Sound in the garden


Sound is often a secondary consideration when we think about the garden. In the garden, the sounds that we hear are often be ‘borrowed’ from the wider landscape. Most gardens will never be entirely silent, whether it is birdsong, running water or the wind rustling the leaves, there is always ambient noise. Many of us enjoy the calm and quiet that being outdoors provides. Its a chance to escape the hectic clamour of our everyday lives, which are all too often filled with an overwhelming surplus of sound.

A report from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1992) found “there is growing evidence that noise adversely affects general health, and the cardiovascular system particular.” A report by Dr Rokho Kim on behalf of the World Health Organisation (2011) stated that “exposure to excessive noise is second only to air pollution as a cause of environmental ill health.” Last Autumn, even my local area hit the headlines when the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents Association (in North London) proposed a system of football style yellow and red cards would be handed out to residents who excessively used noisy garden machinery.

In 1959, to combat the ever increasing volume of modern life, the Noise Abatement Society was set up. They have successfully campaigned to introduce legislation on noise pollution. In 2012 they introduced the ‘Quiet Mark’. To gain accreditation tools are assessed by a team of acoustic experts to see if they really do produce reduced noise levels, whilst still being able to do the job.

Careful planting can provide some acoustic protection in the garden, reducing both the flow of noise in and out. The best plants for reducing sound are dense evergreens, like Thuja, or Lawson’s Cypress. Unfortunately, even a dense hedge, several meters wide will only reduce noise by around 25%. A wall or fence (at least 2m high) will also provide a reduction in airflow and can reduce noise levels by up to 50% in some circumstances. 

Given the din all around us, it comes as no surprise there has been a renewed interest in the Quiet Garden Movement. Started over 20 years ago, the main aim of the movement is to preserve the peace and quiet of a variety of outdoor spaces to provide a sanctuary for rest, contemplation, and inspiration. The opportunity to have time in a peaceful space promotes rest, refreshment, provides an opportunity to wonder at the beauty of the world and can be helpful for our health and wellbeing. I find that having a chance to take more notice of my environment enhances my relationship to it and encourages me to take better care of the world around me. There are currently over 300 gardens signed up to the Quiet Garden Movement worldwide. This summer many gardens in the UK are taking part in the Silent Spaces project and will have areas of the garden reserved for silence. This project in conjunction with the Landscape, Gardens and Health Network hopes to be able to study in more depth some of the health and wellbeing benefits of quiet spaces. 
Go to Silent Spaces to see the gardens taking part.

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Author: jlrobbins

I grow plants

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