Spring is here! With blossom on the trees and bluebells on forest floors, head to your nearest green space and feel your mood lift.

This article has been adapted from the original by Louise Wates, first published in print in Spring 2019.

If you ever think of going to Japan, try to plan your visit for springtime when (if you time it right) you can enjoy the atmosphere of the hanami — the cherry blossom festival, or ‘flower viewing’.

I have been lucky enough to experience the cherry blossom season a couple of times, to see the trees showing off their magnificent displays of delicate flowers, and to taste wonderful, delicate, seasonally-themed cakes that (so I was told) were only available for as long as the fleeting season lasted.

But because Mother Nature doesn’t follow a strict timetable, it can be devilishly tricky to time your trip right — and if you do it will probably be down to more luck than design.

Dating back to the fifth century, hanami celebrates the arrival of spring.

Although only in full bloom for about a week, the trees are a welcome sight, especially in a grey, urban setting, so it is hardly surprising that people will get together to share picnics under the trees.

It is a simple act that should take little more than an agreement of where to meet, and could be a pleasurable way to mark the end of the long winter.

But if you want to fully-immerse yourself in nature, Japanese-style, take yourself off to a forest — ideally where there is a canopy of trees.

Being in a forest, breathing consciously and walking in a relaxed way is known in Japan as ‘forest bathing’ — or shinrin-yoku.

It’s a practice that has been growing in popularity even outside of Japan, and one that could have benefits beyond simply relaxing the senses.

Health benefits of spending time in nature

Being close to nature not only exposes us to a variety of bacteria, which can boost our gut microbiome, but it is also good for our mental wellbeing.

Studies have shown that getting out and about not only helps lower stress levels and improve mood, but can even improve short-term memory.

And, apparently, it is Mother Nature who makes all the difference, as research reveals that subjects who walk in urban settings do not experience the same benefits to mood or memory as those who walk in a natural setting.

Other research has also found that spending time in nature has therapeutic effects on individuals suffering with hypertension, and improves inflammation levels.

Additional potential benefits may even include helping our eyesight — at least in children and teenagers — as it has been found that getting outside, even during break-time at school, reduces the risk of developing myopia (short-sightedness).

Spring and summer offer an excellent opportunity to get out of the house and blow the cobwebs away.

If you have felt a bit like a bear emerging from its winter snooze in a cave, then poking your nose into the light could help lower your stress levels and improve your mood.

Beautiful places to explore near you

Here in the UK and in other countries, we might not have access to the fantastic displays of cherry blossom that some Japanese take for granted, but there are plenty of other blooms that herald the arrival of longer days and warmer weather.

If you are looking for inspiration, the National Trust website has a page dedicated to information on where we can see tree blossoms, from Acorn Bank in Cumbria, all the way down to Cotehele in Cornwall, with varieties of fruiting trees on display across England and Wales.

The same website also lists places of natural beauty, including ancient woods where we can enjoy glorious displays of bluebells or daffodils.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) website is also worth looking at for forthcoming events.

A spokeswoman told us that a perfect place to enjoy spring is “the beautiful orchard at RHS Garden Wisley [in Surrey] which will put on a lovely display of cherry, pear and apple blossom in the spring, and can be appreciated from the viewing mount which gives a view across the orchard”.

If you want something closer to home and free of charge, consider local beauty spots, parks, and riverbanks.

If you can’t make it to the countryside, just walking, even in an urban environment, offers the opportunity to spend time with others — something that is shown to improve stress levels and boost our mood.

You could even join a walking group, such as the Ramblers, to get walking with others.

After I poked my nose out of my own winter cave, I felt quite inspired and am already enjoying the spring blossoms on the trees and the flowers emerging from their slumber.

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