“Gardening is one of the most healing, beautiful things…”

Allison Vallin June chive bee

Photo courtesy of Allison Vallin at

That’s how this comment from Stacy on the My Garden Saved My Life post started, and as she put it so well, I’m sharing it here as another guest blog post:

“Gardening is one of the most healing, beautiful things I know of.  I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia and am only able to do a fraction of what I used to do.  But gardening is only partly about doing.  A lot of it is about being–being outside, watching the seasons unfold, smelling honeysuckle on the breeze, observing the lives of bumblebees and toads and birds.  (And flowers, of course.)  In addition to a small townhouse garden that has perennial beds, I have a 2′ x 4′ “micro-garden” that my Dad has built a frame for.  It stands at waist height so that I don’t even have to bend down to work in it, and I grow vegetables in it almost all year long.  I’ve never gotten over the awe of watching seedlings sprout–that sense of “Oh, my gosh, it worked again!”  To be given that gift of wonder and joy–it’s just priceless when you’re ill. (Or even when you’re well.) Isolation is one of the most difficult facets of chronic illness, and being in a garden reminds you that you really are a part of the world around you.”

Thank you, Stacy! Stacy has her own blog, which is here:

“My Garden Saved My Life.”

Lotus flower

Image courtesy of Henry Domke,

This is a really sweet sweet idea. Readers were asked to submit a paragraph about how “my garden saved my life,” with an accompanying image. Here are two excerpts:

In Tune with Nature
For me, it is simply the age-old connection to the earth itself. To dig in the ground, to watch new life spring forth, to reap the rewards of beautiful plants, flowers, maybe some edible fruits, vegetables, or herbs … that is all so enriching. And time spent in my garden is time spent away from every stressful thing in my life. I don’t think of it as me being in control of anything … I think of it as me being a PART of it all. Part of the earth, part of the plants, part of the seasons. Just in tune with nature, through and through.

Battling Breast Cancer
During my recent treatment for breast cancer, being in my garden helped me immensely. Although I couldn’t do much, just being outside and taking in the flowers, vegetables and all of the critters that go with a garden made me feel better. It also helped me not to feel sorry for myself and like I was accomplishing something, even if I just planted a couple of seeds that day.

Link to iVillage here to see all 15 slides. I’m sorry about all the annoying ads. Still, if you can work around those, it’s quite a nice post.

There’s also an essay titled “The Garden Saved My Life” by Barbara Blossom Ashmun, published in the anthology The Ultimate Gardener. Here’s the author’s blog post about it.

And what about you, dear reader? If you were asked the same question, what would your answer be? We’d love to hear from you, and others probably would, too! Leave a comment and let’s see what we have to say.

Hort Therapy in the Wall Street Journal…and Call for Papers!

Legacy Emanuel Children's Garden, mentioned in the article

In the Wall Street Journal today, a great article about horticultural therapy programs: “When Treatment Involves Dirty Fingernails,” by Anne Marie Chaker. Make sure to check out the slideshow online.

Here are two interesting statistics from the article: A 2005 study of 107 patients published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation indicated that cardiac rehabilitation patients in a one-hour gardening class clocked in lower heart rates and better dispositions than patients who received a generic patient-education class. Another study, published in 2008 in HortiTechnology, showed that 18 residents of an assisted-living facility showed a significant increase in self-rated health and happiness after participating in four horticulture classes.

And speaking of horticultural therapy, the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture has put out a call for papers for its next issue. Manuscripts may include research projects, case studies, program and services descriptions, therapeutic practice descriptions, therapeutic horticulture philosophies, therapeutic design project descriptions, relevant book reviews, and other related topics. See the AHTA website for more details and for the editor’s contact information. It’s an excellent opportunity to share what you know with others.

This Friday! Horticultural Society of NY presents Horticultural Therapy Partnership Forum, Food 4 Thought

Image courtesy of HSNY

This Friday, 3/12, the Horticultural Society of New York presents its 4th Annual Horticultural Therapy Partnership Forum, “Food 4 Thought.” What a great line-up! I’m so excited to get to meet and hear from all of these amazing people. Click HERE to link to the HSNY info and registration page.

Morning topics and speakers are:

  • “Horticultural Therapy at the Rikers Island,” with Hilda Krus, HTR, Director of GreenHouse, HSNY
  • “Horticultural Therapy for People Living with HIV/AIDS,” with Liza Watkins of Bailey Holt House and Sandra Power of the Horticultural Therapy Institute

An afternoon panel will be moderated by Ronnit Bendavid-Val, Director of Citywide Horticulture, NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation. Panelist topics and presenters include:

  • “Urban Farming, Farm Stands, & Markets,” with Jane Hodge, City Farms Manager, Just Food and Rev. Robert Jackson, Co-founder of Brooklyn Rescue Mission
  • “Horticulture Across Generations,” with Arthur Sheppard, Goddard Riverside
  • “Partnering Medical & Social Research,” with Anne Wiesen, Co-founder & Executive Director of Meristem and Naomi Sachs, Founder & Director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network
  • “Physical Therapy and Gardening,” with Karen Washington, Physical Therapist, President of NYC Community Gardens Coalition, and Co-founder of La Familia Verde Gardens Coalition.

Anne Wiesen, my co-presenter, is also the co-editor of the book Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes,” which you can read a review of on this blog post.

This forum is one of several great upcoming events. I haven’t had the chance to blog about each and every one, so please visit the “Upcoming Events” area (right-hand column, about half-way down) to see what’s going on in your area (geographically or professionally). And as always, if you have events that you want others to know about, contact the TLN and we’ll get it posted.

Image courtesy of HSNY

Surviving the Winter by Connecting with Nature…from Indoors (Part V)

Sometimes it’s best to stay indoors…

I’ve managed to string this series of posts out long enough that it feels like spring is just around the corner…and perhaps for some of you in milder areas, it is. Here in Zone 5 New York, we still have a good few inches of snow on the ground, and the wind is making what is technically an above-freezing day feel like it’s well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I’m enjoying writing this post from the comfort of my office, which overlooks part of the garden, including a witch hazel in full bloom. Seeing this harbinger of spring, with her strange beautiful blossoms, always lifts my spirits and gives me hope. For more on other early spring bloomers, take a look at this post.

witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

During this series on “surviving the winter by staying connected to nature,” I’ve mentioned those times when we just can’t get outside. Maybe the weather or the walking conditions are just too harsh or dangerous. Maybe our physical condition limits how much we can get out. Fortunately, there are still things that we can do, from the comfort of our homes, to keep us connected to nature until spring. That’s what this post is about: Connecting with nature, from indoors.

Watch the birds, and other wildlife, through your window
We covered birdwatching in a recent post (as well as other wildlife, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can see it), and I hope that some of you were able to participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count. You can participate all year long with Project Feeder Watch – click on the link to learn more.

Enjoy your indoor plants
Did you know that people who work in places with live indoor plants have significantly higher levels of job satisfaction than those with no plants? It’s true! See this blog post for more on that. Another recent study found that postoperative patients with flowering and foliage plants in their rooms fared better than those with no plants, including needing less pain medication and recovering faster. So there’s a real scientific reason for taking flowers to people in the hospital. This TLN Blog post lists that and several other similar research studies. If indoor plants are good in the workplace and at the hospital, you can bet that they’re good for us at home, too. Indoor plants are also excellent air purifiers. Here are some more resources:

1. Plants That Heal: Indoor Therapeutic Gardens – An article by Planterra about one of their indoor hospital gardens, with great information about how plants purify the air.

2.’s list of the Top 5 Plants for Improving Indoor Air Quality.

3. Living on Earth’s list of “Ten Eco-Friendly House Plants.”

4. A really heartwarming story (also from Living on Earth) about students at Stuyvesant High School (above), which is just blocks away from Ground Zero, who received indoor plants from nurseries after the attacks on September 11, 2001, as a way to purify the air.

Image from

Force bulbs and branches
When spring just won’t hurry up and get here fast enough, we can do something to hurry it along called “forcing,” with bulbs and flowering branches of shrubs and trees. Putting these plants in water in the warmth of our homes fools them into thinking that spring has arrived, and they go about sending up shoots and flowers. I do this every year with forsythia, and this year I think I’ll try it with serviceberry as well. Here’s a good article on forcing bulbs, and here’s a nice article from Fine Gardening about forcing branches, including a list of some good trees and shrubs to use. The blog Heirloom Gardener has some really beautiful images of forced branches, along with a good forcing calendar.

Plan for next year’s winter garden
Now is a great time of year to look out onto your (or your clients’) garden and see what’s missing in the winter-time. Are you hungry for more color? Perhaps you should plan for some more evergreens, or shrubs with brightly-colored branches (such as red-twig dogwood, coral maple, and several willow species) or berries for next year. Or perhaps your garden needs more structure – what we designers call “the bones” of the garden. Maybe an unexpected tree or shrub form would help to add interest and even levity to the garden: For example, the Dr. Suess-like branches of Henry Lauder’s walking stick or corkscrew willow.

Start seeds
There’s something so promising about seeing little seedlings of herbs and vegetables nosing their way through the soil and emerging into the light and warmth of our homes. Lots of good information on the web, but two of my favorite sources are One Green Generation and Fine Gardening’ 10 Seed-Starting Tips. You’ll find some informative videos on that page as well.

Look at garden books and catalogs
Here’s one comment that I received from an earlier post in this series:

When I lived in Michigan, I took up cross country skiing to make winter bearable. Still found the long winters with flat gray sky day after day tough – I always felt starved for color. Looking at art books and garden books helped.

Curling up with a good, juicy garden book, or a plant or seed catalog, can be just what the Winter Doldrums Doctor ordered. And now is the time to do it, which leads me to my last suggestion:

Enjoy the down time

In some ways, winter forces us to slow down and turn inward. This can actually be a good thing, allowing us to rest, recharge our batteries, and emerge in the spring like new buds from recently dormant branches , rejuvenated and ready for a productive and fruitful growing season. So go ahead, for the remainder of the winter, allow yourself to revel in its quiet coziness: Curl up by the fire with a cup of hot something and a good garden book and allow yourself to dream…spring will be here before you know it.

Therapeutic Gardens Bloom in Senior Living Communities

Intergenerational gardening at Glacier Hills Retirement Community
Continuing our discussion on “aging in nature,” here’s a great article from Assisted Living Success. I’ve cut and pasted the first section here, but I strongly encourage readers to click on the link to read the full article. Full of all lots of good information and inspiration about gardens for seniors, including some great “how to” tips.

Therapeutic Gardens Bloom in Senior Living Communities

By Mona Del Sole

Drifting through the garden at sunset is the aroma of just-picked basil and tomatoes mixing with the perfume of lavender. My grandmother clanks down her garden tools brought from home, gathers her harvest and shuffles along the winding pathway. Pausing to remember her way, she’s guided by a specially designed walkway and soothed by whispers of a poetry reading nearby. She places one foot in front of the next toward what seems an uncertain destination. Soon her journey safely ends at the patio where she began, greeted by friends and iced tea.

Perhaps you’ve heard them called restorative, healing or memory gardens. Or maybe you’ve not heard about the therapeutic garden before now. Yet there is mounting research on the benefits of these specially designed gardens and an increase in their establishment within senior living communities.

Want to boost staff retention? Some say that you should consider the therapeutic garden. Reduced resident stress, improved satisfaction and better health outcomes are being reported for residents. And, for families who are dealing with the transition of a loved one from home to facility, the garden is an attractive feature. After all, it is likely that gardening was once a favorite hobby.

Meander through a therapeutic garden and you’ll find carefully selected flowering perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees. Containers and furniture are strategically placed to create spaces that are inviting and enjoyable. Discover sitting areas with specific themes such as a butterfly garden, sensory garden, vegetable garden, fragrant garden and shade garden. Safety, comfort and meeting the needs of the senior population are key elements of the design.
To read the rest of the article, click here. You can also order reprints from this site.

In the above photo, a resident of Glacier Hills Retirement Community in Ann Arbor, MI gardens with students from the Go Like the Wind Montessori School through a project called GRO – Generations Reaching Out. To learn more, visit the ElderTree Network. Many thanks to Suzanne for sending the image and links!

“Defiant Gardens” and Other Resources for Veterans

Image courtesy of Gardening Leave

For this post, on Veterans Day in the United States, I’d like to share some information about resources specifically for veterans.

While many veterans returning home from war have to deal with physical trauma, almost all suffer from emotional trauma and strain. On the extreme end is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be debilitating for not just the individual veterans but for their entire family and community. More and more research has been coming out about gardening, exposure to nature in a safe setting, and horticultural therapy as effective tools for fighting PTSD and other stress-related problems.

Here are some resources about work that is being done around this issue:
Gardening Leave ( is a UK charity, founded by Anna Baker Cresswell, for ex-Servicemen and women with PTSD and other mental health troubles. The goal is to combat stress through horticultural therapy activities – growing fruit and vegetables – in a walled garden setting, where people feel safe and protected. The program has been developed in accordance with plans by Combat Stress (Ex-Services Mental Welfare Society).

The Acer Institute, founded and directed by P. Annie Kirk, teamed up with the ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network in 2005 to host a day-long conference, “Therapeutic Garden Design and Veterans Affairs: Preparing for Future Needs” at the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center. You can download most of the presentations, see photos and movies, and even request the CD, on which all of the information is compiled, from Acer’s website. Since that conference, Annie has been creating a list of therapeutic (healing) gardens at VA Facilities. You can access this list from Acer website’s VA healthcare page (you just have to fill out a short form first). You can also add to the list, helping Acer to keep building this knowledge base.

Another great resource is the website Defiant Gardens, which came from Kenneth Helphand‘s book by the same name. I am so impressed with Helphand’s scholarship, and my admiration goes beyond his consistently good research and writing. In this case, it’s truly inspiring.

What are “defiant gardens?” They are, in the words of the author, “…gardens created in extreme or difficult environmental, social, political, economic, or cultural conditions. These gardens represent adaptation to challenging circumstances, but they can also be viewed from other dimensions as sites of assertion and affirmation.” Helphand’s book focuses on “Trench Gardens” on the Western Front in WWI, “Ghetto Gardens” in Nazi Europe, “Barbed-Wire Gardens” created by allied prisoners of war and civilian internees in Europe and Asia in the World Wars, gardens in Japanese internment camps in the United States during WWII, and gardens following WWII.

What I appreciate most about the website is that it includes information from the book, but also keeps going from there, encompassing prison gardens, community gardens, and gardens in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Guantanamo. The most recent post is the text from a New York Times article on gardens in Afghanistan.
And here’s another really nice post by my fellow landscape architecture and blogger colleague Rochelle Greayer: “I Gardened for My Life: The Defiant Gardens of POWs on Veterans Day.” Thanks for the mention, Rochelle. Always happy to inspire:)
And finally, here’s a link from the Farmer-Veteran Coalition (Farmers helping veterans, veterans helping farmers”) to a post about Nadia McAffrey, a Gold Star Mother (she lost her son in the Iraq war) who founded Veterans Village “to provide compassionate healing and living environments for returning veterans damaged by their war experience.” They are expanding to sites in Minnesota and New York, “where land is available for farming and gardening – important components for both the healing and the livelihood for the communities.” Thanks so much to Sharon for these links!

Green Walls for Healing Gardens


Patrick Blanc's 'Mur Vegetal' in Paris -Quai Branly

Patrick Blanc's 'Mur Vegetal' in Paris -Quai Branly

One of the key elements of a healing garden – a garden designed to facilitate and even improve people’s health and well-being – is a high ration of plant material (“softscape”) to paving, walls, stairs, etc. (“hardscape”). More plants, less paving.

And especially if we’re talking about hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which is where healing gardens are needed most, people like a lot of softness and greenery to balance out the hard, sterile surfaces indoors. People also prefer a feeling of enclosure – it makes them feel safe and secure, and can delineate spaces for private reflection and conversation.

So, what better design element than a green, living wall? Patrick Blanc made a big splash with his (absolutely gorgeous) vertical gardens a few years ago, and since then, the market for green walls has exploded. I’ve been surprised at how slowly it’s catching on in the healthcare environment. Seriously, wouldn’t it be great if all of the hospitals and clinics and hospices and nursing homes had soft, green, living vertical surfaces instead of concrete walls and vinyl fences and strange partitions that don’t really work in delineating space?

Image courtesy Annabel Harrold from Echo Studio's post on Blanc

Image courtesy Annabel Harrold from Echo Studio's post on Blanc

Another plus about vertical gardens: They are easily accessible to just about everyone. Whether you’re standing on two feet or wheeling in a wheelchair or a stroller, the plants are at your height where you can reach out to touch and smell, or even to garden in. What a fantastic tool for horticultural therapists!

Here’s an example of a custom-designed wall by Hitchcock Design Group for a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Hyde Park, Chicago:

Hitchcock Design Group green wall. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Hitchcock Design Group green wall. Photo by Naomi Sachs

If you’re interested in the confluence of plants and architecture, definitely check out Jason King’s blog Veg.itecture (their tagline is “investigating green architecture.”).

And if you know of any healthcare facilities with vertical green walls – fixed or freestanding – please leave a comment. We’re trying to build a list for the Therapeutic Landscapes Network.

Here’s one last image, from a new company called Woolly Pocket Garden Company. Check out their blog. I especially like the posts about the Edible Staircase and the Edible Schoolyard, two programs with kids in Los Angeles schools.

Green wall image courtesy of Woolly Pockets

Image courtesy of Woolly Pockets

Today’s Healing Garden: Sitting Quietly, Taking Nature In

I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard lately. Getting the new website up and running (yes!, preparing for the ASLA meeting (it was great – blog posts about that coming soon), getting sponsors for the new site (see who we have so far), and seeing to the needs of my design clients. And what happens when we push ourselves too hard? Our bodies push back.
So, here I am with a miserable cold. Today, despite still feeling like I have way too much work to allow me to take any time off, I forced myself to spend some time in the garden. Not gardening – I did that a few days ago, for several hours, and wore myself out! Gardening is a great way to stay healthy, but if you’re already compromised, take it easy. Gardeners, myself included, are so used to working in the garden that we often forget that we should just be in the garden from time to time. Today, I seriously needed to convalesce. My health depended on it.
So that’s what I did. I sat in the garden. I felt the sun and the breeze on my skin. I listened to the rustling leaves, and the birdsong, and the crickets, and the distant hum of traffic. I watched the light and shadows echoing around me, and took in the greens and yellows and greys and browns of the landscape. I smelled the faint tinge of autumn, which for me always brings a bittersweet mixture of excitement and sadness. I watched and listened to my dogs snuffling around, and petted their soft fur when they stopped by to say hello. I rested and let the world in.
A healing garden – a therapeutic landscape – should be, and can be, many things. It depends what we (the “user”) need. Designers must listen carefully to determine the needs of their clients so that they can design the most therapeutic garden possible. We can create places for positive distraction, or quiet contemplation, or family gatherings, or exuberant play, or even a careful orchestration of all of these in one space. And we who use the garden must know what we need, in general and day to day. I’d wager that most of us work too much, and that we don’t give ourselves enough time to enjoy what we work so hard to maintain. So today or tomorrow, if you can, I encourage you to go into your garden, or out onto your front porch or your back fire escape, or over to your nearest park or nature preserve, and just sit quietly and take nature in. Sometimes this is the most healing thing we can do.

Guest Blog Post by Shawna Coronado: Ball Horticulture Teaches Employees How To Tend To Nature and Their Health by Building a Community Garden

Thanks to conservation/green/community/health guru Shawna Coronado for this excellent guest blog post about Ball Horticulture’s transition for lawn to employee-run community gardens.

Think about this – across the globe many businesses, churches, synagogues, mosques, and community centers are surround by a sea of an utterly useless plant – grass! What positive effect does acres of grass have for an organization? You cannot feed people on grass. American businesses and organizations use tons of chemicals to maintain the grass, which then cause damage to our water tables nationwide. If we are not mowing grass with carbon producing equipment, we are wasting water on it. This is such a tremendous and inane waste of our resources. It simply makes no sense.

My proposal to you dear reader – follow Ball Horticulture’s example of ditching some of the grass and building a healthy community. Ball Horticulture’s exciting move has been to do something about all that useless grass. They have created one of the first employee-run community gardens in the nation.

There is an unfathomable connection between nature and health. Healthy veggies grown with no chemicals; sunshine which produces good mood endorphins in our brains when we are exposed to it; fresh air which is a welcome escape from the confines of the typical closed environment office. This is just the beginning of what Ball Horticulture hopes to encourage with the creation of the Ball Horticulture Employee Community Garden.

Susan Schmitz, Trials and Education Manager, gave me a tour of the community gardens. Overflowing with every vegetable imaginable, 120 employees have come together to grow their own fresh food in 5’ X 8’ plots. According to Susan, half of those participating had never grown a vegetable before in their lives.

While Ball Horticulture is obviously experienced with plants, they realized that their various employees might not be. Therefore, to assure a higher success rate, Susan and her team came together to host seasonal training workshops. Knowing that veggies can quickly get out of hand in size, Susan felt the first step was having the employees understand what a 5’ X 8’ plot would look like. She taped the plot out on the floor and set out a couple plants on the imaginary plot to demonstrate spacing.

Education soon expanded to planting, weeding, and maintenance concerns, eventually growing into what veggies might be planted late in the season after the spring veggies peaked.

Susan also had a bi-weekly email resource and a company bulletin board established for further assistance with seasonal Ball Hort Veggie Plot Board suggestions and questions which might help the employees have a better chance of succeeding.

Soon employees were growing masses of veggies and feeling very proud of themselves. They weigh each garden’s harvest on a produce scale so they can keep track of just how much locally grown and healthy food was produced. Many individuals choose to give all their veggies to the Giving Gardens Program, which donates the food to local food pantry’s.

While visiting the gardens, I was astounded at how truly beautiful they are. Each plot is labeled with the “owner’s” name, giving the employees a strong sense of ownership, responsibility, and accomplishment. Therefore, they are all wonderfully maintained.

Please make a difference in your community by helping people in this difficult economic time. All you businesses, churches, synagogues, mosques, and community centers do your community a favor – DITCH THE GRASS and BUILD A GARDEN. Make a difference today!

Shawna Lee Coronado is an author, locally syndicated newspaper columnist, health, and greening expert focused on teaching and living a green lifestyle. Shawna has been featured on ABC News (Chicago), WGN 9 News (Chicago), Oklahoma Gardening TV and Local Access 10 TV.

Special written features on Shawna can be found on CNN Health,
Chicago Tribune Local,and The Daily Herald (see Media Coverage).
Visit Shawna’s prime website for more information on her books and other media – Be sure to visit for lots more conservation, greening and health tips.