Landscapes for Health

The High Line: A “Landscape for Health”

If the definition of a “Landscape for Health”(TM) is “any outdoor space that facilitates health and well-being through connection with nature,” then the High Line, which opened about three weeks ago and which I visited for the first time yesterday, definitely fits the bill.* New York City already has many wonderful parks, from small community gardens and vestpocket parks to the many-acre pastoral settings of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. And many of these could also be considered Landscapes for Health, in the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s broad definition (the definition for healing gardens, therapeutic landscapes, rehabilitation gardens, and restorative gardens and landscapes is more specific – see this and this previous TLDBlog posting on the subject). But a linear park on an abandoned elevated railroad that glides above the city streets? This is a first for NYC, and a truly inspiring addition to an already pretty great city (for more information about the High Line’s history, designers, construction, and so forth please visit the Friends of the High Line website,

Bill Cunningham of the New York Times On the Streets‘ latest slideshow expresses the same kind of unfettered, unabashed enthusiasm I felt when I got up there among the high-rises with my fellow revelers. As one might expect, I was less focused on fashion and more on plants and design, as you’ll see from the accompanying TLN Flickr set. People were strolling, talking, taking pictures, looking at the plantings, pointing to things within the park and outside (amazing views of the river and the near and far Manhattan skyline), eating the gelato and drinking the coffee sold from the two intra-park vendors (now that’s gotta be a good business!), resting on or just trying out the many varied and inventively designed park benches, and of course, watching other people do the same. Bill Cunningham talks about the park as a “fashion promenade,” and though there was less of the fashion going on on a drizzly Thursday afternoon, it certainly has the promenade feeling.

When we refer to outdoor spaces as “healing gardens,” we are usually talking about the positive, salutary effect that they have on people. However, I’m also a firm believer that the best kind of healing garden, or restorative landscape, or Landscape for Health, is one that is also healthy for the planet. Taking a brownfield site, cleaning it up, planting trees and shrubs and perennials and grasses that exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, and providing a landscape that people can benefit from in a multitude of ways is a win-win scenario that I wish more cities, healthcare facilities, and other institutions would take a cue from. To get a sense of what I’m talking about with this particular park, see images of the High Line pre-construction on theHigh Line’s and Piet Oudolf’s websites.

But there’s plenty of grunge still there to remind us of the High Line’s past. I think what makes the park so successful is a very artful combination of gritty and refined. When Joshua David and Robert Hammond first saw the high line back in 1999, they loved the wildness of it – the tracks overgrown with weeds felt like a magical wild secret garden floating above the city streets. That weedy character has been retained, under the guidance of the master of the “new wave” planting style, Piet Oudolf. Yet the wildness has been gently reined in; I’m sure some people will look at the grasses, and coneflowers, and shrubs like sumac and chokeberry, and think it all still looks like a bunch of weeds. To me, it felt like walking through a beautiful meadow in full bloom without having to worry about getting covered in ticks. James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro have also successfully blended the gritty with the urbane. The linear “tracks” of the paving surface that die into the planting beds, the wooden benches that rise from those tracks, the wooden decking and the benches that rise from said decking, the black-painted railings, the sleek but unobtrusive lighting, and of course the existing tracks, sometimes covered and sometimes exposed, sometimes on the path and sometimes wending their way though the plantings, are all composed in a delightful dance…

…okay, I know, I’m gushing. But if Bill Cunningham can gush, so can I! The main point is that I’m in good company. I saw so much delight and joy on the faces of people up there on the High Line, and it’s sure to be a big attraction for a long time to come. A major construction, a swath of public open space in the heart of the city, that gets people outside, walking, talking, smiling, interacting with each other and with nature in a truly urban environment – that sure sounds like a Landscape for Health to me.

“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:

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.

Nature as Therapy for Hypertension and Other Stress-Related Disorders

Image of dogwood leaves courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

I met several members of the American Society of Hypertension yesterday, and they were intrigued by the idea of nature as an antidote to stress and, specifically, hypertension. As someone who works in this field every day, I forget that there are lots of people who don’t make the connection, other than intuitively (“well sure, every time I work in the garden, I feel better!”), that interaction with nature facilitates good health.

For example, these ASH members were surprised to learn that clinical studies have shown, on a quantitative rather than simply qualitative level, that gardens and other natural landscapes lower blood pressure and heart rate, speed up recovery in hospital patients, increase people’s ability to concentrate and recover from stressful situations, and generally increase people’s sense of well-being. Many of those positive benefits have to do with lowering stress. And guess what one of the leading causes of hypertension is? You guessed it: Stress! Therefore, it stands to reason that interaction with nature could be an excellent prescription for hypertension and so many of its associated illnesses.

Hypertension is the clinical word for high blood pressure; it is a medical condition in which blood pressure is chronically elevated. It is one of the leading risk factors for a slew of other serious health problems, including strokes, heart attacks and other heart failure, arterial aneurisms, and renal failure.

So just as stress sets up a chain reaction that adversely affects our health, interaction with gardens and other landscapes initiates a positive chain reaction that can ameliorate stress and its domino effect. If that’s too simplistic, you can refer to some of the research below for more detailed explanations. And if you have references that aren’t below or on the Therapeutic Landscapes Database’s References page, we’d love your input. And as always, your comments are welcome.

In Sweden, gardens and horticultural therapy are being used clinically to treat patients with stress-related illnesses such as burnout and chronic fatigue syndrome. Here are two articles about these programs:

Clare Cooper Marcus, “Gardens as Treatment Milieu: Two Swedish Gardens Counteract the Effects of Stress.” Landscape Architecture Magazine, Vol. 96, No. 5, May 2006.

Patrick Millet, “Integrating Horticulture into the Vocational Rehabilitation Process of Individuals with Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue, and Burnout: A Theoretical Model.” Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, Vol. 19, 2009, pp. 10-22.

In almost every article and presentation on the benefits of nature, Roger S. Ulrich refers to reduction of stress. Here are just a couple of examples:

Roger S. Ulrich, R. F. Simmons, B. D. Losito, E. Fiorito, M. A. Miles, and M. Zelson, “Stress Recovery During Exposure to Natural Urban Environments.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, Vol. 11, 1191, pp. 201-230.

In a blog post from a while back (“How the City Hurts Your Brain – and what you can do about it”), I discussed Stephen and Rachel Kaplans’ Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which is one explanation about how interaction with nature reduces stress. Here’s a good article about that: “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature,” by Mark G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan in Psychological Science, Vol. 19, No. 12, pp. 1207-1212.

New book! “Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-being through Urban Landscapes”

I’m very excited about this hot-off-the-press book, the result of the 2007 Meristem Forum “Restorative Commons for Community Health.” This collection of 18 articles, edited by Lindsay Campbell and Anne Wiesen and published by the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, “…explores human health in relation to the urban environment, drawing attention to sites and programs that utilize restorative design, foster civic stewardship of natural resources, and promote resilient neighborhoods.” If you know what the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is about (providing information and education about landscapes that facilitate health and well-being), you know we’re all over this one! You can get more information, and request or download a copy of the book, by clicking on this Meristem splashpage.

An “Urban Book Launch” is the first in a series of upcoming events surrounding the book’s release. It will be in New York City on Thursday, May 7th at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, 66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street. Book talk from 6-7 PM and book signing from 7-8 PM.
See you there!

Landscapes of Remembrance: Cemeteries as Healing Landscapes


Image of Stirling Cemetery in Scotland courtesy of The Daily Undertaker, an interesting blog about love, grief, and remembrance.

Cemeteries as healing landscapes? I can just imagine some the comment: “Um, I hate to break it to ya, but those folks are, well, you know, beyond healing.” Sure, cemeteries are for people who have died. But just as much, they are for the living: We plan them, bury and visit our family and friends in them, and maintain them – individual gravesites, family burial plots, and cemeteries as a whole. People also visit cemeteries as parks – more on that in a bit. Grief is one of the most painful of human emotions, and mortality is one of most people’s greatest fears. Nevertheless, cemeteries can be powerful landscapes not just as sites to inter the dead but as places for us to grieve, remember, and even celebrate life. All of these life-affirming actions contribute to our health and well-being.

Maya Lin Veterans Memorial Washington D.C.

Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

For years, I’ve thought of memorials as healing landscapes, and there’s a page of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network devoted to memorials. They serve as reminders and touchstones for the living to remember people and events. But it wasn’t until recently, when a local cemetery board contacted me about a design job, that I started to think of cemeteries (or what we called graveyards in the no-nonsense New England village where I grew up) as healing landscapes. They both serve as landscapes of remembrance, catalysts for individual and collective grieving and memory.

Frederick Law Olmsted, “the father of landscape architecture,” was inspired to create public parks in urban areas after learning that people were spending their Sundays at Mt. Auburn Cemetery because it was the only park-like setting within close reach of the city. Olmsted also designed some beautiful and historically significant cemeteries, including Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA. When I was in graduate school at UC Berkeley, I used to visit Mountain View; I had no connection to the people buried there, but it was a beautiful, quiet, serene landscape for walking and thinking.

There are millions of cemeteries, of all different kinds, in all different places. Some are sad and bleak, some are beautiful and park-like, some are tourist destinations for famous people (Elvis, John Lennon, J.F.K. – there are even celebrity gravesite tours) or just for themselves (Arlington National Cemetery, the “Cities of the Dead” in New Orleans). Many reflect a time period, place, and culture. My father-in-law’s ashes are buried at Colney Wood Natural Burial Park, one of a growing number of natural burial parks in Europe (we’ve got a few in the U.S., too – see The Centre for Natural Burial for more information and lists of sites). Not a religious man, he did not want his remains to be buried in a church graveyard; but my family wanted to have a place we could visit – a beautiful place that he would have liked to walk in and that we would be comforted by visiting. Colney Wood is just that: A lovely forest that is also a cemetery. We chose a spot under a majestic multi-trunk chestnut tree (two images, below), and we continue to take comfort from the place.

As for me, I’ve got a plot picked out in the small town where I grew up. It’s a rural spot, surrounded by trees and grass and old New England stone walls. I’m hoping it’ll be a long time until my relatives have to think about that, but there’s comfort in knowing that when the time comes, they’ll be able to wish me goodbye and visit me in a landscape that continues to give solace even after I’m gone.

The Importance of PLAY

Did you know that there’s a National Institute for Play? ( How cool is that? There’s been a lot of talk lately about play: Its importance not only for early childhood development (which is very important), but for people  – and animals, too – of all ages. The new book by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan called Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul has been getting a lot of press, and for good reason. We need play, and just as Richard Louv uncovered that kids are not getting outdoors enough in Last Child in the Woods, we are not playing enough, either. So, if we’re suffering from nature-deficit disorder and play-deficit disorder, wouldn’t the perfect antidote be some outdoor playtime?

A lot of play does occur outdoors – in “wild nature,” in backyards, in playgrounds, even on sidewalks and cul-de-sacs. When people think of “therapeutic landscapes,” they often imagine a quiet, contemplative healing garden with a bench and a fountain and pretty flowers. And this is absolutely one example of a restorative landscape. But a landscape for health – a landscape that facilitates health and well-being – can be so much more. Under this broader definition, any outdoor space that allows and encourages play would be a landscape for health. 
I’ve recently come across a slew great websites, blogs, and articles about play and playgrounds, so this seems like an appropriate post to list a bunch of them:
National Children & Youth Garden Symposium, July 23-25 at the Cleveland Botanical Garden in Ohio, sponsored by the American Horticultural Society. Sign up now (and please take notes so you can report back to us)!
Of course, the Children & Nature Network has great information and resources about getting kids active outside, as does the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour.
The Grass Stain Guru is Bethe Almeras’ brand-new rockin’ blog. Check it out for a great list of other play-friendly sites (I won’t list all the ones she does – just go take a look). Bethe, I’m going to get you on here for an interview one of these days!
Kaboom, a national non-profit organization that empowers communities to build playgrounds. Also a great resource for news and information about getting kids outside to play.
ASLA has a new Professional Practice Network called Children’s Outdoor Environments, chaired by Jena Ponti, ASLA.
The Krasnoyarsk Playground Project: A project to build a new playground in the birth home of Alex Griffith (now living with his adoptive family in Forest Hill, MD). Alex took this on as his Boy Scout Eagle Scout project after reading his adoptive father’s journal of their experience in Russia. “The journal mentioned a playground at Hospital #20 in great disrepair. The playground had one rusty swing with a rotten wooden seat, a sandbox mostly covered in dirt and mud, and a small gazebo with a picnic table.” Alex spent six months researching and planning the project and has gotten a huge amount of support. Very inspiring!
Playground Builders (, a non-profit organization devoted to building playgrounds in war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Bank and Gaza. 
SOL, or Sequential Outdoor Learning Environment, was developed by Tamara M. Vincenta of Artemis Landscape Architects as a sequence of outdoor spaces designed to meet the needs of children and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Tamara began this project for her Healthcare Garden Design Certification at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and she has created something really beautiful and powerful from it.
Learning Landscapes (“Building Community Through Play” – A project with The University of Colorado Denver and the City of Denver to “connect the design and construction of urban public spaces with healthy initiatives. Since 1998, in partnership with Denver Public Schools, we have transformed 48 neglected public elementary school playgrounds into attractive and safe multi-use parks tailored to the needs and desires of their neighbors and communities.”
Robin Moore’s Natural Learning Initiative. Moore’s book Plants for Play is one that I refer to again and again. 
If you can get a back issue, Landscape Architect and Specifier News had a great issue devoted to play in October of 2008 (Vol. 24, No. 10), even with articles on playgrounds in healthcare facilities. 
“Working in the Margins: A non-traditional approach to the practice of landscape architecture creates a much-needed playground in a women’s prison.” by Daniel Winterbottom, ASLA Landscape Architecture Magazine, December 2007, Vol. 97, No. 12, pp. 38-47. This article is about the construction of a playground at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.
“Reclaiming Outdoor Space for the Digital Generation,” by Helle Burlingame (of the Kompan Institute), Landscape Architect and Specifier News, December 2008, Vol. 24, No. 12, pp. 28-30.
Most of these references are about kids, but play is important for us grown-ups, too. If you have some great resources about the benefits of play in the outdoors for people over the age of 12, I’d love to add them to the list. Anyone out there have stuff specific to seniors? That, too, would be great. Submit comments and I’ll add them here or in another blog post. Please and thank you!
Thanks also to Guy for the great picture of E. at Storm King Art Center.

Planting the Healing Garden: Growing Your Own Bird Seed

Image of prairie warbler courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

Not much time for blogging lately, but here’s a good
article about planting flowers that will attract birds into your garden. And if they don’t eat it all while it’s “on the vine,” you can harvest to feed the birds later. “How to Grow Your Own Bird Seed in the Garden.” Enjoy, and the birds will, too!

Gardening for Health – another good article

Image courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

Twitter can sometimes be a supreme distraction, but it can also send good articles my way, including this one, “Gardening for Health.” It’s old (2000), and repeats a lot of the same stuff I and others have been saying again and again, but there’s a personal component to this piece that – in my opinion – makes it worth sharing. I hope you agree!

Sorry to not be keeping up with the daily blog postings. Work with the web designer on our “new improved” website for the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is progressing, and it’s taking a lot of my attention these days as we make decisions about images, layout, features to add to the site that aren’t there now (like a search feature – progress at last!). If you have any thoughts on what you like about the existing site ( and what you would really like to see different with the new site, I’d love to hear from you. The TLN will continue to provide all of the same information (plus more!), but in a juicier, more accessible, easier-to-search format. Think organic peaches rather than bran cereal. Above is one of the images that will be in our homepage slideshow. We’re shooting to launch at the end of this month, so get your comments and ideas to me soon!

Thanks to twitterbo for “tweeting” this! 

The Garden: This year’s must-see documentary

Continuing in the agricultural vein, I watched The Garden last night, and though I’ve seen plenty of good documentaries this year, this one gets my vote for the Academy Awards. Brief synopsis: The 14-acre community garden on 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles, the largest community garden in the United States, has been tended and harvested by people in the neighborhood, mostly Chicanos, since 1992. Now a greedy developer (boo, hiss!) and several “community activists” and politicians (more booing and hissing, please) do some back-room deals that threaten the garden’s existence. The farmers get a crash course in the right kind of community activism as they attempt to keep the bulldozers from razing their site. Garden Rant called the film “riveting,” and I agree. They also encourage people to not only see the movie, but to hold screenings (click HERE to contact Black Valley Films to organize) so that lots of people can see it at once, talk about it, and perhaps start some activism of their own. 

This is a must-see movie for so many reasons, and should be viewed not just by gardening enthusiasts, locavores, and social justice activists, but by everyone. But I’m going to warn you, this is not a soft-focus, feel-good wander through an idyllic urban garden paradise where you learn about growing bananas and making salsa. This is a very well-done look at the nitty-gritty struggle between people who live on the margins of society (but who eat very well and live inspiringly close to the land) and those who don’t. The good news is that this movie has already won several awards and is up for an Academy Award, which is increasing viewings and therefore increasing awareness and activism. And if you feel like taking action before or after you see the movie, you can! Go to to learn more. Si se puede!

Here’s a great article by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) from, which is now on the South Central Farmers‘ website called “Turning Urban Deserts into Urban Oases.”

And if you’re looking for another great documentary about farming, watch The Real Dirt on Farmer John, too. Really, really good, and if you aren’t already a member of a CSA, you will want to be after watching this!

Community Supported Agriculture still on the rise despite recession

Common Ground Farm CSA farmstand at the 
Beacon, NY farmer’s market (thanks, Anne Dailey for the photo!)

I just read an encouraging article in the Westchester section of the New York Times this morning about how membership in CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – farms is still on the rise, despite the recession. I don’t know for sure if this is true for the rest of the country, but something tells me Westchester and the Hudson Valley aren’t the only places where people are opting to be a part of local farms where the food is tastier, more nutritious, and safer than what you get from big factory farms and huge grocery stores. Long live local!

In a Downturn, a Growth Opportunity?” by Jan Ellen Spiegel

p.s. If you’re wondering why there’s a post on CSA farms on the Therapeutic Landscapes Database Blog, here’s my answer: While the TLN tends to focus on healthcare design, we celebrate all types of “landscapes for health,” which in our broad definition are any outdoor space that facilitates health and wellness. And CSA farms definitely fit that definition!