Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why and How to Create a Healing Garden

In the best of times flowers help us celebrate
the joyous occasions in our lives. In more
difficult times plants give us hope and
inspiration to meet life’s challenges.

The role of plants and gardens in healing is ancient. As early as 3000 B.C. the 
Chinese were using medicinal herbs. The Greeks built a temple for Aesclepius, 
their god of healing, set among mineral springs, bathing pools, and healing gardens. 

In colonial America, the Quakers felt a deep attachment to nature and believed 
gardens were a place of creativity. One of the first programs to use plants in a 
therapeutic setting was established in 1879 at Philadelphia’s Friends Hospital 
after a physician noticed that psychiatric patients working in the hospital’s fields 
and flower gardens were calmer and that the gardens had a “curative” effect on them.
Within the past few decades, the medical community is rediscovering the healing 
power of gardens. Many hospitals and health care facilities are incorporating green 
spaces and gardens into their surroundings; horticultural therapy programs are often 
an important part of a patient’s treatment.

Healing gardens can be found in a variety of institutions including substance abuse 
treatment centers, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, hospices and retirement 
homes, as well as in botanic gardens and arboreta around the world. Positive results 
can be less pain medication and had shorter hospital stays.

For an individual recovering from a serious illness such as cancer or stroke, gardens 
can be an important part of healing by providing hope and inspiration. They can 
give patients a tranquil place to escape from the world of doctors, hospitals and 

The physical efforts of gardening—digging, planting, bending and walking—are 
great forms of exercise to keep the body healthy. Strenuous yard work such as 
digging or weeding not only burns calories, it is similar to weight training in 
building bones and preventing osteoporosis. Gardens and gardening activity 
can also improve mental outlook and our emotional mood by reducing stress, 
anxiety and depression. Studies have found that gardening can lower blood 
pressure and cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.

A healing garden can take many forms but always provides interaction with 
nature. Visually plants provide inspirational colors or peaceful tones. We can 
hear the relaxing sound of water or the stimulating activity of visiting wildlife. 
The rich aroma of fresh earth and the delightful scent of perfumed herbs fill 
the air we breathe, while the fresh flavor of a crispy pea pod or sweet berry 
tempts our taste buds. We can touch the velvety smoothness of a flower petal 
or be touched by the movement of leaves in the wind.
Begin to create your own garden of healing today simply by planting a container 
filled with colorful flowers, a nutritious vegetable, or a herb such as lavender, 
sage, basil or thyme. In addition to being attractive and aromatic, these and 
many other herbs have been used medicinally for centuries.

Incorporating a few simple design elements turns
any garden into a place of healing and inspiration.

  • Grow plants that you find pleasing. Are you energized by bright colors? 
Then include annuals such as zinnias, petunias, sunflowers or cosmos. If 
you enjoy cooking, incorporate herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers into 
your garden. Plants such as sage or lavender can be harvested and used for

  • Include a place to sit and observe the beauty of nature or a path for walking
 through the garden. Enclose it with shrubs or fencing to create a secluded

  • Add a focal point for meditation and reflection such as a piece of sculpture,
a special plant, interesting rocks, wind chimes or a water fountain.

  • Encourage butterflies, birds, insects and other wildlife to the garden for
their healing energy. Birdfeeders and birdhouses quickly and easily begin
attracting garden visitors. Choose plants that supply nectar and food
 including coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), butterfly flower
(Aesclepias tuberosa) salvias (Salvia spp.), dill, parsley, and sunflowers.

The design and development of a healing garden, just like the process of healing
and recovery, takes place over time. It is that journey and the time spent with
nature that heals our body and soul.

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