Landscapes for Healing: Resources for Veterans

Veteran and sunflowers. Photo courtesy of Defiant Gardens.

Photo courtesy of Defiant Gardens

Speaking of veterans (see yesterday’s post. “Veterans Day, 2010 – Memorials as Healing Landscapes“), many who come home alive require medical treatment for both physical and emotional problems. Steve Mitrione, a doctor as well as a landscape architect, explains that more people are surviving because of body armor and better medical technology, but the injuries are more severe. The number of veterans returning with traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, is alarming. Also alarming is the number of veterans returning with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Current studies estimate that about 20% of active duty and 42% of reserve duty soldiers require mental health services for PTSD. The VA system and the military are beginning to reach out to landscape architects and horticultural therapists as one strategy for addressing PTSD. Several students have contacted the TLN this year looking for information because they want to write their masters thesis on the subject Here are some good resources to tap into, but what’s still lacking is research. If we are to create spaces and programs for people (veterans and others) with PTSD based on the evidence, we need the evidence. If you know of any published studies, please let us know! Leave a comment on this blog, or contact us through the TLN website.

Returning Home: The Veterans Therapeutic Garden Project,” by Dr. Steven Mitrione, Associate ASLA  – Article written for the ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network’s Spring 2010 Newsletter. “Given the challenges facing the VA system, we believe that therapeutic gardens have the potential to alleviate suffering, provide for recovery and therapy, enhance the veteran’s experience of care, and reduce costs.” This article is really really worth reading. Chock full of good information and ideas. A good place to start.

Therapeutic Garden Design and Veterans Affairs: Preparing for Future Needs.” – Joint conference with the Acer Institute and the ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network in Miami, FL, 2005 – Click here to link to the conference proceedings.

Acer Insitute’s list of Therapeutic Gardens at Veterans Healthcare Facilities – This list is in development. If you know of a facility or program (especially if it’s a good one!), you can sign in and add to the list.

Gardening Leave ( – A UK charity founded by Anna Baker Cresswell for ex-Servicemen and women with PTSD and other mental health issues. The goal is to combat stress through horticultural therapy activities – growing fruit and vegetables – in a walled garden setting, where people feel safe and protected. The program has been developed in accordance with plans by Combat Stress (Ex-Services Mental Welfare Society).

Gardening Leave commissioned an evaluation of their  project, which you can link to on their website. The title of the report is “An Evaluation of the Gardening Leave Project for Ex-Military Personnel with PTSD and Other Combat Related Mental Health Problems,” by Jacqueline Atkinson, Professor of Mental Health Policy at Glasgow University June 2009.

VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System Veterans Garden – Nestled in the heart of Los Angeles, this unique 15-acre garden is operated by vets of the VA Hospital as part of the Horticulture Therapy Program. The Vets’ Garden is open to the public and offers a beautiful and tranquil escape from the congestion and concrete of the city. Established in 1986 as a work therapy program, the garden continues to run as a fully self-sufficient business, selling fresh-grown, pesticide-free produce to individual customers and several local restaurants.

Farmer Veteran Coalition – “Farmers helping veterans, veterans helping farmers.”

Veterans Farm – The veterans farm was developed to unite disabled veterans and to help them overcome disabilities such as (PTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and (TBI) Traumatic Brain Injuries through “Horticulture Therapy”. Through different programs, veterans will have a chance to “Earn While They Learn.”

Veteran Homestead Victory Farm – Victory Farm, is a supportive housing program located on an eighty acre working organic vegetable farm in New Hampshire. This program offers a lifestyle change to the homeless veteran who has not been successful transitioning from residential treatment programs to independent or transitional housing.

Defiant Gardens, by Kenneth Helphand – The book gives a historical view of “…gardens created in extreme or difficult environmental, social, political, economic, or cultural conditions. These gardens represent adaptation to challenging circumstances, but they can also be viewed from other dimensions as sites of assertion and affirmation.” The website, also called Defiant Gardens, brings us up to date, with gardens in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Guantanamoinformation and images of prison gardens, community gardens, and . The most recent post is the text from a New York Times article on gardens in Afghanistan.

Also see our blog post “Defiant Gardens” and Other Resources for Veterans from last November.

A Place to Call Home: A Landscape Master Plan to Honor the Veterans at the  Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, Chelsea, Massachusetts,” by Suzanne Higham Independent Project Thesis fora  Graduate Certificate in Landscape Design at the Landscape Institute of  The Boston Architectural College (note: I just received this thesis yesterday and have not yet had a chance to put it on the TLN website. Please check back soon).

So to reiterate, the big missing piece is RESEARCH.
Rick Spalenka, a landscape architect who is also a registered nurse and treated veterans with PTSD in a psychiatric nursing program, noticed two things: First, that PTSD is much higher in women vets than in men, often stemming from sexual abuse either before or during service. And second, that outdoor smoking areas are extremely important places for social gathering and connection. Designing areas for smoking into a garden? Some people might be appalled by this idea, but if that’s what gets someone out of their hospital bed and connecting with other people, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. “Smoking activity and smoking privileges have therapeutic qualities despite seeming so contrary to health. You remove smoking privileges from psych patients you will face hostility and anger. You prohibit smoking activity from med/surg patients and you face increased anxiety. The most popular meeting place for Vet patients is the smoke shack. They socialize and get physical activity. I used to tell my patients ‘the only one who ever got better in bed was Casanova.  Get out of bed.'”

Please help us add to this list of resources. Leave a comment on this blog, or contact us through the TLN website.

Veterans at Gardening Leave

Photo courtesy of Gardening Leave