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.

So much good news, so little time

I’ve been feeling a little like Lucy in Episode 39, “Job Switching,” also known as “the candy factory episode.” So much great news about landscapes for health, I can’t keep up! This is a very good thing, because it means that we’re finally getting somewhere and this whole idea of “therapeutic landscapes” is permeating the public consciousness. But it’s not so good for this solitary blogger! So for the next few days, I’m going to give you short bursts. A few sentences and then the link for further study, if you want. More like twitter than my posts usually are. If I could figure out how to do a “news feed,” of related articles, I would, but I haven’t cleared that technical hurdle yet.

First installment short and sweet. Some great articles about the positive effects of indoor plants:

3. The above paper is summarized nicely in this article (as well as in Sara Snow’s on treehugger): “Do Plants Speed Up Recovery In Hospitals?” on

4. “The Effect of Live Plants and Window Views of Green Spaces on Employee Perceptions of Job Satisfaction.”

5. “Greener Offices Make Happier Employees.” Press release about the above paper from the American Society for Horticultural Sciences.

Full citations:

Dravigne, Andrea,  Waliczek, R. Lineberger, and J. Zajicek (2008). “The Effect of Live Plants and Window Views of Green Spaces on Employee Perceptions of Job Satisfaction.” HortScience, vol. 43, p. 279. 

Park, Seong-Hyun and Richard H. Mattson (2008). “Effects of Flowering and Foliage Plants in Hospital Rooms on Patients Recovering from Abdominal Surgery.” HortTechnology, October, 18:549-745.

Snow, Sara (2008).”Green Eyes On: Healing and Air Purifying Plants.”, 1/19/09.

News staff (2008).”Do Plants Speed Up Recovery In Hospitals?”, 12/29/08.

“Greener Offices Make Happier Employees.” HortTechnology, ASHS Press Releases, 5/16/08.

Urban Naturalism – Finding Nature in the City

Image courtesy Chris at Urban Naturalism

Who says you have to be waaaaay out in the country to experience nature? After all,
81% of Americans live in urban or at least semi-urban areas (that number is 49% in the rest of the world). If we couldn’t find any nature in our immediate environs, life would be pretty bleak, indeed.  

Did you know that before large urban parks like Central Park were created, people picnicked at cemeteries? Yes, indeed. In the nineteenth century, city-dwellers were so desperate to have a patch of green to throw their blankets down on that they flocked to cemeteries like Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA. After all, you couldn’t exactly hop in the car for a drive out to the country. Frederick Law Olmsted, “the father of landscape architecture,” was dismayed by the lack of public green spaces in cities and decided that there should be more of them. And now we have Central Park, and Prospect Park, and many other urban green landscapes. Thanks, Fred (and Calvert Vaux, among others). 

We also have a lot of “urban naturalists,” people determined to find nature in the city. The best of them share that enthusiasm with the rest of us, and we are richer for it. I just discovered the wonderful Urban Naturalism blog yesterday (“Discovering the Magic Wonderment of an Urban Place). Tool around on this site for other great books and links. And a few worth looking at that aren’t on the blog: Prospect: A Year in the Park, and Mary Winn’s Central Park in the Dark, and The Urban Naturalist. I’m sure there are many more. If you have a favorite book, website, or blog on urban naturalism, let me know.

And if you’re like me and live in the city, you, too can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count! See previous post for more details.

Land8Lounge: New social networking site for LAs

“Royal Terns on the Beach,” courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

O.K., so it’s a bit of a strange name, but for all you landscape architects and designers and others interested in the subject, there’s a new social networking site called Land8Lounge. So far, I like it much better than some of the other personal and professional social networking sites (like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn). I’ve started a group on there called the Therapeutic Landscapes Network 4Land8Lounge. So far we’ve got members from China, England, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, and the U.S. Please join us, and jump into the conversation! 

And I haven’t forgotten about the continuation of the whole natural light discussion – just been a bit preoccupied lately with the holidays. 

Gardening Leave – one great answer to PTSD

Image courtesy Gardening Leave
It’s Christmas Eve, and no matter what your political views are, you have to admit: It’s awful for servicemen and women stuck overseas and separated from their families, especially during the holidays. That old WWII song “I’ll be home for Christmas” still carries a lot of weight. And unfortunately, the trauma doesn’t stop once people are discharged. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are experiencing high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. In the U.S., our VA system is not at all well equipped to deal with the problem. Horticultural and animal-assisted therapy have both been found to be very helpful for people with PTSD, and in Scotland, one charity is addressing the issue in a very thoughtful and pragmatic way.

Gardening Leave oversees “horticultural therapy projects for ex-Servicemen and women growing fruit and vegetables in walled gardens which will provide a peaceful, unpressurised environment where veterans can participate as much or as little as they choose in the life cycle of the kitchen garden.”

Pretty cool, huh? Check out their website for more information, images, and videos: If anyone knows of something similar in the U.S. or elsewhere, please leave a comment and let me know!

Happy, peaceful, safe, and joyous holidays!

The need for natural light, part II (and to be continued)

In researching for this blog posting on the need for natural light, I’ve uncovered so much good information that I wouldn’t be able to do the subject justice to try to write about it today, when I’m crunched for time. So, stay tuned while I do a little more digging and collecting thoughts. 

In the meantime, the best all-around article I’ve found so far is “A Review of the Research Literature on Evidence-Based Healthcare Design” by Roger S. Ulrich, Craig Zimring, Xuemie Zhu, Jennifer DuBose, Hyun-Bo Seo, Young-Seon Choi, Xiaobo Quan, and Anjali Joseph, published in the Spring 2008 issue of Health Environments Resarch & Design Journal, a quarterly journal published by the Center for Health Design and Vendome Group (Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 61-125). This article (and the journal in general) is a must-read/have for anyone interested in Evidence-Based Design in healthcare. For subscription information, contact

Winter Reading: The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide

Winter is the ideal time for curling up in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand and a good book in the other. It’s also a great time to make plans for the garden. The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide, published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, looks sure to inspire as well as educate. Check out their press release and description HERE.

Therapeutic Landscapes Research Initiative (TLRI)

Image courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art
People interested in evidence-based landscape design are usually underwhelmed by the amount of solid research out there. It’s hard to design a garden for, say, people with schizophrenia, when so little research has been done on this specific population. Or as another example, sure, we all know by now that people prefer lots of greenery to spaces that don’t have much plant material. But what kinds of plant material do they prefer? What colors, shapes, textures, forms? The study below discusses preferred tree forms. So although often we don’t have enough information, sometimes we can be overwhelmed by what has been published. Of the research that exists, how do we tease out what’s the newest, the most valid, the most pertinent to our specific project?

The Therapeutic Landscapes Research Initiative (TLRI) was launched as a way to try to answer these questions and fill some of the gaps. After all, designers and people in health and human services don’t have much time for research. They want answers quickly, and the more current and germane to their project, the better. Funded by ASLA and spearheaded by several ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network members, the TLRI is an excellent resource. Students at Iowa State have compiled a list of the most current and relevant articles from over twenty journals and other publications, with synopses of each study that really help give a sense of what the research is about.

Here’s the link to the site:

And here’s one example:

“Responses to Scenes with Spreading, Rounded, and Conical Tree Forms.” 

This study sought to understand reactions and preferences of 206 participants to different types of tree forms. It was predicted that people would have a preference for the savanna-like spreading form. Participants viewed slides of trees that were digitally enhanced to emphasize the conical, spreading, and rounded tree forms. Measurement tools included preference questions, affective responses, skin temperature, and blood pressure. Results revealed that the spreading form was preferred over rounded and conical forms. It was also important that any tree form was preferred over inanimate objects in an urban setting. Trees, regardless of their shape or canopy density, are essential in urban environments for the well-being of the residents.” Environment and Behavior, 12/20/2007, 5 667-688.

Sustainable Sites Initiative draft open for public comment

Image courtesy Sustainable Sites Initiative

If you haven’t yet checked out the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the website is worth a look. Note the Human Health & Well-being component of their mission. They’ve recently released a draft of their latest Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, and are seeking public comment. Here’s your opportunity to weigh in. See below for more details:

The Sustainable Sites Initiative invites public comment on the new report titled Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks Draft 2008, the most comprehensive set of national guidelines yet developed for the sustainable design, construction and maintenance of landscapes. The report is available for download at, and an online feedback form has been created for users to help improve the guidelines.

These guidelines will enable built landscapes to support natural ecological functions by protecting existing ecosystems and regenerating ecological capacity where it has been lost. The report includes more than 50 prerequisites and credit options that cover everything from initial site selection to construction and maintenance. The report represents thousands of hours with input from 37 technical advisors in hydrology, vegetation, soils, materials and human health and well being. These credits were tailored to apply to any landscape, with our without buildings.

Book Review: Your Home, Your Sanctuary

I’m always on the lookout for books that show the benefits of nature in a new light. While garden books are the usual fare, once in awhile something like Clodagh’s new Your Home, Your Sanctuary catches my eye. Unlike most “shelter” publications, which focus on interior spaces, this new book demonstrates how Clodagh, an architectural and interior designer based in New York City, blurs the boundaries between indoors and out, bringing elements of nature inside (through materials, colors, plants, fire, water, and views) and pulling home comforts (such as furniture, places to cook, privacy, fire, water, and views) outside. Of course, this inside-outside concept is not new; architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, and landscape architects like Garrett Eckbo and Thomas Church, inspired us to live in harmony with nature. Still, it’s an idea that sometimes gets lost in cycles of fashion and technology, and we’re lucky to have contemporary designers who remind us of its continuing importance.

Clodagh’s primary message is that your home can be a sanctuary for you and your family and guests. In addition to providing examples, handsomely illustrated by Daniel Aubry’s photographs, of how she does it for clients, the book serves as a kind of “how-to” for the rest of us. In the introduction, Clodagh poses several questions that people should ask about their home; they remind me of the kinds of questions that landscape designers should be asking their clients about their garden: “Is it harmonious and balanced? Does it enhance my life and bring me joy? Does my heart lift with pleasure when I think about it? Is it comfortable? Is it a place for healing and wellness? Can I invite anyone there at any time without stress? Do I get upset when I think about it? If so, what are the problems?”

Most of the book is devoted to interior spaces, with ideas about how to create harmonious and nurturing environments. Clodagh uses many natural materials and environmentally friendly principles that make rooms feel warm, soft, and comfortable. Not surprisingly, “Beyond the Window” is my favorite chapter. It contains an introductory overview, a set of nine “essentials” (which in this case are labeled privacy, texture, maintenance, plantings, food preparation, meeting, water, pets, and storage), a page on the importance of water and windows, and an additional “Nine details for creating a perfect outdoor sanctuary” (I’m not going to give those away, too – go buy the book!). Clodagh wants us to think about what kinds of spaces are right for us (or our clients)–not what we think our garden should be, but how we want it to function so that we can live fully in it: “Think about what you love to do in the yard and garden.” Do you love to entertain, play with your kids, grow your own food, do yoga, or simply put your feet up and listen to the wind and the birds? 

This is an “inspiration” book, not a textbook, and its focus is residential design. For designers and health and human service providers who want facts, case studies, and concrete examples of therapeutic gardens, there are other books out there that will be more useful (see, for example, this blog posting: “Psst! Wanna buy a book?”). However, many of the principles discussed and illustrated in Your Home, Your Sanctuary – comfort, human connection, joy, balance, harmony, safety, and responsibility to our environment – are excellent reminders of what all designers should bear in mind when creating restorative environments and meaningful places.

Your Home, Your Sanctuary is available wherever fine books are sold, or online at

All quotes © CLODAGH: Your Home, Your Sanctuary, by Clodagh, Rizzoli New York, 2008.