How to - Gardening Resources

Turn your landscape into a fitness garden

Natalie DiScala
Photography by
Bob Dunlop

Shawn Gallaugher explains his "Otium" garden concept and provides tips for creating your own

You know how it is after you’ve spent hours outside in the garden. Between the constant bending and digging and pulling, your muscles can feel like they’ve been put through the ringer. But this isn’t the only way to get a workout in the garden. The Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden featured at Canada Blooms in March 2013 is an innovative outdoor concept designed by Shawn Gallaugher, principal of Shawn Gallaugher Design. Otium is a designed landscape garden that provides opportunities to do boot-camp-style exercises to strengthen one’s health, well-being and connection to nature.

Curious about what the Otium concept is all about, and how we could incorporate some of Shawn’s ideas into our own gardens, we checked in with the designer to learn more. How did you come up with the Otium concept?

Shawn Gallaugher: Several experiences happened within a short time period, which led me to develop the Otium concept. First, I was taking boot camp exercise classes and was yearning to go outside rather than be in a gym. Secondly, one day, I left my cottage for a 30-minute drive to the recreation centre to exercise and it was closed. I ended up having one of the best workouts using their stairs, railing, bench and hallway. This led me to believe I could use elements other than exercise equipment for a challenging workout. Thirdly, I was working for athletes and health-conscious clients, designing their cottage landscapes and noticed they were exercising in basements or the backs of their garages (or leaving their homes and cottages for gyms). I thought, ‘why not create an exercise circuit in combination with their landscape plan so that they could combine their passion for exercise with being outdoors in their garden?’ What are the basic principles of the Otium Exercise Garden?

SG: Otium is a name that I have coined for an outdoor exercise garden. Eighteenth century Italian villas would often have an Otium, which was a pavilion in the landscape used to exercise and discuss intellectual pursuits. In an Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden, the landscape features are designed to double as apart of an exercise circuit. For instance, a paving pattern in the driveway or patio may be an aesthetic pattern but it also functions as markers in the landscape to run back and forth to. There may be steps that double for jumping on or various heights of retaining walls for stepping up to. The landscape is designed with an exercise circuit in mind so that the garden can be used as an outdoor gym.


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