April: Autism Awareness & Landscape Architecture Month

Lilac buds. Photo by Naomi Sachs

April lilac buds. Photo by Naomi Sachs

April is both Autism Awareness and Landscape Architecture Month, so it seems fitting to do a blog post about the intersection of Autism and the way that the natural world can help people of all abilities. There isn’t a whole lot of research specifically on how interaction with nature affects people with Autism, but we’re getting there, and the TLN is glad to be able to share what resources we do know about. See the attached pdf at the end of this post, as well as our Get Out and Play! page. If you have any that aren’t on our list, please let me know!

In addition, for Autism Awareness Month:

Carol Krawczyk has been writing a series of articles on her blog, The Engagement Zone: How people engage with the environment. Carol has also written a (not yet published) TLN Blog guest post, so be on the lookout for that.

And Tara Vincenta and I have just finished an article based on last year’s KaBOOM! webinar, “Prescription for Play: Nature-based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Other Special Needs.” The article will be published in the next issue of Implications, InformeDesign’s newsletter. If you don’t yet know about InformeDesign, now you do, and your world is now a better place. InformeDesign is one of the best resources for anyone interested in the intersection of research and design – in other words, a treasure trove for evidence-based design (EBD). To get to the original webinar, go to KaBOOM’s Hot Topics in Play page and scroll down to the one with the above title (“Prescription for Play: Nature-Based…”). They have produced many other great webinars since, so you’ll need to scroll down a ways. Tara Vincenta is Principal at Artemis Landscape Architects and is also creator of the Sequential Learning Outdoor (SOL) Environment. A Sequential Outdoor Learning Environment is specifically designed to support children and families living with the challenges of Autism and other special needs. These unique spaces, which are equally engaging for any child, offer a fun, safe and secure outdoor play and learning environment, while also presenting an array of opportunities to overcome common challenges.

And for Landscape Architecture Month:

To celebrate LA Month, Landscape Architecture Magazine is allowing everyone access to this month’s magazine online (click HERE to access). If you go to page 10, you can Letters to the Editor  in response to Bradford McKee’s February Land Matters article “Reading, Writing, and Radishes,” including one my me. And here it is, in case you don’t want to thumb through the Zinio file:

Great article! Sure, the sky is falling in many ways, but I firmly believe that this is also an exciting time when good grassroots work is being met by “top-down” players such as government, policy makers, designers, and health providers. A confluence of movements – sustainability, locavore, children and nature, healing landscapes, livable cities – are meeting and building on each other to create meaningful change in our time.

Click her to access the pdf mentioned above: Resources on Autism and Access to Nature

Happy National Horticultural Therapy Week!

Eastern redbud. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Eastern redbud, Atlanta, GA, March 2011. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Greetings from Atlanta, GA! Environments for Aging started today (Sunday) and I flew in a couple days early to visit my 94-year-old great-aunt, Stefanie. She embodies a person who is aging joyfully, in a wonderful Continuing Care Retirement Community just outside of Atlanta – Park Springs, in Stone Mountain. But more on that another time. Today, I want to talk about National Horticultural Therapy Week, which started today.

Horticultural Therapy (HT) uses plants, gardens, and other aspects of nature to improve people’s social, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) website, it is “the engagement of a person in gardening-related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific treatment goals.” And from Rebecca Haller, HTM, “Horticultural therapy is a professionally conducted client-centered treatment modality that utilizes horticulture activities to meet specific therapeutic or rehabilitative goals of its participants. The focus is to maximize social, cognitive, physical and/or psychological functioning and/or to enhance general health and wellness” (from the Horticultural Therapy Institute website).

The Therapeutic Landscapes Network has an HT page where you can find links to relevant organizations (including the American Horticultural Therapy Association, the Canadian HTA, and the German Association for Horticulture and Therapy, as well as the Horticultural Therapy Institute) and resources online and in print. The AHTA publishes a very fine peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, and that alone is worth every penny of AHTA membership. Any designer or researcher involved in this area of the field should really be a member of this organization.

Which brings me to an announcement about AHTA’s fall conference, which will be in Asheville, NC from 10/21-10/23/2011. Call for submission is open until April 15 – have something you think would be interesting to horticultural therapist regarding HT, research, case studies, design, or work experience? Give it a shot! The conferences are always good for learning and networking. For more info, visit the AHTA website,

Today one of the tours at Environments for Aging was of Wesley Woods Center, a specialty geriatric care component of Emory Healthcare with a 64-acre campus with an excellent HT program. Because of schedule conflicts, I wasn’t be able to attend the group tour today (which I heard rave reviews about), but I will have the good fortune of getting a private tour with horticultural therapist (HTR) Kirk Hines on Wednesday afternoon. I’m looking forward to finally meeting Kirk in person, after many years of email correspondence, and to sharing what I learn on the blog.

So enjoy this week, National Horticultural Therapy week; take some time to learn about it, perhaps even take advantage of an event in your community or region being organized by AHTA or one of their many regional chapters.

And as always, I’ll be posting “live” from the Environments for Aging Conference on Monday and Tuesday via the TLN Facebook page ( and Twitter (@healinggarden).

Horticutural Therapy at Wesley Woods. Kirk Hines, HTR/Wesley Woods Hospital of Emoryhealthcare

Horticutural Therapy at Wesley Woods. Kirk Hines, HTR/Wesley Woods Hospital of Emoryhealthcare

Use Us! Getting the Most from the Therapeutic Landscapes Network

Cuban Tree Snails. Photo by Henry Domke,

The Therapeutic Landscapes Network has a lot to offer – so much so that people sometimes don’t even know what-all we have or how to best find it. Here’s a guide. Don’t worry if you can’t take it in all at once. We’ve added it to the “About Us” section of this blog in the top right-hand column.

But first, let me point out that we are a small organization with a big mission. Just as with public radio and many other great resources, our website and blog would not be possible without the support of our Wonderful Sponsors, particularlyLandscape Forms and Scofield, as well as generous contributions from individuals. We welcome donations and more Wonderful Sponsors – if you like what we do, help us keep doing it. If you want to see more, help us build.

The TLN Website (
Our website provides a wealth of information about gardens and landscapes that promote health and well-being. We are always adding new information and images. Some of the pages are very much still works in progress, and most are rich with content. Think of our website as an online bibliography that doesn’t go out of date as soon as it goes to print!

Searching and Finding
The “search” tool is present in the upper right-hand corner of every website page. Use it to search for any keyword or phrase within the website (e.g., “Alzheimer’s,” “evidence-based design,” “Chicago, IL,” “sensory gardens.”).
If you just want to do searches within the TLN Blog, use the search function in the right-hand column under “Search This Blog.”

Still can’t find what you’re looking for, or don’t know where to look first? Check out our Site Map for a quick overview of what’s where.

Take some time to roam around the website and see what we have to offer; you might just stumble upon a gem or two that you weren’t even looking for but are glad to have found.

References – Resources, research, and references

  • References – Hundreds of books, articles from peer-reviewed journals and popular magazines, theses, conference presentations, and more. The Search function is useful for finding specific topics.
  • If You Only Read Five” – Recommended readings sorted into categories such as “Where to Start,” “Design for seniors and people with dementia,” and “Books for inspiration.”


Biophilia: Winter Wildlife in the Healing Garden

Goldfinch photo courtesy of Kelly Riccetti at Red and the Peanut

Goldfinch photo courtesy of Kelly Riccetti at Red and the Peanut

Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.

– Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

The biologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term “biophilia,” or people’s innate attraction to life and living things. In the winter, when so much plant life is dormant, it’s important to nurture that sense of connection with life, and one of the best ways to do that is by observing wildlife. Fortunately, with fewer leaves on the trees, we can often watch wildlife even from the cozy indoors. “Armchair bird-watching” is one of my favorite pastimes on a cold, snowy day.

Here are a few good posts – two from the TLN Blog archives and three from Beautiful Wildlife Garden, one of my favorite blogs, about encouraging wildlife, especially birds, into the winter garden:

Winter Birds in the Wildlife Garden, by Carole Brown –

The Winter Wildlife Garden, by Carole Brown –

A Berry Merry Christmas, by Loret T. Setters –

Watching the Birds – Connecting with Nature in Winter, Part III, by Naomi Sachs –

Especially in Winter, Feed the Birds, by Naomi Sachs –

The image above was taken by Kelly Riccetti, author of the blog Red and the Peanut. Her photos, often close-ups of birds, are breathtaking. Thank you, Kelly!

Books for Inspiration with a Healing Garden Theme

Healing garden books for inspiration

I’m forgoing Wordless Wednesday today in a big way since the number of shopping days until Christmas is dwindling fast. If you’re still looking for the perfect gift for someone special (including yourself) and you can’t get everything you need from the TLN store, here are some recommendations for beautiful books with a healing garden theme.

These are all books that I own and refer to again and again for inspiration when designing and consulting about healing gardens (including my own). There are more academic and educational books out there, which are listed on the TLN’s References page. Our “If You Only Read Five” page, which lists books in categories (inspiration, evidence-based design, horticultural therapy, specific populations, etc.), is still a work in progress, but look for updates this spring.

The books in this list are sure to inspire you and your giftees to create spaces that are truly nurturing to body and soul. And as a bonus, when you buy from all of the Amazon links on this post, you’ll be nurturing the Therapeutic Landscapes Network as well. Through the Amazon Associates program, the TLN receives a percentage of each book sale. This is true for Amazon purchase at any time of the year, so please bookmark the link and use it when you shop there. Of course, if you can find the books locally, all the better.

Our Shadow GardenI just discovered this sweet, sweet children’s book, Our Shadow Garden, by Cherie Foster Colburn. Illustrated by young patients at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, it’s about a girl who creates a garden for her grandmother: When a beloved grandmother becomes ill and is no longer able to be in the sun, her granddaughter is inspired to create a garden for her she can enjoy. She and Poppa work together in secret to transform Nana’s garden into a night blooming oasis, a place where she can be with the creatures and plants that bring her happiness. Published by Bright Sky Press, Our Shadow Garden is the winner of the 2010 Growing Good Kids: Excellence in Children’s Literature Award from the American Horticulture Society and Jr. Master Gardeners.  I’m not providing an Amazon link to this book because when you purchase directly though the Children’s Art Project all proceeds go to them at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. They have raised more than $26 million dollars for cancer patients and their families selling notecards and gift items that feature original art by pediatric cancer patients, so when you buy this book, you’ll be giving a gift that becomes two gifts.


Labyrinths as Therapeutic Landscapes

Labyrinth at Burford Priory, courtesy of St. James's Piccadilly

Labyrinth at Burford Priory, courtesy of St. James's Piccadilly

In last week’s Garden Designers Roundtable, the theme was “Therapy and Healing in the Garden” and not one but two posts focused on labyrinths (Jenny Petersen’s “Therapeutic Spaces“) and (Lesley Hegarty and Robert Webber’s “‘Homage to Ariadne’ – Labyrinthine Therapy“). I’ve been meaning to blog about this subject for awhile, so their posts were a good nudge.

Both Jenny and Lesley and Robert distinguish between labyrinths and mazes. Historically, they were much more similar. The Greek mythological labyrinth was designed to confuse the Minotaur, and the dictionary defines “labyrinthine” as “entangled.” The term is often used when describing, say, the process of doing one’s taxes, or dealing with an insurance company, or the U.S. healthcare system.

But, as Robert and Lesley explain, since 430 AD, “a labyrinth has had a single unambiguous path to the centre and back.” And as Jenny further describes, “a labyrinth is a flat surface containing an intricately designed pathway, but it’s important to note that it is not a maze. A maze is a left-brained puzzle, full of different pathways containing tricks and turns. Fun, but not therapeutic! A labyrinth has only one pathway that moves back and forth from side to side until you reach the center–no need to figure out where you’re going; you just walk and the pathway will lead you. In fact, a favorite quote of labyrinth enthusiasts comes from the philosopher and theologian St. Augustine (345-430 A.D.) who said, ‘Solviture ambulando. It is solved by walking.'”

Esther Sternberg, in her excellent book Healing Spaces: The Science and Place of Well-Being devotes a chapter to mazes and labyrinths, and she, too, makes a clear distinction between the two, arguing that the former are challenging and stressful, and the latter generally have the opposite effect, calming and centering us in a form of walking meditation (click here to link to the TLN Blog’s interview with Dr. Sternberg, in which we discuss this and other subjects).

Jenny provides one possible explanation for this effect: “There’s a thought that labyrinths are a calming activity because of something called ‘bilateral movement.’ It’s that back-and-forth movement of the body/brain that is said to have a calming effect–think of other back-and-forth movements/activities that calm you: pacing, knitting/crocheting, reading. The side-to-side motion of the labyrinth path can help ease anxiety and depression, aid people with ambulatory/balance issues and supplement meditation or prayer.”

Labyrinths come in several different styles and can be made from many different materials, including something as simple as the mown pictured above. For some more examples, see Jenny and Lesley and Robert’s posts. They have found their way into hospitals, schools, churches, prisons, public parks, and myriad other places where they are believed to serve a holistic function of bringing balance into our lives.

I had a chance to walk the labyrinth on the rooftop garden at the American Psychological Association this summer, where Holly Siprelle gave ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design members a tour. Theirs is a 7-circuit Santa Rosa labyrinth designed by Dr. Lea Goode-Harris, an active member of The Labyrinth Society. It’s a joint effort between the APA, the World Resources Institute, and the TKF Foundation and is used often by staff and visitors as a way to take a break and decompress. The garden also has a neat finger labyrinth, shown below (this one was custom-made, but you can find finger labyrinths at this website,

Finger labyrinth at the American Psychological Association. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Finger labyrinth at the American Psychological Association. Photo by Naomi Sachs

My colleague Randy Eady is a big proponent of labyrinths and their benefits. He has written, spoken, and consulted extensively on the subject and his website,, is a wealth of knowledge.

We are still building the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s Labyrinths page, where we list resources (in print or online), research, and images. We would love to expand this list, so please, leave your comments here!

Center for Health Design Store Sale!

We’re interrupting our series on upcoming events to announce that the Center for Health Design is having a summer sale  – 20% off everything in their store.

Jain Malkin Visual Reference for Evidence-Based DesignItems from the CHD Store include Jain Malkins’ A Visual Reference for Evidence-Based Design; Debra Harris et. al.’s book A Practitioner’s Guide to Evidence-Based Design; The EDAC (Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification) study guides; the Access to Nature DVDs; and more.

Enter the code SUMMER2010 to get your summer bargains.

What is evidence-based design, or EBD, you may ask?
“Evidence-Based Design is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes.” – The Center for Health Design
Or in our own words, it’s the process of using quantitative, and sometimes qualitative, research to design environments that facilitate health and improve outcomes. In some settings, design based on intuition or common sense is fine. But when it comes to creating spaces for specific groups of people with specific needs (and where the space is designed for a specific outcome or result), such as in the healthcare setting, design must be based on sound research. See the TLN website’s page on Evidence-Based Design for more information and resources.

For more on the Center for Health Design and the great work that they do, visit their website:

Access to Nature

Now online! Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs

Since Richard Louv began his No Child Left Inside campaign, we have seen a wonderful groundswell around the importance of children experiencing the natural world. And at the same time, sadly, we continue to see an alarming rise in children with autism and other related disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism now affects 1 in every 110 American children. This new number is a staggering 57% increase from 2002-2006. Clearly, we need more research on prevention and treatment options, but we also need more ways to help those children (and their families) on the “autism spectrum” who are coping on a daily basis.

One way that we can help is by designing environments that support children on the spectrum, including outdoor play and learning spaces. That’s why Tara Vincenta – Principal at Artemis Landscape Architects and creator of the SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment –  and I were thrilled when KaBOOM! approached us about doing an online training on this very subject. We’ve had a great time collaborating and are happy to announce that the training is now available on the KaBOOM! website, and will soon be up on the SOL Environment and Therapeutic Landscapes Network websites as well.

The free online training is called “Prescription for Play: Nature-based Play and Learning for Autistic and Special Needs Children.” Here’s the description:

Join landscape architects Naomi Sachs, Director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network and Tara Vincenta, creator of SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment as they explore research and design considerations for creating outdoor, nature-based play and learning environments for autistic and special needs children. Many of the challenges faced by autistic children are shared with a broader community of special needs children, including motor, neuromuscular, cognitive, sensory and communication issues, and visual and auditory impairment. Sachs and Vincenta will share ideas for creating outdoor spaces that allow children to play at their own comfort level, overcoming common challenges in a safe, FUN, nature-based environment that is equally engaging for any child.

Go to KaBOOM’s Hot Topics in Play page to access the training, and if ours is not the first training, just scroll down until you see it. You’ll find other great topics there as well, and once you join KaBOOM (free, of course), you can access any and all. KaBOOM! is a wonderful non-profit organization whose mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities, and whose vision is “a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.”

You can also download a pdf of the supplemental materials – a list resources in print and online about this topic – from the KaBOOM website, and we’ll have those on our respective websites soon, too.

Many, many thanks to KaBOOM! (and especially to Kiva) for this wonderful opportunity, and to you, dear reader, for spreading the word (yes, that’s a hint).

A Network Growing Strong: 1,000 members on Facebook!


Web photo by Henry Domke

As of today, the Therapeutic Landscapes Network has over 1,000 members on Facebook. Cue balloons falling from the ceiling and champagne cork popping!

Why is this such a big deal, other than being a nice big round number? Because we are creating a truly interactive, dynamic network, that’s why.

Ever since I first started the Therapeutic Landscapes Database back in 1999, I have wanted to create a “forum” – a sort of virtual gathering space – for sharing information, questions, and ideas. This was also one of the goals for our new website, and we’ve been knocking ideas around about how to best create this forum. In the meantime, Facebook started these “pages” where businesses and organizations could have members, or fans, or likers…the name keeps changing but the idea is the same: A group of people who are connected around the same issue.

And so, at least for the time being, the TLN’s Facebook page has become that forum. In addition to seeing what the TLN posts – and we do post information, events, links to other good organizations, picture, and so on almost every day – here are some of the other ways you can use the FB page:

  • Share information: Post stuff (links to articles and organizations, pictures, questions, thoughts, inspirations) on the wall – all members (fans) can post.
  • Comment on other people’s posts – great way to share information, ideas, etc.
  • See related organizations – In the left-hand column, see our “favorite pages” section for other like-minded organizations such as the Children & Nature Network, Horticultural Therapy Institute, the National Wildlife Federation.

So if you haven’t already joined us, please do. Believe me, I have my own issues with Facebook, especially with their new privacy policy, but for now, it is the best “forum” venue for us.

If you still don’t want to join Facebook, here are some other ways you can still be an active participant in the TLN:

1. Join our mailing list so that you get our monthly newsletter;

2. Leave comments on this blog – comments are a great way to get a discussion/conversation going between blog readers;

3. Join our group on Land8Lounge, the social networking site for landscape architects and designers (anyone is welcome, that’s just who it’s geared towards);

4. Contact us directly.

Thanks to each and every one of our members for making the “Network” part of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s name real and meaningful. We can learn so much from each other.

And thanks to Henry Domke for this beautiful (and yes, symbolic) web image.

Naomi Sachs, Founder & Director, Therapeutic Landscapes Network

Discount on DVDs – A Consolation Prize for Those of Us Who Can’t Attend the Design for Aging Conference

I really wanted to get to the Design for Aging conference, which started today, but just couldn’t this year. If you are in the same boat, I have a consolation prize for you!

The Therapeutic Landscape Network has teamed up with Access to Nature to offer a 10% discount off of the excellent DVD series, “Access to Nature for Older Adults.”

Please visit this earlier post for a detailed (and glowing) description of this DVD series. It is an excellent new contribution to this field, and I wish that everyone would see it.

So to help with that, here’s the deal: Receive a 10% discount when you buy any or all of the Access to Nature DVDs. Just enter this promotional code in the checkout section on the Access to Nature website: TLNA2N.