Sensory gardens

Children & Youth Garden Symposium: Register by 7/23!

July 11-13, 2013! Children and Youth Garden Symposium

The American Horticultural Society’s 2013 National Children & Youth Garden Symposium takes place at the Denver Botanic Gardens July 11-13, 2013, with pre-symposium garden tours on July 10 and 11.

In addition to a host of seminars, attendees will have the chance to participate in tours of the Denver Urban Gardens, The Gardens on Spring Creek (Fort Collins, CO) and Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (Cheyenne, WY). The event’s prime sponsor, The American Horticultural Society, has organized more than 50 workshops in six categories including Curriculum, Garden Design and Maintenance, Horticultural Science, Horticutural Therapy, Literature, and Policy.

Keynote speakers
The first of three keynote speakers is environmental psychologist Louise Chawla, Professor of Environmental Design at the University of Colorado.
As Associate Director of the Children, Youth and Environments Center for Community Engagement. Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a senior lecturer as well as children and youth program leader for Cornell Garden-Based Learning in Ithaca, NY.
David Sobel, Senior Faculty in the Education Department at Antioch University in Keene, NH. He is the author of seven books and more than 60 articles focused on children and nature for educators, parents, environmentalists and school administrators.

Pre-symposium garden tours July 10 and 11
Denver Urban Gardens supports one of the largest school garden networks in the United States. In this tour you will see three school gardens and learn how they foster community, health, and education. A youth-led farmer’s market at Fairview School Community Garden, a schoolyard farm at Denver Green School Community Garden supplying the cafeteria salad bar managed by Sprout City Farms, and integrated nutrition and science classes at Bradley International School’s Heather Regan Memorial Garden will be some of the dynamic aspects of youth gardening we will encounter.

The Gardens on Spring Creek and Cheyenne Botanic Gardens are public gardens that serve as models for children’s gardening due to their dedicated interest in making gardens a safe, enjoyable, and educational environment for children and youth. Staff at each location will give personalized tours while highlighting the history and development of these children’s gardens, as well as their hands-on methods of educational programming.

A sampler of symposium workshops

  • Benefits of School Gardens
  • Cross-Curricular Cooking
  • Slow Food in the Garden
  • Little Budget, Big Impact! Hands-on Lessons, Few Supplies
  • Sensory Gardens that Maximize Play
  • Learning Gardens: Making Outdoor Education Irresistible, Relevant and Resilient
  • Your Garden Toolkit: The Right Tools for a Children’s Garden
  • Lessons for Today’s Children’s Garden Educators
  • Discover Fun and Interesting Fruits and Veggies for the Garden
  • Teachable Landscapes: Using Gardens for Informal Science Learning

The symposium is also offering three Horticultural Therapy sessions:

  • Operating a Greenhouse with Special Needs Students
  • Horticultural Therapy and Junior Master Gardeners
  • Horticultural Therapy: Gardening with Pediatric Patients in a Hospital Environment

In 1993 the American Horticultural Society saw a need to reconnect children with nature, and  created the first Children & Youth Garden Symposium. If you wish to register the July 2013 conference, visit the registration page. Learn more details by visiting the overview page which offers a day-by-day schedule of workshops and activities. If you have specific queries, contact the American Horticultural Society,  703.768.5700 or


Wordless Wednesday, 4/18/12 – April lilac

April lilac. Photo by Naomi Sachs

April lilac. Photo by Naomi Sachs

For past TLN Blog posts on scent, especially the link between scent and memory, see:

The Transportive Power of Scent

More on scent and memory – Guest post by Wendy Meyer

Scent as emotional memory trigger in the healing garden


The transportive power of scent

Eucalyptus image courtesy of

Eucalyptus image from

The other day, I was going through a pile of papers and found an envelope that had been mailed to me by a friend five years ago. Having no recollection of what was inside, I opened it up again to find some leaves wrapped in wax paper. Eucalyptus leaves. And suddenly there I was, back in Berkeley, CA, standing in a grove of those tall, majestic trees.

They say that our olfactory system is the most powerful sense for triggering memory. Designers and horticultural therapists often use fragrant plants in gardens for people with dementia precisely because they are so effective. When we think of fragrance in the garden, we often stick to flowers. But if you’ve ever smelled freshly mown grass, or piñon trees after a New Mexico thunderstorm, or the crushed leaves of just about any culinary herb, you know that flowers are just part of the story.

This is the time of year when people are buying Christmas trees. To me, one of the nicest things about a live tree is the way it fills the room with its resiny aroma. Give me that and some eggnog with nutmeg (oh, and rum…) and I’m in the spirit.

For more reading on the importance of scent as a memory trigger and some of the research behind it, see these two previous TLN Blog posts:

Scent as Emotional Memory Trigger in the Healing Garden


More on Scent and Memory – Guest post by Wendy Meyer.” This post includes a link to Meyer’s thesis, “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.”

Do you have a fragrance that’s an especially strong memory trigger? Have you used it in your or your clients’ gardens? Leave a comment here!


“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.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses – A Sensory Garden Worth Visiting

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

Now that summer is officially here (hurrah!), Maine is a big vacation destination. So it seems like a good time to publish this terrific guest blog post by Amy Wagenfeld about the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. Amy consults and collaborates with architectural, design, and building professionals on design, installation, post occupancy programming, and evidence-based research of universally designed green spaces. In this post, she gives us a personal guided tour of this new and very successful example of a sensory garden. If you can go visit this summer, let this post be your inspiration (and if you can get there on Saturday, Amy’s giving a talk on ergonomic gardening). And if not, at least we get to go there now with Amy. The Therapeutic Landscapes Network is developing a page on sensory gardens, as the sensory experience is an important part of restorative landscapes. If you know of other good examples of sensory gardens, or have links to good websites, leave a comment below. Thank you, and thank you, Amy, for this post!

All photo for this post are by A. Wagenfeld and E. Kaye. To see more images of the garden, including the labyrinth, visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens website.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

There is a new sensory garden on the scene! For those of us intrigued and enchanted by – not to mention committed to – these spaces, The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is a MUST see (hear, touch, smell, and taste!). Completed in June, 2009, and designed by Herb Schaal, FASLA of EDAW Inc., The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is seamlessly nestled within the sprawling 248 acre waterfront Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Privately financed by Dan and Lyn Lerner, the scope of the project entailed design and construction of a world class universally designed sensory garden.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

Calling the Lerner Garden anything less than a gem is an understatement. Located adjacent to the entrance of the 20 acre main campus, each turn and curve along the wide and smooth, and most gentle of sloped paths – less than or equal to 5% grade length wise and less than or equal to 2% width wise, to be exact – of the 3/4 acre garden entices visitors of all ages and abilities to absorb all the garden has to offer. Striker stones border the main paths to assist the visually disabled, and a set of directional high-low stones indicate an entrance to a different garden area. Benches with backs and arm rests are located in each area so that visitors can rest and reflect on the jewels of the Lerner Garden. A 3-D bronze Braille and tactile map of the garden as well as a large pictorial representation of the garden are located at the entrance arch. The plantings and multitude of sculptural elements are labeled with large font signage. Resplendent with innovative sensory plantings, water features, sculpture, a bridge, and an open classroom pavilion, the Lerner Garden is arranged in five sectors that represent the five basic senses. Enough talk; let’s go on a tour!

lerner garden map

Come into the garden through an archway to the smell area resplendent with fragrant flowers and herbs, beckoning to be touched and smelled. Set into raised beds suitable for seated or standing users, the interactive taste area contains edible vegetables and herbs. The taste area also contains an accessible pavilion, unique vertical planters, and compost bins.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses Located at the garden’s highest elevation is the sight area. The interior of the area contains several water features. One of many environmentally sustainable features, a stream flows from under a wooden bridge constructed from two native trees into the upper pond. A water fountain in the upper pond acts as a centralized focal point to see and listen. The fountain is cleverly located off-center to create gentle waves that pass over a stone veneer weir dam at a forty-five degree angle and flow through a series of parallel channels into the lower pond. The walkway between the ponds beckons visitors to view and touch the flowing water. The pathway level is particularly well suited for wheeled mobility users to gaze at the upper pond surface, and well, the entire Lerner Garden. A labyrinth constructed of raised river stones awaits you in the tactile area. Designed as a reflexology path, take off your shoes and socks and have a walk or place your bare feet on the raised stones. Touch the lamb’s ear, thyme, pineapple lily, and hobbit’s foot, strategically planted, just for you. Listen to the weir dam with its flowing water gently gliding over channels creating peaceful and soothing sounds. Two large vertical stones with recessed holes cut into one side – one at standing height and the other at sitting height – are another a unique feature of the garden. Place your head inside a hole and sing away – the opera singer in you will be captivated as your voice resonates as boisterous sound. Located in the breathtakingly beautiful rural region of Boothbay, Maine, The Costal Maine Botanical Gardens and its newest installation, the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is a destination not to be missed.

More on scent and memory – Guest post by Wendy Meyer

Image courtesy Henry Domke,

Photo by Henry Domke,

Wendy Meyer, a recent MLA graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington left such an informative comment on the last blog post, on scent as an emotional memory trigger, that I thought it was worth printing in its entirety, especially since she provides a link to her thesis, “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.”

Aha, I finally figured out how to post a comment! I wrote my master’s thesis in landscape architecture on this subject–specifically, on using fragrant plants in gardens for elderly people to help conduct reminiscence therapy. There is a ton of new brain science being done on the links between smells, emotions and memories. It turns out that early, emotional autobiographical memories are strongly related to smells, because of the way the brain evolved. I looked at how reminiscence helps older people come to terms with their lives, historic use of scent in gardens as well as history of therapeutic gardens. I also interviewed a group of practitioners for their advice and insights on using scent for therapy in gardens. I got different perspectives from landscape architects who design therapeutic gardens, nurses/therapists who work with elderly populations and horticultural therapists who work in all kinds of settings. One of the recurring themes was the need for everyone involved to work together in creating these gardens–not just garden designers and hospital/nursing home administrators, but the therapy staff, families, patients and (not to be forgotten!) the maintenance staff. I spent two and a half years reading and could have spent lots longer (but I needed to graduate)! You can see the thesis at this link: Or if that doesn’t work, I’m sending a PDF to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network website.

When I asked Wendy for permission to post this, and mentioned I might use a rose for the image, here’s what she had to say:

“Roses were probably the flower that came up the most–particularly rugosas, because the hips have a distinctive scent–but also lavender, gardenias, rosemary and lilac. People mentioned a lot of scents outside the garden as well–firs in the Northwest, sagebrush after a thunderstorm in the Southwest, crabapple blossoms in Wisconsin. I have a bunch of plant lists in the appendices–that was one of the fun parts to put together!”

Thanks so much, Wendy!

Scent as emotional memory trigger in the healing garden

Lilac image courtesy What Do I Know? blog

Image courtesy What Do I Know?

Lilacs. Roses. Jasmine. Gardenia. Freshly mown grass. Chaparral. Depending on where you grew up, these scents probably conjure up some pretty powerful emotions and memories. In fact, of the five, our olfactory sense is the strongest emotional memory trigger. According to a June ’09 issue of Organic Gardening, “That’s because the part of our brain responsible for basic memory evolved out of the tissue that makes up the olfactory cortex.” For a slightly more detailed explanation, see this article on the psychology of scent, “Whisking up a memory with a whiff: Rachel Herz explores the psychology of scent.“) And here’s another good one, from Science & Tech: “Can you really smell memories? How childhood scents get ‘etched’ on the brain.” See also our next blog post, a guest post by Wendy Meyer that includes a link to her thesis “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.

Fragrance in the healing garden

For this reason, using plants with fragrant flowers and foliage is an important part of designing the healing garden.* Especially in nursing homes, dementia gardens, and other landscapes for people with memory loss, scent can be very powerful. Consider this story, from Martha M. Tyson’s wonderful book The Healing Landscape: Therapeutic Outdoor Environments, about our colleague Vince Healy:

Vince’s grandmother was in her nineties. For quite some time she had not recognized Vince and was not really fully aware of what was going on around her. Since it was Easter time, Vince decided to pay her a visit. During his drive there, Vince came upon a roadside stand that advertised lilacs for sale. In southern California, lilacs do not grow well. This stand, however, had great quantities of them, and they were cheap. So Vince brought an enormous number of the lilacs and put them in the back of his van…By the time Vince arrived at the nursing home, the lilacs were looking very sad. When Vince walked into his grandmother’s room, she looked at him as always, blankly, and then she looked at the flowers. “They’re wilted! Throw them away!” After all this effort Vince was not about to throw them away, so he moved the lilacs closer, right under her nose. She drew in the fragrance with a deep breath and a sigh and said, “Lilacs….” Then she looked up at Vince and said, “Vinnie, how are you?”

Designing with fragrance as an emotional memory trigger

But even with less miraculous results, scents that elderly people remember fondly – “old-fashioned” flowers like lilacs, honeysuckle, gardenia, mock orange, roses – can evoke positive feelings and often facilitate conversations, thus providing something important but often lacking in places like nursing homes: Personal connection. Because our sense of smell often decreases as we age, strongly scented plants have a better chance of triggering a reaction than something subtle. I highly recommend Tyson’s book for more information, and Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes’ book Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations is also valuable, especially the Chapter 8 on nursing home gardens and Chapter 9 on Alzheimer’s treatment gardens. Several other books have been published on gardens for the elderly, including Jack Carman et al’s new book Recreating Neighborhoods for Successful Aging. If you know of books that specifically address this issue of scent as a memory trigger in healing gardens, I’ll add it to our list!

*One caveat: In some cases, such as with gardens for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, even a good scent may be too overwhelming, and even nauseating. I don’t know of any specific research on what to steer clear of – if anyone reading this knows, please pass the information my way and I’ll list it on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s website.