“Can Pastoral Beauty Heal the Mind?” Therapeutic Landscapes in Psychiatric Hospitals

Image of Naumkeg Orchard courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

Jane Roy Brown’s article, “Can Pastoral Beauty Heal the Mind” in this year’s Library of American Landscape History‘s annual journal, View, caught my eye last week. In two pithy pages (pp. 11-12), Brown provides an overview of the history of Northern State Hospital in Washington, a psychiatric hospital built at the turn of the twentieth century. The 227-acre hospital campus, as well as the adjacent 720-acre farm, were designed by John Charles Olmsted (yes, son of Frederick Law) and James Frederick Dawson of the Olmsted Brothers firm between 1910 and 1913.

The landscape architects designed several institutional landscapes, and Northern State Hospital was but one example of the ethos of the time in sanitoria and psychiatric institutions, when fresh air, proximity to and contact with nature, and gardening and farming were thought to be not only beneficial to the patient but in many cases a vital part of treatment. Brown says that “…the property is a rare intact example of an institutional landscape that reflected a Reform-era therapeutic approach to illness and disability, emphasizing the spiritual and moral benefits of nature,” (p. 12).

In researching the historic section of my chapter on psychiatric hospitals for Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes’ Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, I came across many such examples, and was intrigued by the cyclical nature of how people view, value, and utilize “nature.” Fortunately, we seem to be in another age where people see nature, and the environment (hello, green movement) as something worth working with and fighting for. I do worry sometimes that history will repeat itself and we’ll one day turn out backs on nature again, but I’m hoping that perhaps for once, history will not repeat itself, or if it does, it won’t be for a long, long time.

In addition to the chapter above, here are a few more good resources; some are already on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network‘s site (re-launch of new site coming soon!) and some will be added in the near future:

Barnhart, S., N. H. Perkins, and J. FitzSimons (1998). “Behavioural and Setting Preferences at a Psychiatric Hospital.” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 42, Nos. 2-4, pp. 147-157.

Gerlach-Spriggs, Nancy, Richard Enoch Kaufmann and Sam Bass Warner, Jr. (1998). Restorative Gardens. See especially the chapter on Friends Hospital

Frangipani’s fascinating and beautifully illustrated Flickr post on the Oriental Gardens at Callan Park (or Rozelle Hospital, near Lilyfield, Australia – see this Wikipedia entry for more information).

Hickman, Clare (2006). “Therapeutic Gardens: An Overview of the History of Hospital Gardens in England from 1800.” Bristol University, UK. Paper Presented at the Forum UNESCO University and Heritage 10th International Seminar “Cultural Landscapes in the 21st Century.”

Kovary, Myra M. (1999). “Healing Landscapes: Design Guidelines for Mental Health Facilities.” Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, Cornell University.
A similar version of Kovary’s thesis was published with the same title as Chapter 12 of Shoemaker, Candice A. (Ed.) (2002). Interaction by Design: Bringing People and Plants Together for Health and Well-Being. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Press.
If you’d like an electronic copy of this thesis, contact the author: mmk29@cornell.edu.

Neuberger, Konrad R. “Horticultural Therapy in a Psychiatric Hospital: Picking the Fruit.” Note: I found this pdf on the web, and it’s Chapter 34 of ??? Need to do a little digging – no pun intended – to find out what it’s Ch. 34 of. If anyone knows, please help me out!

Regnier, Victor (2002). Design for Assisted Living: Guidelines for Housing the Physically and Mentally Ill. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

And as always, if you know of other good references or resources, please leave a comment.