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Monday, December 12, 2011

Gardens Heal Body and Soul


Everyone has experienced a feeling of awe and wonder in a natural setting. Given the opportunity, people seek these places both as sites to witness the beautiful, natural edifices of God's creation and as sanctuaries to seek personal solace for inspiration and healing.

Within cities and towns, architects often forget the human need for natural spaces. As man-made structures dominate a landscape, natural settings shrink. Often, this creates a general impersonal atmosphere as humans become more and more detached from their natural environments. Steel and concrete constructions, void of flora and fauna, create cold, lonely places, places that are often not conducive to good health. 

People must intervene when needed. Natural spaces can be preserved or created to ensure a balanced environment beneficial to humans remains. These "gardens" offer many benefits to local inhabitants, benefits that may be subtle and unrecognized by those who wander their paths. 

Consider the value of Central Park, a 843 acres oasis within the metropolis of Manhattan, New York City. While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it is, in fact, almost entirely landscaped. Central Park is the most visited urban park in the country offering a varied natural landscape and providing activities such as birding, boating, ice skating, rock climbing, horseback riding, jogging and bicycling. The park serves the natural needs of native New Yorkers and approximately thirty-five million visitors annually.

Speaking of the park, John Hench wrote...

"Big cities are chaotic. 
And chaos for humans - who have experience from their ancestors - is the last step before conflict. 
So, in the park, every kind of visual contradiction has been eliminated." - John Hench, Artist




Humans Can Create Healing Gardens

Today healing gardens have generated tremendous interest. These places facilitate in improving or restoring an individual’s mental or physical health. Therapeutic landscape design is one of the biggest growing facets of landscape architecture.

Healing gardens promote physical and mental health by providing people the benefits of horticultural therapy and therapeutic horticulture.
  • Reducing physical pain
  • Providing sensory stimulation
  • Improving memory and concentration 
  • Easing emotional pain from bereavement or abuse 
  • Cultivating nurturing feelings 
  • Encouraging social interaction
  • Teaching responsibility 
  • Reducing stress and anger 
  • Enhancing productivity and problem solving
  • Decreases the severity of depression
Overall, the healing garden design should comfort the soul and renew the spirit—no matter if it consists of a bench next to a tree or an intricately designed landscape. Experts agree of greatest importance is the intention of honoring the design element and its relationship to the spirit of nature.

These healing landscapes can be located in or outdoors, but to qualify as healing “gardens” they should have real nature such as plants and/or water features. (Cooper-Marcus, C. and M. Barnes. 1995. Gardens in Healthcare Facilities: Uses, Therapeutic Benefits, and Design Recommendations. Martinez, CA: The Center for Health Design.)

Whether working in a garden or viewing a garden, a person benefits immensely.

Horticultural therapy provides meaningful activity and connection to the natural world. People can benefit from simply viewing and growing plants and, with guidance from a horticultural therapist, the benefits of people-plant interactions can be focused and enhanced.


Garden Work Research

"In study after study, gardening is the No. 1 or No. 2 leisure activity and is especially popular with older adults," says Candice Shoemaker, associate professor of horticultural therapy at Kansas State University.

James Hill, co-founder of America on the Move, a non-profit group that promotes active lifestyles, agrees that the beauty of gardening is that "this is something people actually do." This activity makes gardening count as that "moderate physical activity" experts say people all need most days. (Kim Painter, "Plant Seeds of Healing: Nature 'Makes You Feel Better,'" USA Today, April 16 2007)

"Over five months, a person gardening for 20 to 30 minutes a day would burn 15,000 calories and lose four pounds," Hill calculates. "And you get peace and tranquility, too." Not to mention fresh tomatoes or peas, or bouquets of vibrant flowers.

"When you are gardening, 
you have a living organism you have to care for," 
Shoemaker says.
"That's a motivator."

A study in Bexar County, Texas (1998) indicated that their school garden program resulted in increased self-esteem, development of a sense of ownership and responsibility and helped foster family relationships and increased parental involvement. (Alexander, J. & D. Hendren. (1998). Bexar County Master Gardener Classroom Garden Research Project: Final Report. San Antonio, Texas.)

In 1992, the National Gardening Association conducted a study of third and fifth grade classrooms using the GrowLab curriculum. GrowLab classrooms scored higher than control classrooms in students' understanding of life science concepts and science inquiry skills. Students in fifth grade classrooms in the same study scored higher than control classes on attitude scales measuring "concern for the environment" and "confidence in ability to do science."  (http://www.csgn.org, 2007)

A study of six juvenile offenders' responses to a vocational horticulture curriculum (Virginia Tech, Virginia, 1998) indicated that vocational horticulture curricula may be a tool to strengthen a delinquent individual's bonds with society and, subsequently, evoke changes in attitudes about personal success and perceptions of personal job preparedness. The youth in this study increased their social bonds in all six categories addressed by the pre and post tests, and were motivated to think more practically about their careers. (McGuinn, C. & P.D. Relf. 2001. "A Profile of Juvenile Offenders in a Vocational Horticulture Curriculum." HortTechnology.)

Garden Viewing Research

Natural landscapes are helpful by providing a sense of fascination as well as a greater extent, separating users from distraction (Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S. and R. Ryan. 1998. “Restorative Environments” in With People in Mind. (pp. 67-77). Island Press), reducing negative emotions, holding a person’s attention, and blocking stressful thoughts. (Ulrich, Roger S. 1981. “Natural Versus Urban Scenes: Some Psychophysiological Effects.” Environment and Behavior, 13: 5: 523-553)

Ulrich has also shown that patients with views of nature have significantly less post-operative stay times, fewer negative comments from caregivers, less medication use and experienced fewer minor post-operative complications than patients with views of a wall. (Ulrich, R.S., 1984. “View Through a Window may Infl uence Recovery from Surgery.” Science. 224: 420-421)

Researchers have also found that nursing home residents with physical or visual access to nature have significantly greater caloric intake and exercise than those without. (Cohen, U. and G. Weisman, 1991. “Positive Outdoor Spaces” in Holding onto Home: Designing Environments for People with Dementia. (pp. 73-79). Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press)

Research also suggests that natural settings can promote changes in blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and brain activity. In one 2005 study, cardiac rehabilitation patients who visited a garden and worked with plants left with a better mood and a lower heart rate than those who attended a standard patient education class. (Wichrowski, et al. 2005 Sep-Oct;25(5):270-4. "Effects of Horticultural Therapy on Mood and Heart Rate..." Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation)

Other studies show hospital patients feel a pleasant sense of escape and control when they are allowed to wander in gardens.(Kim Painter, "Plant Seeds of Healing: Nature 'Makes You Feel Better,'" USA Today, April 16 2007)

One study found the decline in depression severity during intervention correlated strongly with the degree to which the participants found that horticulture captured their attention. Therapeutic horticulture may decrease depression severity and improve perceived attentional capacity by engaging effortless attention and interrupting rumination. (Gonzalez MT et al. "Therapeutic Horticulture in Clinical Depression: A Prospective Study." 2009. Res Theory Nurs Pract, 23 4:312-28)

According to behavioral research conducted at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, nature provides people with a simple way to improve emotional health - flowers. The presence of flowers triggers happy emotions, heightens feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behavior in a positive manner far beyond what is normally believed. (Haviland-Jones J. "Emotional Impact of Flowers." 2005 Evolutionary Psychology 3: 104-132)

Some Horticultural Parting Words

Vincent Van Gogh painted his famous “Iris” series at the Asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole, in Saint-Remy, France, in the Spring of 1889. Allowed to roam the asylum’s grounds, Van Gogh began painting almost immediately. In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh wrote: “...you will see that considering my life
is spent mostly in the garden, it is not so unhappy.” 

That summer, Van Gogh wrote: 

“For one’s health it is necessary to work in the garden and see the flowers growing.”

  (J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit, “Vincent’s Irises,” 1999).

“Nature is but another name for health...”  - Henry David Thoreau

“...[Good garden design] employs the mind without fatigue, tranquilizes yet enlivens it and thus gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration.”  - Frederick Law Olmsted

“One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.”  - W.E. Johns
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