The Value of Therapeutic and Healing Gardens

The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) defines a healing garden as "plant dominated environments including green plants, flowers, water, and other aspects of nature. They are generally associated with hospitals and other healthcare settings, designated as healing gardens by the facility, accessible to all, and designed to have beneficial effects on most users." 

Rogers Behavioral Health Foundation


One simple, and irrefutable fact, before i give my long dissertation on a garden's healing and therapeutic value, which has proven to be immense.... Gardens and Nature Feel Good and Make You Feel Good. 
For most of us, growing and enjoying a garden is as simple and achievable as that.

For those who have physical limitations, it's not at all simple, and growing a garden could be viewed by many as non-achievable. There is a psychological need for hobby gardeners to continue gardening while living with physical challenges, and for some non-gardeners to begin to garden as a hobby and relaxing outdoor activity that is good for their health. And they can probably do so, even in a limited way. If we design gardens that adapt to a gardener's abilities and disabilities. Enabled Gardening.

If you think about all of the special gardens springing up in communities that are grown by disabled vets, children with developmental, physical or mental disabilities, and those recovering from addictions, abuse victims, disadvantaged or troubled youth - there's a lot of truth in the perceived healing abilities of gardens. Community gardens also heal. They heal neighborhoods, establish trust, and bring people together with a common connection to Nature and each other. You collectively nurture the garden, and the garden nurtures you. Physically and psychologically, through sunshine and hard work, which is rewarded at the end of the season with a bountiful and shared harvest. And potentially a few more friends. Vegetable gardens help heal the under-nourished and hungry, physically. Flower and fragrance gardens heal them and others who are troubled spiritually. These types of healing gardens require the physical ability to grow, maintain and harvest. 

For the physically challenged, but not hospitalized, being able to grow a garden can be healing, can enhance their health through time spent time outdoors doing a healthy bit of exercise, and it will help them nutritionally - because they will certainly be eating the fruits of their labor of love. Anyone can benefit from growing or working in a garden, big or small, for food or flowers, for most of their lives....if their physical challenges can be addressed during the planning of it, if they work with adaptive gardening tools, and if they get outside help with season's-end harvest or challenging garden chores, if and when they need it. 

A physically challenged person can spend many happy hours gardening and keeping busy. They have something special to look forward to for most of the year. They can divert difficult thoughts into the work at hand. And they will gain a certain amount of independence and a feeling of pride at what they can accomplish on their own. The mind will keep busy, agile and exercised, as they learn about botany and horticulture, and come up with a personalized plan to grow the world's biggest tomato or most beautiful prize-winning rose. 

The Healing and Therapeutic Garden have the same benefits for those who cannot perform any physical chores, or who are healing from devastating illnesses and injuries. It is for those who cannot create and maintain a garden, those who need a surrounding of peace to enhance physical recuperation in a medical facility, and those who need psychological respite while under medical care, that the therapeutic garden holds the most value. That type of garden can also heal the healers and caregivers. 

A therapeutic garden is an outdoor garden space that is specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden, as well as their caregivers and families.

We all need a respite now and then from all the distractions, losses or setbacks that our lives are subjected to. And the life  traumas that make us unwell and unsettled in body and spirit. There's a healing garden for everyone, because everyone needs one. The Therapeutic Garden is geared more toward scientific and medical healing of the severe attacks on our bodies and psyches. Those who are not physically challenged also need a healing space where we feel safe, feel good, and can unwind.

 A Healing Garden can be a large or small flower garden, a patio full of flowers and container plants, a courtyard, balcony or terrace. An informal, happy cottage garden, an area full of hanging plants, or an indoor garden. Whatever makes you sigh in relief and smile when you  finally get to sit down and wind down within that space. 

In the 5th century AD, gardens were generally perceived to contribute to the improvement of health and have been used as a place of respite from travels, to serve as a place to recover or recuperate from an illness, or to simply isolate the sick or infirm from the healthy individuals. Gardens located within Christian hospices in the Middle Ages emphasized charity and hospitality. Monasteries ministering to the sick and those who were labeled "insane" incorporated an arcaded courtyard where they could find shelter, sun, or shade in a human-scale, enclosed setting.


An option for creating pleasant sights and fragrances is to use flowering plants and vines that will cascade and drape across pathways and walls. These can help hide some of the sharp and rougher edges that might be visible, if they disturb your harmony. 

My seating areas are designed to face in directions of certain elements that soothe me. One faces the zen and butterfly gardens, another faces the bird habitat area with a water feature, small bog garden and bubbling birdbath fountains all around it. Another is tucked into a nook that's not very obvious, with just a small bistro table for one, a chair, fruit vines, and roses all around. The largest area is a patio with raised beds of herbs, with a screen of tall roses for my privacy while worshipping the sun. A simple arbor of roses and clematis passes through to the gardens. I can see almost all of the garden from every landscaped section, from each seating areas.

If you want to try and avoid sharpe lines and edges altogether, consider creating curving pathways and smooth edges throughout the space. It's easy and fairly inexpensive. Creating a walking path or a seating or meditation area in the garden, choose smooth stones and pavers help relax. I use stones of all sizes all around the garadens and edging. And I lay cedar walkways between garden areas and designating where i wish the flow to go. The walkways are about 8 ft. of connected planks in sections, and i use a lot of them. They also lend a great Asian and thoughtful atmosphere to my garden areas.

The element of sound or lack thereof is important. My pollinator gardens have bees and birds creating a habitat of peace and nature around me. I have solar fountains that fit into birdbaths and large bowls and have a variety of sprinkler heads. I include wooden deep-tone chimes and soothing asian bells. There is a much-appreciated sensory experience. I live in a fairly low traffic area in a quiet neighborhood. This is my healing sanctuary..

Scent is an important element in any garden. The honeysuckle, lilacs, summersweet, sweetspire, butterfly bushes and lilies are the best aromatherapy i have ever experienced. And it just grows up happily around me from spring until a killing frost. Naturally, the pretty butterflies that frequent the gardens all day lift my spirits. Trellises with clematis and honeysuckle, fenced areas are also covered with flowering vines, A simple metal arch covered in roses, and a wisteria vine climbing on it's supports makes my day. Warm light solar pathlights and mason jars with solar fairy lights, and the sounds of silence make my night. This is my healing space. And i'm grateful every day that i have that escape. I wish that for anyone who's body and spirit needs healing and peace.

My Meditation Garden page has a lot of design ideas you might like. So does my zen garden. So check them out., and enjoy the photos.

A few easy ideas you can use to create your own healing space or Meditation garden

-Add a seating area.
-Grow lots of fragrant flowering or foliage plants, and don't forget the herbs.

-For fragrance, the butterfly bush's intoxicating fragrance is a combination of vanilla and other exotics. Butterflies and bees cannot resist it, and neither can I. It's a long-lasting bloomer.
-Honeysuckle and lilac also perfume the air

-Surround the sitting area with clusters of brightly coloured flowers and herbs in pots. 
-You want to have a fragrant healing herb or two

-Install an arbor to watch birds, bees and butterflies among the climbing plants.

-Plant lots of containers full of perennials, dwarf citrus trees, and include small evergreens with soft and rounded shapes. -A container planting of Rush ornamental grass, Yucca with its swordlike foliage or airy Clumping Bamboo is atmospheric zen
-In fall, plant perennials and bulbs in containers and around plantings, shrubs and trees for that early spring fragrance and happy colors after the long winter.
-Consider adding a simple water feature, and a bird bath or fountain. The sound of water is soothing and beneficial to wildlife. My bird population, especially the youngest, splash around several times a day during summer's heat. All of my resident birds drink from the bubbling birdbaths frequently. I like the sounds of water movement along with birdsong.

-Stepping stones and wooden paths slow you down, and they look beautiful.
-Don't forget the windchimes and Temple Bells.
-Themed garden decor that feels relaxing or spiritual

The Therapeutic Garden

Therapeutic gardens, in the medical sense, can be found in a variety of settings, including hospitals, skilled nursing homes, assisted living residences, continuing care retirement communities, out-patient cancer centers, hospice residences, and other related healthcare and residential environments. The focus of the gardens is primarily on incorporating plants and friendly wildlife into the space. The settings can be designed to include active uses such as raised planters for horticultural therapy activities or programmed for passive uses such as quiet private sitting areas.

A therapeutic garden is "designed for use as a component of a treatment program such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, or horticultural therapy programs and can be considered as a subcategory of a healing garden." A therapeutic garden can be described as being therapeutic in nature when it has been designed to meet the needs of an individual or group. Individuals or groups strive to improve their well-being through active engagement by using plants and engaging in activities ranging from planting, growing and maintaining plants.

Activities may include: repetitive actions such as digging and watering, making observations about plant growth and change, relating plant life cycle to human life, and starting seeds. It has been suggested that things such as new growth on their plants can excite the caretaker, building up their confidence and increasing enthusiasm towards horticultural activities[. The impact that therapeutic horticulture has on both mind and body, as well as its ability to be undertaken in small spaces makes therapeutic horticulture an attractive option for smaller facilities.  A significant positive association with gardening was observed for a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms, stress, mood disturbance, and BMI, as well as increases in quality of life, sense of community, physical activity levels, and cognitive function.

The impact of the physical environment on the well-being and health of the patient has received extensive academic research and attention. In 1984, Roger Ulrich conducted a ground-breaking study comparing the positive effect of views of natural scenery, i.e., trees, on the recovery of patients from surgery to patients in similar conditions who were exposed to a view of a brick wall. He was the first to use the standards of modern medical research—strict experimental controls and quantified health outcomes—to demonstrate that gazing at a garden can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other ailments. Ulrich showed that in comparison with the wall-view group, the patients with the tree-view had the following results: shorter post-operative hospital stays; fewer negative evaluative comments from nurses; took less medication, and slightly lower scores for minor post-surgical complications.

Therapeutic dementia gardens (I hope we can someday come up with better-sounding descriptive name) are used to reduce the symptoms of the disorder without the use of drugs. 

A unique an interesting therapeutic garden located in White Plains, New York, has been designed specifically for dementia patients.  

Typically, therapeutic dementia gardens are square or round and create easy walking paths that follow these shapes. This elongated garden is split up into three distinct areas with two entrances, one from the dining room/kitchen, and the other from the activity room. Entrances are a very important part of dementia gardens. Because way-finding abilities can be damaged by the disease, clear way-finding strategies must be put into place. 

Entrances have to be thoroughly considered when designing a therapeutic dementia garden.Having the entrances be extremely obvious is one of the ways this is executed. Entrances should be visible from all places in the garden and should be very obvious that they are an entrance or exit. Another strategy that this particular garden uses is the use of colour, with a path painted onto the ground. Each distinct area of the garden is a different colour and is connected with a very obvious walking path for the patients to follow. The three areas of the garden include: “a covered front porch outside the kitchen; a park with circular benches between the two other areas and with no direct doorway inside; and a back yard with seating and a barbecue outside the second doorway.”

A very pretty design for a healing garden

Article ©2020

with compiled info from several 
Wikipedia entries and online sources

Recommended Reading - Therapeutic and Healing Gardens

Horticultural Therapy - Gardens and Farming For Veterans--->

Growing Enabled Gardens---->

Garden Based Learning for Children--->

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