Healing Garden

Garden Design Journal (UK) publishes article on Therapeutic Landscapes by TLN Director Naomi Sachs

Garden Design Journal article by Naomi Sachs, "That Healing Feeling."

Garden Design Journal cover, December 2010 An article by Therapeutic Landscapes Network Founder & Director Naomi Sachs appears in the December 2010 issue of Garden Design Journal, the journal for the Society of Garden Designers in the UK. Click on the title to link to a pdf: Garden Design Journal article by Naomi Sachs, “That Healing Feeling.”

Garden Designers Roundtable: Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
~ John Burroughs

Autumn crocus, The High Line, New York City. Photo by Naomi Sachs

This blog post comes courtesy of the Garden Designers Roundtable, who invited me to be their first-ever guest blogger. I’m honored and excited to be participating in today’s roundtable discussion, the theme of which is “Therapy and healing in the garden.” All photos are by Naomi Sachs.

Some Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden

The idea that gardens and landscapes foster good health seems like a no-brainer, especially to gardeners and garden/landscape designers/architects. It’s like telling Newton that apples really do fall down. Sadly, though I’m preaching to the choir here today, many people still haven’t grasped this concept, and we can find all too many examples of landscapes that are anything but healing (picture, if you will, a parking lot at the mall…). At the Therapeutic Landscape Network, we focus a lot of our attention on the design of hospitals and other healthcare environments because – oddly enough – they tend to be so far behind as places that facilitate health and well-being on a holistic level. We’re getting there, but we still have a long way to go.

For today, since a big part of the TLN’s mission is to connect designers and health and human service providers with the research they need to design beautiful, nurturing, successfully restorative spaces, I thought I’d highlight some of the evidence that we’ve blogged about over the years. In this case, research that “proves” that being in and interacting with nature is, indeed, restorative for body and soul. This research is important because it’s positive ammunition. It’s what makes CEOs, and policy makers, and grant funders and our clients sit up and take notice (and change the laws and sign the checks!). I’ve provided a one-sentence summary of the research, with the title of each related blog post that you can link to for more information and full citations.

But first, for background, the seminal ‘View Through a Window’ study:
In 1984, Roger Ulrich studied two sets of patients, both in the same hospital, both recovering from the same surgery. The key difference: One group’s view from their window was of nature – grass, trees and sky; the other’s was of a brick wall. Ulrich found that the patients with the nature view complained less, required less pain medication, and made a faster recovery. Here, finally, was empirical proof of the salutary benefits of nature. Ulrich’s paper, published in the journal Science, got the attention of the medical community and legitimized the field of evidence-based design. Evidence-based design being the use of quantitative, and sometimes qualitative, research to design environments that facilitate health and improve outcomes. Since then, hundreds of studies have been published. Some, like those cited below, continue to demonstrate that contact with nature is good for people; some explore how people benefit, and what conditions are best for specific groups, needs, and situations (e.g., children; seniors with dementia; gardens for people who are immuno-compromised).

Innisfree, Millbrook, NY

The evidence since ‘View Through a Window.’ A few good examples:

Trees, greenery, and other vegetation make neighborhoods safer and more desirable. They even play a role in boosting students’ grades and reducing the risk of domestic violence.
See “Healing the Neighborhood: The Power of Gardens.”

Plants in an office setting improve worker satisfaction, creativity, and productivity.
See “I Demand Satisfaction! The Role of Nature in Job Satisfaction.”

As little as 10 minutes spent outside improves attention in children with ADHD; neighborhoods with more green space improve body mass index of children and youth.
See “Nature Deficit Disorder: Getting Kids Outdoors.” For many more resources on nature-based learning and play for kids, visit our Get Out and Play! page.

Uma, picking serviceberries. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Gardening improves health and happiness, including reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
See “Horticultural Therapy in the Wall Street Journal.” Horticultural Therapy is “a professional practice that uses the cultivation of plants and gardening activities to improve the mental and physical health of its participants,” (definition courtesy of the Horticultural Therapy Institute). Hort therapists often work with occupational and physical therapists in a garden setting; gardens that are designed specifically for this kind of therapy are called rehabilitation gardens. For more information, see the horticultural therapy page on our website and for a really inspiring post about the power of horticultural therapy, see A Life Worth Living: The Garden as Healer.

Exposure to nature makes people more altruistic and generous.
It’s true, Nature Makes Us Nicer!

Autumn leaves. Photo by Naomi Sachs

I hope that now that you’ve been introduced to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network Blog, you’ll stay awhile and read some of our older posts, and that you’ll visit us again for new ones (you can also sign up to have posts emailed to you). I welcome your comments, which can often lead to great dialog on the TLN Blog.

Many thanks again to the Garden Designers Roundtable for the invitation and warm welcome as a guest blogger. Visit the GDRT website (gdrt.wordpress.com), or click on the links below, to read other bloggers’ posts (and to see some great pictures) – it’s an excellent group, and each blogger has something interesting to say on the topic.

Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Gardening: Designing a Landscape for Colorblind People
Ivette Soler, The Germinatrix: Plant a Garden, The Life You Save Might Be Your Own
Jenny Petersen, J Petersen Garden Design: Therapeutic Spaces
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber, Hegarty Webber Partnership: Homage to Ariadne: Labyrinthine Therapy
Rochelle Greayer, Studio “G”: A Tale About What Makes a Garden Healing

Planting the Healing Garden: Plant Bulbs Now for Spring Joy

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Siberian squill. Photo by Naomi Sachs

The growing season may be winding down, but the gardening season is still in full-swing (and I don’t just mean raking!). Fall is a great time for planting many shrubs, trees and perennials (it’s a good time to divide those perennials as well). It’s also the only time to plant most spring-blooming bulbs. After enduring a long winter with few signs of life in the garden, is there anything more exciting than seeing the first snowdrops appear? They are a sorely needed sign that spring – and more importantly, the end of winter – is imminent. Spring bulbs cheer up any landscape, and they give interest to a garden when most plants are either still dormant or just starting to leaf out.


Daffodils in April. Photo by Naomi Sach

Just like it’s hard to bring ourselves to buy a wool sweater in summer, even if it’s on sale, it’s a challenge to think about spring bulbs when summer is in her full glory. Which is fine, since that’s not the time to plant them anyway. If your garden is like mine, then its major bloom-time is now over, and you’re starting to see some holes, which is also what you’ll see in early spring. The perfect time to assess your garden and decide where to plant the earliest bloomers.

Some of my favorite bulbs are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), crocuses, daffodils (Narcissus spp.), Siberian squill, and early iris (Iris reticulata), but there are many more. The Better Homes and Gardens website has a nice slideshow of early bloomers, and BBC Gardening Guides has a good primer on bulb basics. So go ahead, get some bulbs in the ground – you’ll be delighted in the spring!

Postscript: I got this wonderful comment from a member on the TLN’s Facebook page and would like to share it here, because I think she summed it up so perfectly: “I think bulbs are especially important in healing gardens because of their early awakening in the gray thaw of early spring; always the promise of renewed life!”

“A Running, Hollering, Skipping, Playing Place,” guest blog post by Addie Hahn

Topiary at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden, Portland, OR Photo by Max Sokol

In the following interview, Teresia Hazen answers questions by Addie Hahn, a writer who is also working towards her Child Life credential, about the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden, which won the American Horticultural Therapy Association Therapeutic Garden Award in 2000. Below are excerpts from the interview, and images of the garden by Max Sokol. To read the full interview, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Network website.

Teresia Hazen, M.Ed., HTR, QMPH is the Coordinator of Therapeutic Gardens and Horticultural Therapy for Legacy Health System in Oregon.

“A Running, Hollering, Skipping, Playing Place: A Conversation with Teresia Hazen on the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden.”

AH: Could you briefly describe the design process that led to the creation of the Emanuel Children’s Hospital garden?

TH: We did our design work in 1996. Then it was a three-stage process to develop all this, between 1997-99. Two major elements we wanted to address in this garden for kids and their siblings were a therapeutic focus and a restorative focus, or unstructured, independent time. To develop our list of therapeutic requirements, we needed to involve the clinicians. And in these meetings, we needed to hear about the dreams, the aspirations and the clinical goals of each team. We had Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Child Life, Spiritual Care, Managers, Horticultural Therapists and our Landscape Architect. All of those people had very specific goals and needs for the garden setting.

The second reason we have the garden is to provide a restorative setting for every patient, visitor and employee 24-7. So we had to be thinking about some of the elements that were needed for that. One of those turned into the 3-5 niche spots, or bump-out areas where a small group can gather to socialize, provide emotional support or grieve together.

Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden, Portland, OR Photo by Max Sokol

Benches provide a place for privacy and social support. Photo by Max Sokol

AH: What are a few of the ways the garden is used clinically now?

TH: Physical Therapists needed walking rails for adults and for children, as well as some inclines, because you have to learn to walk in settings like this first if you’re going to go back out in to community settings.

Speech and Language Therapists needed items that would lead and encourage children around the garden. So, having a curved pathway encourages them now to go, “What’s around that corner?” A dragonfly sculpture in a tree might be something to watch for and “tell us when you see it.” The dragonfly starts the communication task.

We needed places where kids could maneuver—inclines, declines and a variety of surfaces that they need to manage while working on mobility skills. Kids ride their trikes and scooters for therapy, and we even have a Seguay now that kids with vestibular disorders ride to work toward meeting their treatment goals.

Yellow Brick Road, Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

The "yellow brick road" pathway winds through the garden. Photo by Max Sokol

AH: What do you suggest for hospitals that may not have the funds to hire a Horticultural Therapist, or where staff may at first be resistant to the idea of bringing a professional on board? Are there ways a Child Life Therapist or other staff member could slowly introduce staff to the idea?

TH: Any therapist can add nature-based activities. They could say, “We’re going to integrate nature into our programming.” Anyone can do that. Integrate what you can manage. Consider a 12’ X 12 niche. Do only what you can maintain, and maintain with quality year-round. Therapeutic gardens need to be four season environments.

AH: Can you talk about what you believe is behind the growing interest in incorporating ‘healing gardens’ or smaller-scale, natural elements into hospitals and other healthcare environments?

TH: Programs everywhere are looking for cost-effective ways to help client therapeutic programs do their work most efficiently and effectively.  We’re all working leaner these days–a reflection of the economic setting. These gardens provide choices for all therapeutic programs to help patients connect in whatever ways they need to to aid rehabilitation and recovery and discharge as soon as possible. These gardens are a coping resource and if well designed, can assist patients in their treatment and recovery.

We can also provide that kind of care and honoring even to families that have a baby or a child who is in hospice. The clinical team has assisted parents in supporting the child’s death in the garden. Two nurses will come with the parents. Parents initiate this request and they want their child to experience the fresh air or the sunshine before they die.  Nature is a place of spirituality for many family groups.

Clematis and roses at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

Clematis and roses at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

Addie Hahn is a freelance writer who is also working on obtaining her Child Life certification. She lives in West Linn, Oregon and can be reached at addiethahn@me.com.

Max Sokol is a freelance photographer based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at maxsokol@mac.com

Many thanks to Addie, Max, and Teresia for this excellent post! To read the full interview, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s References page.

A Life Worth Living: The Garden as Healer

Monarch Butterfly by Henry Domke

Monarch butterfly photo by Henry Domke, www.henrydomke.com

I gave a “walking talk” yesterday on Restorative Landscapes at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries in Beacon, NY. One of the participants, Mike, took the 1-hour train up from New York City, a beautiful ride along the Hudson River. Ten years ago, Mike lay in a hospital bed at NYU Medical Center, recovering from 12 hours of surgery after a traumatic brain injury. As I was driving him back to the train station after the talk, I asked him if he was familiar with the Enid Haupt Glass Garden at the Howard Rusk Institute, which is on the NYU campus. He most certainly was, and he shared the following story with me:

“After my surgery, I couldn’t do much of anything; like a stroke victim, I could barely talk or move. I had been a successful electrical engineer who flew all over the world for work. Now, suddenly, I was a 50 year old man who couldn’t do even the most ordinary tasks. It was dawning on me that I might forever be dependent on others’ care. That suddenly I had become a burden to my family and friends. I was depressed and suicidal. I started “looking at windows funny.” All the more depressing was the fact that even if I wanted to, I probably didn’t even have the capability to take my own life. As part of my rehabilitation, I started going down to the Glass Garden for horticultural therapy. They had us plant little seeds in soil, and water those seeds. Soon after, shoots began to emerge, to grow into little plants. And my life began to be worth something. I could grow something, care for and nurture it. Something relied on me; I was not just a dependent. It was a 180- degree turn. Life was again worth living.”

Comfort, Tranquility, and Fun! Guest Book Entries from Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden

Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital Garden, Portland, OR

Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital Garden (photo by Max Sokol)

The Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden in Portland, OR, now in its fourteenth year, serves a wide variety of children and includes a neonatal intensive care unit, a cancer and blood disorders program, mental health, neurology, and orthopedics programs, and an eating disorders clinic, among others. The garden is recognized by professionals as an excellent example of a hospital healing garden, and its visitors seem to agree. Here are some recent entries from the garden’s guest book. Stay tuned for a great guest blog post by Addie Hahn on this garden and its horticultural therapist, Teresia Hazen.

Entries from the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden Guest Book

After being in my daughter’s room for 4 days I needed some fresh air and tranquility to let my emotions out. What a comfort this garden is. Our daughter enjoyed it the first day we arrived and wants to come out here again soon.

The garden is my favorite place to visit in this hospital. My children love this place too, so friendly and peaceful a place that we can have some quiet time away from our patient room. Thank you so much for the wonderful gardening and decorations. This is the place where we can breathe better!

I am from Mongolia. I like this garden. My friend stayed in this hospital 8 days. Today I take him outside. He is very happy to be here. I hope everybody enjoys this garden.

The garden has “loved” us through our son’s surgery and has really made a difference. Thank you.

I am staying with my baby brother. I love the garden. It helps him sleep. It is very peaceful and the plants are amazing. My baby brother’s favorite plant is the monkey puzzle tree.

We are here today on a garden visit. While here for 2 weeks last month, we found peace and tranquility. Our son loved being wheeled in his “chariot” all hours of the day and night through the garden. Every visit we saw something new. We are so very grateful for these moments and memories.

I came to see my new cousin Kegara. She is tiny and cute. Thank you for this pretty garden. It’s lots of fun!!!

Why/How We Need Healing Gardens

I’ve been updating the Healthcare Gardens section of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network website, and stumbled upon Harrison Medical Center‘s new project, the Oncology Healing Garden (to be designed, in fact, by TLN board member Mark Epstein).

This fundraising video brought tears to my eyes. It really sums up how it feels to be in a hospital, and how it might feel to step outside into a garden.

“Therapy in the Desert” – Guest post by Brice Bradley: Three healing gardens in the Phoenix, AZ area

Banner Good Samaritan healing garden

Banner Good Samaritan healing garden, photo by Brice Bradley

This past winter, Brice Bradley, a landscape architect and member of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, posted a query on the TLN group page at Land8Lounge (the social networking site for Landscape Architects) asking for recommendations of healing gardens to visit in the Phoenix, AZ area. He got some good suggestions, and I also encouraged him to take notes and report back with his impressions. What we got was so much more! Brice took photographs and wrote a wonderful descriptive piece about his visits to three different gardens: Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix; the Elsie McCarthy Sensory Garden in Glendale; and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, also in Phoenix. This is a long post – one of the longest I’ve published! – but since it’s so good (and since I can’t figure out how to use the “more” tool with this blog platform), it’s here in full. To view the entire slideshow with the essay, visit Brice’s post on Land8Lounge. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that these are Brice’s observations and opinions. I would love to feature more first-hand accounts of therapeutic gardens on the TLN Blog. If you have the ability to visit and report on one, or two, or more, we will all benefit. That’s what makes the Therapeutic Landscape Network so strong! A network of passionate, engaged people participating to connect with and educate each other about this exciting field. So, Brice, over to you:

Therapy in the Desert, by Brice Bradley

It was 8:00 in the morning in Tucson, and our Mazda 5 micro van was filled to capacity; my daughter (7) and son (5) were prepared for departure and were blowing their final kisses to Grandma. My wife and I weren’t necessarily looking forward to the drive back to chilly Colorado; why would we when the pleasantly mild Arizona temps were treating us like royalty? All that stood between us and our midway overnight stop in Albuquerque was my buried-in urge to visit a few of the many therapeutic gardens sprinkled throughout Phoenix.

As we made our way into the city, a sense of eagerness began to surface as I had surpassed the point of reading about the benefits of curative spaces and was primed to wholly experience them. I had the added benefit of having my children in attendance as I firmly believe that much can be gained by observing how an innocent child embraces a given space. All too often, I find it easy to put on my “professional” glasses and overlook key–yet subtle–elements within a space that make it attractive to a more diverse set of users. I have found that observing how my children respond to a space almost always leaves me with a stronger sense of whether or not it is successful.

Banner Estrella

Photo of Banner Estrella garden by Brice Bradley

We rolled into our first stop, Banner Estrella [Medical Center], around 9:45 am. As we approached the curative space, the first thing I noticed was a water feature pulled in tight to the building. Running along the outside face of a glass curtain wall spanning the length of the garden along the north side, this feature was a well-placed and welcome transitionary element, tying the interior and exterior spaces together. I soon discovered that my 5-year-old son also spotted the water as his laissez-faire saunter quickly found purpose.

We made our way into the garden where a diminutive sensation quickly set in. Upon entering the space from the west end, you find yourself surrounded by foundation-level planting and architecture on all but a portion of the east side. Other than receiving some early-to-mid-morning sun, this area looks like it sits in shade for much of the day. Due to its location in a desert environment, this isn’t a bad thing, but my initial thought was, “Who would want to sit in a space where they could be viewed from almost any direction–much like a fish in a fish bowl?” Some form of overhead canopy and partial screening would be beneficial toward making this area a more comfortable place to spend time.

As I walked eastward, I noticed a nonconventional wood-and-steel door system on casters at the corner of what I soon discovered was a meditation chapel. As with all the spaces I planned on visiting that day, I tried to focus all of my observations around the question, “What makes this a healing space?” Recognizing that many people find comfort through their faith during times of recovery or grief, I was pleased to see that the chapel was made a key part of the garden and that access to the outdoor space could be enhanced by opening these larger, statelier doors.

The sounds of falling water and New Age music filled the space–something I found to be quite pleasant. A bubbling spring fed an elevated runnel from the east end. Integrated within a seat wall, the runnel allowed room for individuals to sit beside the flowing water, providing an opportunity for them to personally engage with its flow. Needless to say, my kids welcomed the chance to play in the water. Understanding that many people find peace in watching others, I thought about how the innocence of a kid at play within this space could be viewed as an instrument for healing, as there are few things quite so therapeutic as the sound of honest laughter coming from a child fully engaged at play. Weirs and infinity edges also helped diversify the way water created white noise within the space.

Music emanated from faux stones positioned in under-planted, stone mulch planting beds along the back side of a series of concrete peninsulas. Considering the modern level of refinement found elsewhere on the site, I was a bit taken back by the use of these stones to deliver the tranquil sounds. Integrating some form of speaker system into the surrounding gabion walls, which were clad in small laser-cut metal fauna, would have been nice as the music could have been softly projected beyond the space offering passers-by a taste of the serenity that could be found within.

Although the Estrella healing garden possesses elements found in other more notable healing spaces, I believe it lacked refinement. The bench peninsulas could have been smaller and oriented so that the seating was facing east and west. Smaller concrete pads would make more room for plant material and would have realigned the benches so that they wouldn’t be facing a wall of windows. More seating options, including movable chairs, would be beneficial as they would allow people to easily position themselves as desired. Plant material–specifically ground cover–would have softened the space by hiding the disproportionate amount of river rock mulch as well as enhance the level of privacy, encourage wildlife, and keep the space cooler.

Elsie McCarthy Sensory Garden

Photo of Elsie McCarthy Sensory Garden by Brice Bradley

Now we were off to Glendale to visit the Elsie McCarthy Sensory Garden. Overall, it was a nice yet simple space that appeared to be municipally managed as it seems to have degraded a bit since its opening. As you make your way toward the garden from the parking lot, you come upon a pedestal-mounted, bronze scale model of the site; I found it to be a welcome addition as it is an admirable way to expand the maps accessibility to people with disabilities­­–particularly those with visual impairments.

Shortly after entering the garden, you arrive at what I found to be one of the most fascinating things I saw that day – a tile-clad sculpture entitled Seeing Beyond by artists Joan Baron and Robert Miley. As you approach the piece, you are drawn in by the sound of dripping water from within. As I stood there, I found myself–much like a child–wanting to interact with the water; fortunately, the artists provided opportunists like me with opportunities to physically engage with the art by way of creatively crafted openings on each of the sculpture’s four sides.

As I mentioned earlier, the overall layout of the site was relatively simple; although it wasn’t something I found overly inspiring, I can appreciate the simple, circulatory approach to the design. I found getting back where I started to be very straightforward and in no time I was unable to see the main entry. Encompassing the space was a crushed-gravel ellipse walk. While I made my way around the site, I welcomed the crackling resonance of displaced gravel beneath my feet–something I find inherently relaxing. It would have been nice to have a few benches along the perimeter for those inclined to people watch or simply rest.

At the four nodes of the ellipse were distinctive elements–each tied to water–whether it be a water-based feature or flowing, paving patterns. On the outside of the ellipse was a continuous planting bed comprised of natural massings of regional trees and shrubs. Within the ellipse lay two tree-lined walks dissecting the space into four equal lawn panels. Where the two walks intersected at the heart of the garden stood a small plaza with a bronze dome water feature–about a foot tall–representing the center of a flower. On the perimeter of the plaza stood four stone blocks, each etched with unique finger labyrinths.

I left the garden feeling somewhat indifferent about the space; albeit winter, I felt that it–much like Banner Estrella–lacked a significant amount of supporting plant material near the pathways to engage the senses. In the spring and summer this space might light up with a push of greenery that stimulates the senses, but shouldn’t a sensory garden successfully work to enhance the senses year round? Additionally, I tend to look at lawn in the desert as a bit of an oxymoron, especially a warm season grass that is dormant during cooler times of the year when people are more inclined to enjoy the outdoors. Using a different turf type or possibly over seeding during the winter would brighten this space up, creating an inviting area in which to have a picnic or just to walk shoeless in the cool grass.

Having spent a number of summers in Tucson as a kid, I know exactly how warm a garden in this part of the country can get. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that this space remains relatively vacant in the summer from mid-morning until sunset. The fact that the bronze map was shaded–presumably to prevent it from getting too hot to the touch–indicates that during the heat of day this space is unbearable. As the trees mature, you will see an increase in the amount of available shade, but it’s still pretty hot in the shade when temperatures are pushing 100 degrees or more.

It is understood that desert environments possess a unique set of design constraints that prevent some best-practice approaches found in other successful man-made healing spaces from being fully realized. All in all, I believe the size of space, ease of access, and visibility within the space were good but I felt that it lacked a regional distinctiveness and believe that this space, if placed in a cooler part of the county, would have proven to be more successful.

Banner Good Samaritan healing garden

Banner Good Samaritan healing garden, photo by Brice Bradley

Our final destination was the healing garden at Banner Good Samaritan Health Center. Accessing the space required us to enter the facility as the garden was internal to the campus. As you make your way to the main entry, you walk past the recently renovated Sunken Garden. I found this space to be more inspiring than the healing garden as the contrasting plant palate was simple yet bold. Yucca in full bloom against the ornamental grasses was a welcome site, although I could see that the shadow patterns from the surrounding buildings prevented a portion of the yucca from reaching full bloom; I could only imagine how it would have looked if all of it was in bloom simultaneously.

Water was the central focus of the space–much like an oasis. I enjoyed the primary-colored mosaic tiling on the main water feature; the sound of the water hitting the river rock below was simple yet soothing. A portion of the garden was enclosed–accessible by doors within the building. At the center of this section of the garden gurgled a short column of water from within an area covered in river rock–much like a spring. Surrounding the spring were trees and the yucca–grass mix. A guardrail separated the landscape from the patio, which was lined with a few benches and movable tables and chairs; it was clear that the landscape was meant for viewing only, which was unfortunate as it would have been nice to see some form of circulation route implemented that would allow users the opportunity to more actively engage with the space.

The fully enclosed healing garden was nice with mature plant material; water features; and plenty of movable tables, chairs, and curving seat walls, thus providing a multitude of seating options. I had a conversation with an employee regarding our purpose for being there, and she commented that the water elements were more extensive at one time but had now been reduced to three isolated features. Much like the water element I commented on in the Sunken Garden, these were designed to be looked at as they were located up and out of the way where little hands could not get at them. I believe providing an opportunity to touch the water would have been a nice way to enhance a user’s ability to engage with the space.

As I walked through the garden I noticed a number of pigeons, and pockets of bird droppings were prevalent throughout the space, which left me with an impression that this space wasn’t maintained as well as it could be. The employee I visited with acknowledged that this was an ongoing issue but that it has improved. Additionally, I found a couple areas where plant material with sharp needles was easily accessible to kids. Although I support providing children opportunities to explore differences in plant material through touch, in this environment I believe that buffering the sharper plants with softer ones would have been a safer option.

So, what made each of these gardens healing spaces? Having had a little over a month to think about this I have come to the conclusion that it’s not up to me to decide but the end users–those seeking a moment of release from an unexpected diagnosis or the loss of a loved one or simply those desiring to get outside and enjoy the day. As a design professional, it’s easy to be critical of other people’s work–finding things I wouldn’t have done based on my education and past experiences. I suppose that is the downside of being in this industry as we rarely can enter a space and not pick it apart. As I progressed through the writing of this article, I began to think about my purpose for visiting these spaces, and what I discovered was that if I want to have a continued impact on the lives of those seeking peace through nature, I need to be constantly seeking ways to sharpen my proficiency. I presume many of you reading this feel the same way. If iron sharpens iron, a cooperative approach to progressing the effectiveness of therapeutic spaces needs to be fostered. What I discovered in Arizona is that designing healing gardens in a desert environment is a niche within a niche, and I look forward to seeing how they will evolve as we continue to educate ourselves on nature’s healing qualities.

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

Allison Vallin June chive bee

Photo courtesy of Allison Vallin at www.atastefulgarden.com

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: microcosm-in-the-q.blogspot.com

Planting the Healing Garden: Trees, Please!

American Basswood by Henry Domke

Photo of American Basswood by Henry Domke, HenryDomke.com

Here’s a simple but effective exercise: Go sit down.
Okay, a couple more details: First, at high noon, go sit somewhere in full sun for a minute or two (you actually don’t have to sit; this exercise can be accomplished standing as well). Now get up and go do the same thing (sit or stand for a minute or two) under a big shade tree. Notice anything different? Feel cooler? Feel a sense of ahhhhhhh? Now that you’re in the shade, maybe you don’t even want to get up!

Ever notice how, in the summer, all of the parking spaces near trees, even if they offer the skimpiest of shade patches, are taken? And how the shady park benches are always full? And so on. I like trees at all times of the year, but I am especially grateful for them in high summer. And particularly for healing gardens, whether public or private, where physical and emotional comfort are paramount, trees are a necessity. Sure, an umbrella or other shade structure can suffice, but they only do one thing, whereas a tree multitasks so nicely. In addition to giving shade, trees provide vertical and seasonal interest, wildlife habitat, and broader environmental benefits.

A few fun tree facts (these from the SavATree website):

  • The shade and wind buffering provided by trees reduces annual heating and cooling costs by 2.1 billion dollars.
  • One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces while driving 26,000 miles.
  • A single tree produces ca. 260 lbs of oxygen a year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.
  • Over the course of its life, a single tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide.

As part of New York City’s Million Trees NYC campaign, posters with pictures of and facts about trees were spread throughout the city, especially in subways. I wasn’t able to get a decent picture of any of them, but here are excerpts from two that seem especially appropriate to the subject of restorative landscapes:

Zen Masters
Trees do more than you think. They promote relaxation and fitness, enhance our emotional and mental health, and even encourage us to drive a little slower.

Exercise Partners
Trees do more than you think. While protecting us from the sun, they encourage outdoor play and exercise – helping in our fight against obesity.

NYC is definitely on to something, and they are putting a lot of money into this effort. This from their website:

Why plant a million trees?

Trees enrich and improve our environment and dramatically increase the overall quality of life in New York City. The benefits provided by trees are numerous and diverse, making it important to quantify their value to our city and its residents. The primary benefits provided by New York City’s urban forest come in three key areas:

  • Environmental Benefits: Urban trees help offset climate change, capture rainfall, remove dust and other pollutants from the air, lower summer air temperature, reduce our use of fossil fuels, and provide habitat for wildlife.
  • Economic Benefits: Trees provide $5.60 in benefits for every dollar spent on tree planting and care, increase property values, and appeal to community and business investment.
  • Health and Lifestyle Benefits: There is growing evidence that trees help reduce air pollutants that can trigger asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Green spaces also encourage physical activity – a healthy habit for any New Yorker.

So if you’re designing you’re own residential garden, or a public park, or a garden for a hospital or nursing home, remember your trees. They are an investment that will give back for generations to come!