Landscapes for Health

“Soft Touch For A Silent Voice: Therapeutic Gardens for Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” – Masters Thesis by Michelle Parkins

Photo by Michelle Parkins, Soft Touch For A Silent Voice

Photo by Michelle Parkins. "The response to the veterans survey about water really illustrated to me the connections veterans (and others) have with water as a healing aid."

I met Michelle Parkins last May when I was teaching at the Chicago Botanic Gardens Healthcare Garden Design Certificate Program, and was immediately impressed by her commitment to her MLA research project on gardens for veterans with PTSD and other combat-related issues. Since then, Michelle has completed her thesis, which is available as a beautifully bound book at Below is the thesis abstract and a bit about Michelle, a veteran herself.Therapeutic Gardens for Veterans. Michelle Parkins and Annie Kirk

Michelle (that’s her on the left in the red jacket), in collaboration with Annie Kirk, principal at Red Bird Design and founder of the Acer Institute, recently created Therapeutic Gardens for Veterans groups on Linked In and Facebook. These groups are a “Collaboratory to advance therapeutic garden environments as an extension of support and care for veterans & their families.” I encourage everyone interested in this subject to join in on the conversation.

Here is what Michelle writes about herself and her interest in this subject:

My adventures in life have seemed to always evolve around the military; growing up an ‘Army Brat’ triggered my interest. My time in the Navy consisted of great travel overseas and the education I received both in and out of Navy was invaluable. Due to an injury, my time in the Navy was cut short, however my respect for my fellow veterans and active duty military has never gone away. As a veteran using the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, I saw first hand the need and potential benefits for utilizing the outdoor garden spaces as VA hospitals and clinics. Although I have completed my Master’s of Landscape Architecture I plan to pursue the research and possible consultation of gardens for veterans.


Best nature apps

Courtesy of Michael Leunig,

Cartoon by Michael Leunig,

Wow, I’m impressed. Yesterday afternoon, Sarah Koschak, Director at Listening Earth, posted this cartoon by Michael Leunig on Richard Louv‘s Facebook page. I saw it, loved it, and immediately shared on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s Facebook page.

Before I went to bed, the cartoon had over 50 “likes,” a record for the TLN FB page. 18 hours later, it has received 130 likes and 80 “shares” (people posting to other people’s walls or pages). Now, still less than 24 hours later, there 168 likes and 96 shares.

If you’re not into social media, this may not mean much to you, and I grant you that it’s a bit ironic that all of this happens through our various devices, including probably Facebook apps on iPhones, etc., but nevertheless…wow! So, what about this struck such a chord with people? What resonates so strongly? I’d love comments from you.


Effect of Garden Walking on Elders with Depression

Photo by Naomi Sachs

One of our members, a hospice RN, sent me this interview with Dr. Ruth McCaffrey, DNP, Sharon B. Raddock Distinguished Professor in Holistic Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. It was originally published in the digest of the American Holistic Nurses Association.

How have you come to study garden walking for older adults with depression?
I have been working over the last three years on developing an evidence-based program using reflection during garden walking to increase life satisfaction and reduce depression. The work began as collaboration between the Morikami Japanese Museum and Gardens and myself. The Morikami has had many people write letters and tell them that the gardens had a healing quality and helped them in a time of great sadness or in a time when strength was needed. The garden designer has created several gardens in the Japanese healing traditions and uses the idea of nine healing elements in nature. We were able to apply for and receive a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to create a research study with three different interventions, individual reflective walking, guided imagery walking and a comparison group who had art therapy. From that work we developed a book for use in an individual reflective walking program through the garden with a group session at the beginning of the walks, after three weeks and again after six weeks. This program has proved to be very successful and popular…


The quiet joys of January

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa spp.). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa spp.)

This past Sunday, New Year’s Day, The New York Times ran a great piece about quiet (“The Joy of Quiet,” by Pico Iyer). I can relate. Though I live in the Hudson Valley where it gets pretty cold this time of year (12 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up this morning), and though I’m a gardener who loves digging in the dirt in my spare time (back to that in a minute), I think that January has become my favorite month. Because it’s quiet. As a landscape designer who does not do installation, most of my work is indoors, even in the busiest times of year (I wonder if Ken Smith‘s family still asks him why he doesn’t have dirt under his fingernails with all that “landscaping” he does…). But clients never call in January and February, and installation doesn’t need to be supervised, etc. etc. etc., and just generally I can worry less about juggling my design work and my work with the TLN. Ironically, the only time when I seem to have spare time is when the ground is frozen solid…


“A Garden to Remember.” Memorials podcast w/ Andrew Keys

September 11 Memorial Garden, Sudbury, MA

September 11 Memorial Garden, Sudbury, MA

Everyone needs a vacation once in awhile…including this blog writer. I’m off to Berlin and the UK for two weeks.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a great podcast from Andrew Keys’ “Garden Confidential: Stories at the Intersection of People and Plants,” for Fine Gardening magazine.

The podcast is called “A Garden to Remember,” and it’s about memorials. Keys interviews me (Naomi Sachs) and Beth Farrell, chair of the committee that built the September 11 Memorial Garden in the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts (pictured above).

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!


A Masters thesis on Healing Gardens for Veterans with PTSD

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

It’s Veteran’s Day, 2011, a good time to highlight some new research on gardens for veterans with PTSD. This is such an important topic, and Brock Anderson decided to make it his Thesis for his Master of Landscape Architecture at Utah State University.

“An Exploration of the Potential Benefits of Healing Gardens on Veterans with PTSD,” by Brock Anderson, is now availalble online for download at

Here’s the Abstract:

Healing gardens are places that facilitate in improving or restoring an individual’s mental or physical health. Today, therapeutic landscape design is a growing facet of landscape architecture. This study looks at the potential benefits of using healing gardens in addition to traditional methods of treatment for veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A reasonable amount of research has been done into the area of therapeutic landscapes and their influence on certain populations, but the potential positive effects these healing gardensmay hold for veterans suffering from PTSD seems to be unidentified. This study examines the history of healing gardens, problems facing veteran populations today, current treatment methods for PTSD, and how healing gardens could be beneficial to veterans with PTSD. A Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare facility that is in the process of implementing a healing garden was usedto determine how their PTSD patients will potentially use a healing garden space during treatment.

The purpose of this study was to describe some of the potential benefits that healing gardens could have on veterans suffering from PTSD. Other VA facilities can use this information in the future when implementing healing gardens for PTSD patients. This study is intended to increase awareness of the potential benefits healing gardens might hold for veterans suffering from PTSD and encourage further research into the area.

Recommended citation: Anderson, Brock Justin, “An Exploration of the Potential Benefits of Healing Gardens on Veterans with PTSD” (2011). All Graduate Reports and Creative Projects. Paper 50.

Many thanks to Brock for sharing this with us!

And if that weren’t enough great stuff for one day, here’s an excellent article by Janet Brown, published recently in Healthcare Design Magazine, about a wonderful healing garden and horticultural therapy program at the East Orange NJ Veterans Affairs:

Therapeutic Gardens in San Diego – San Diego Hospice

San Diego Hospice, pergola at entrance. Photo by Naomi Sachs

San Diego Hospice, pergola at entrance. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Before the official start of the ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) conference last week, I had the good fortune of attending a “meeting before the meeting” tour of several gardens at healthcare facilities in the San Diego area with the ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network. Chris Garcia did an amazing job of planning the tour and coordinating the entire day. Kudos to Chris and to all of the good people who opened their doors and let us tromp through their facilities, asking millions of questions and taking lots of pictures.

In the next couple of blog posts, I’ll share some impressions and photos from our tour, in chronological order of what we visited.

San Diego Hospice, resident rooms with balconies. Photo by Naomi Sachs

No, this is not a luxury hotel, these are the rooms, w/ balconies, at the San Diego Hospice. Photo by Naomi Sachs

San Diego Hospice

Garden type: Hospice “tribute garden”
Designers: Wimmer, Yamada and Caughey
Built: 2000
Visiting: As this is a hospice, you should definitely call first if you’d like to visit.

The following is an excerpt from the article “Hospital Gardens That Help Heal,” by E’Louise Ondash, RN

Peggy Lee, RN, a staff nurse for 15 years at the Inpatient Care Center at San Diego Hospice, has no doubt that its Tribute Garden serves as a place where patients, families and staff can rest and renew.


Engaging Our Grounds – Int’l Green Schoolyard Conference

Berkeley Adventure Playground, Berkeley, CA. Photo by SharonDanks

Berkeley Adventure Playground, Berkeley, CA. Photo by SharonDanks

Engaging Our Grounds
2011 International Green Schoolyard Conference
September 16–18, 2011
Berkeley & San Francisco, California

I would so love to go to this conference.

The green schoolyard movement is growing rapidly and flourishing around the world.  Schools near and far are re-imagining their grounds, replacing their extensive paved surfaces with a vibrant mosaic of outdoor learning and play opportunities. Schools in many different countries are leaders in this field, finding innovative ways to weave curricula into their landscapes, diversify their recreational offerings, enhance their local ecology, and reflect their unique location and cultural context.

We are at the forefront of a new paradigm that blends education, ecology, and urban sustainability.  We invite you to join us and become an important part of this exciting movement by registering and supporting this ground-breaking event.

Participate in the first International Green Schoolyard Conference held in the United States—an exciting opportunity to learn about cutting edge schoolyards and school gardens, meet like-minded colleagues from around the world, share ideas, tour fantastic local school grounds (including the Berkeley Adventure Playground, pictured above), and get inspirational ideas for your own community.

Engaging Our Grounds will bring together leading green schoolyards practitioners from the United States and other countries to share the latest trends and innovations, case studies, best practices, and creative thinking in green schoolyard design, maintenance, curricula, advocacy, and funding partnerships. The conference will include a resource and networking fair, keynote presentations by visionary leaders of the school ground movement from Canada, England, Germany, Japan, and Sweden; tours of outstanding local school grounds; and networking time.

Learn more and register at

Thanks to Sharon Danks, conference organizer and author of the terrific new book Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, for this information and these images.

“From Motown to Growtown!” – Documentary ‘Urban Roots’ on farms, community gardens, and food justice in Detroit, MI

Urban Roots poster by Shepard Fairy,

Urban Roots poster by Shepard Fairy

Last night I watched the excellent and inspiring documentary ‘Urban Roots‘ at the Horticultural Society of New York.  It’s a film about urban farmers, gardeners, and food and community activists who are taking over the hundreds (thousands?) of acres of vacant lots in Detroit, MI and making them into productive landscapes that address ecological and economic problems at the same time – in other words, healing Detroit by healing and cultivating the earth. Or as one young woman said, “turning Motown into Growtown!” And it’s happening elsewhere, too. For example, at the Healing Landscapes Sustainability Symposium in Cleveland, OH this past February, I learned of several similar projects in the Cleveland area, and even in my own city of Beacon, NY, we have the Green Teen program, which “empowers urban youth to be effective community change-agents by immersing them in the local food system” and the CSA (community-supported agriculture) Common Ground Farm.

What impressed me about the movement in Detroit is individuals working at a grass-roots level (no pun intended…) to solve deep economic, social, and environmental problems for themselves instead of waiting for someone to give them a hand and do it for them. In other words, self-determination.

Some of the projects and places in the film: Brother Nature Produce, D-Town Farms, Field of Dreams (FOOD), Grown in Detroit, Eastern Market, Farnsworth Community Garden, Elmhurst, and Earthworks Urban Farm.

At the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, we focus on gardens and landscapes in the healthcare setting and on research and evidence-based design, because no other organization is doing this kind of work on an interdisciplinary level. But our mission is to serve as a “knowledge base and gathering space about healing gardens, restorative landscapes, and other green spaces that promote health and well-being.” That means any landscape, wild or designed, urban or suburban or rural, large or small, that facilitates health. And preferably the health of not just humans but animals and the planet as a whole.

For information on these broader topics, visit our website’s Other Healing Landscapes section. We’re still adding to this, but right now we have pages on community gardens, gardens in prisons, and memorial gardens. Input and suggestions are always welcome.

Thanks to the Horticultural Society of New York for screening the film, to Mark McInnis for making the film, and most of all, to the people of Detroit for their inspiring work. Keep on growing!

What is “nature,” anyway?

Martha's Vineyard beach. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Martha's Vineyard coastline. Photo by Naomi Sachs

A colleague posed an interesting question recently, in relation to providing access to nature in the healthcare setting: If we are arguing for access to nature in hospitals and other places of healing, then we shouldn’t we define it? Yes!

So, what is “nature”? Here are some thoughts.
Note that since posting this two days ago, I’ve already changed my definition slightly. I’m sure it will continue to evolve. Skip to the bottom of the post to see my latest definition as well as reference to an excellent article that has made me re-think my original one.

Let’s start with some dictionary definitions.


Oxford English Dictionary:
– 1 the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations: “the breathtaking beauty of nature”
– the physical force regarded as causing and regulating these phenomena: “it is impossible to change the laws of nature” See also Mother Nature.

American Heritage Dictionary (
1. the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
2. the natural  world as it exists without human beings or civilization.
3. the elements of the natural  world, as mountains, trees, animals, or rivers.

Natural is generally defined as “existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.” (OED)

Naturalistic is usually defined as something that imitates nature: Plastic made to look like wood. A garden designed with soft, curving lines rather than hard, rectilinear ones (think Central Park and Piet Oudolf rather than Versailles and  Martha Schwartz).

In the past, and even in most dictionary definitions, nature is seen as separate from humans and everything made by them. More recent thinking, and I am in this camp, argues that we human beings are not – cannot be – separate from nature because we are living, breathing beings not all that far removed from our “natural” animal relatives. We are nature and nature is us.

So let’s agree that humans are a part of nature.
Then what of the things that we make (other than other humans)? What of concrete, and glass, and hybrid plants like tulips and roses, and cloned sheep? Which of those are nature, or natural, and which are…not? (more…)