An important element of a healing garden is wildlife. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, authors of The Experience of Nature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), have studied environments that elicit “soft fascination,” which “occurs when there is interest in the surroundings sufficient to hold one’s attention while allowing room for reflection.” (You can view the abstract for “The Monastery as a Restorative Environment” on the InformeDesign website, at www.informedesign.umn.edu/Rs_detail.aspx?rsId=2191).
Supporting and observing wildlife invites soft fascination, which can reduce stress and restore cognitive function. Songbirds and hummingbirds to watch and listen to; butterflies to observe as they float on the breeze and glide from flower to flower; honeybees and bumble bees to nurture as they buzz around gathering pollen. Not to mention all of the smaller creatures like ladybugs, praying mantises, and earthworms that keep our gardens healthy. The Therapeutic Landscapes Database lists a few good references on their Plants and Links pages for creating wildlife habitat, but the National Wildlife Federation website is also a great place to start.
In fact, The NWF has a certification program for creating wildlife habitats; they’ll even give you this cool sign to post in your garden once you’ve completed the four basic steps of providing food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Go to www.nwf.org/backyard for more information.
Last October when I was in Chicago, I drove to Evanston (a suburb adjacent to Chicago) to see the house my mother grew up in. I was delighted to see that its current owners are avid gardeners who have one of those NWF signs. Below are a few images from the house. Note their clever solution to a blank, windowless wall!