has personally organized and hosted over 150 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, the Cotswolds, and Normandy. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host The Cornwall Experience and our Christmas trips with Kathy every year.
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.