Rusk Children’s PlayGarden for Interactive Therapeutic Play, Designed by Johansson Design Collaborative
I got a call yesterday from a reporter at The Gainesville Times in Georgia who is writing a piece on healing gardens (should be coming out on Monday). We had a nice conversation, in which I tried to define “healing gardens” and explain their relatively recent surge in popularity and their growing appeal, especially in the field of healthcare design. I think she was a bit taken aback when I gave her my broadest definition of Landscapes for Health (which encompasses but is not synonymous with healing gardens), which is “any landscape that promotes and facilitates health and well-being” (see “Healing Environment vs. Healthy Environment” for more on why I use this term).
According to my definition, a Landscape for Health could be a garden designed specifically for healing, like for a hospital or nursing home (see above), and it could also be any number of other landscapes, designed or “natural,” as long as they make people feel good (in technical terms, Landscapes for Health bring “positive outcomes” that reduce negative factors like stress, high blood pressure, and anti-social behavior, and instead encourage positive and restorative factors like fascination, wonder, healthy social interaction, relaxation and/or physical activity, and a general sense of well-being). A stretch of beach; a clearing in the woods; a park in a city (Central Park being a supreme example); a community garden; a backyard sanctuary; Francie’s fire escape in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; a memorial; an indoor atrium that stays green and lush even when it’s -30 degrees and sleeting outside. Get the picture?
Couldn’t that be just about any landscape, the slightly vexed reporter asked? This is similar to my most-frequently-asked question, which is “isn’t every garden (or landscape) a healing garden?” to which I unfortunately have to answer no. There are plenty of landscapes, both designed and undesigned, that are not conducive to our health and well-being. A few examples that spring to mind would be (see below) most parking lots; many urban and suburban landscapes, including streetscapes; most quarries, clear-cut sections of forests, superfund sites, and other damaged landscapes (brownfields); most of New Mexico in March when the juniper pollen renders anyone even slightly allergic into a tired, sniffling, eye-watering, blubbering mess; and, sadly, many designed gardens, sometimes even ASLA award-winning, magazine-published spaces (yup, just because it looks good in print doesn’t mean it feels good to be there).
Photo of California foothills housing by Alex Maclean –
There are plenty of landscapes, and even gardens, that at best are not salutary, and at worst are actually harmful to our physical, emotional, and even spiritual health. So, smarty-pants, you may be wondering, how do you differentiate Landscapes for Health from “healing gardens?” Stay tuned, I’ll try to answer that one tomorrow.