Healing Gardens

Natural Remedies, Power to the Patient
on June 1, 2011
iStock Photo

Patients arriving at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, Ore., expect to convalesce from their ailments the traditional way, with doctors and nurses, medications and treatments. But what they probably don’t anticipate is a recovery that includes tending flower beds or harvesting vegetables from plants in the hospital’s healing garden.

“There’s a big emotional benefit to nurturing a living thing,” says horticultural therapist Teresia Hazen, who oversees the Portland Legacy Health System’s gardens. “You know the tomato needs you, and you need the tomato.”

Patients at healthcare facilities nationwide are enjoying the benefits of gardens designed to help improve mobility, ease depression and get muscles working while planting, watering and weeding.

“Seeing flowers, touching plants and listening to birds stimulates our brains in ways that make us feel better,” says landscape designer Naomi Sachs, founder of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network (Healinglandscapes.org).

The health benefits of the outdoors are well known, but using gardens as recovery tools is a relatively new trend. In fact, virtually all of the healing gardens now found at healthcare facilities nationwide have been installed in the last 15 years, Hazen says. Backing the movement is research on the therapeutic aspects of spending time in gardens. In fact, one 2007 study found that relaxing in gardens helped curb depression in older adults as well as art therapy, a known antidote to depression among seniors.

Healing gardens are typically designed for the elderly, or for groups with specific needs such as Alzheimer’s, burn center or psychiatric patients, or children. But anyone can experience the gardens’ positive effects in their own backyard. To prepare for creating your own healing garden, Sachs suggests, “Visit botanical gardens, arboretums and parks, and be in tune with what spaces make you feel good. Often you don’t know until you’re in that space.”