Landscaper Lily Kwong is all about plant mindfulness

LLandscape architect Lily Kwong sits in JW’s herb and flower garden Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, a garden she designed and created that led a group of us journalists through a breathing exercise. Pure, belly-deep. Let it out. Just. We’ll breathe for a few more minutes before we switch gears to talk about the concept for the garden we’re in.

For Kwong, mindfulness and plant life are one and the same. As the founder of Studio Lily Kwong, a next generation landscape design studio, her mission is to reconnect people with nature. Now she’s teamed up with JW Marriott to open Gardens — at Desert Springs Resort & Spa, but also at JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Essex House New York — that are a sort of vegetable garden with a twist native vegetation and herbs. They will support the resorts’ culinary endeavors, but also serve as an educational and recreational center for all guests wishing to explore each area. “For me, [mindfulness and landscape] are a fully integrated experience,” says Kwong. “It’s my own brand of wellness and self-care—plant life. It completely resets my entire energy field.”

We sat down with Kwong to talk about their Marriott partnership, how everyone is naturally a plant person, and the idea that plants reflect the care we take about ourselves.

About mindfulness and nature

A walk in nature is like connecting to a source. I’m sure you’re probably familiar with shinrin-yoku, the idea of ​​forest bathing, where it drastically reduces inflammation, stresses people out, all those things that have incredible physiological benefits. Therefore, longer stays in nature are very important for my mental health and well-being.

About gardening and connection

Gardening is a very meditative experience. It’s also a very humbling experience. I think for me it taught me a lot of humility. There’s a reason things like scrubbing the floors are part of a form of spiritual training. It’s like this way of getting down to earth, doing something repetitive, doing something where you can turn off your analytical brain, is something that can be really healing, especially in our time, in our culture You’re constantly overstimulated and kind of over-firing and over-thinking.

I think the studies show that Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. That’s amazing. And of course that would disrupt your kind of rhythms – circadian rhythms, your stress levels. So I think practices that get people outside can be incredibly healing.

About her thoughts on cultivating plants as meditation

Most people’s plants die because they don’t really listen to them. Plants will tell you pretty clearly if they need water or if they’re overwatered. Usually it is a watering problem. They are either overwatered or underwatered.

For me I stick my finger in the soil and like to bake a cake, if the soil comes up and covers my finger it’s too wet. And I leave it. So that’s it. That’s a very practical thing, but I think the more vigorous advice is to just take a second to check in with your houseplants each day. It can be a split second, but often people aren’t prepared for it. And so there is suffering, and they have been crying out for water for days, and then it is too late.

Then the second reason they usually die is sun exposure – they either don’t get enough sun or get too much sun. My Plant Yoda Guru always says, “Right plant, right place.” For example the fiddler fig, it needs a lot of sunlight. While like philodendrons, these rather large, tropical foliage plants, they can do with a bit more shade.

From the myth of not being a “plant person”.

The number of times people find out what I’m doing, or they know what I’m doing, and they say, “Oh, I can’t keep a plant alive,” is just so common. And it’s so sad to me that people feel like they are deadly to their plant. I just think we’re very similar to them. It’s like we need care. we need water We need nutrients. We need to be heard.

We all have a birthright. Every single one of our ancestors was connected to plants. They were, otherwise your line would have died out. This is something that is buried very deep in our DNA and our intuition somewhere. Some people buried much, much deeper.

We are part of the natural world. We are part of an ecosystem. For me it’s really sensitivity. It’s just paying attention, really listening. If you kill your plant, think about why you killed it before you just throw it away. Take some mental notes, apply it, buy the same plant, try again.

So finding a familiarity and intimacy with plants again, I think that would solve a lot. They are not these mystical, mysterious creatures that are completely alien to us. They all always surround us, even if we are in a big city. It is as if there are plants in the planting beds and the window sills inside. They’re all over. It’s all about attention.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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