Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
March, 2007
Regional Report

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This lovely statue makes a divine focal point in a restful, meditative healing garden.

A Healing Garden

Throughout history gardens have been used to aid the healing process and to offer a place for meditation and serenity for those in life's difficult passages. From the Zen gardens of Buddhist monks to the cloister gardens of Jesuit monasteries to the sensory gardens designed for Alzheimer's and hospice patients, special gardens help many through the harder times in life.

Especially pertinent to the growing interest in combining conventional medicine with alternative therapies, gardens are helping to heal the mind, body, and spirit. Research is showing that there are many serious therapeutic benefits of viewing natural elements.

Gardens foster stress recovery, evoke positive feelings, reduce negative emotions, and help block or reduce stressful thoughts. Viewing these natural elements actually lowers alpha brain waves, meaning the person experiencing the garden is in a state of relaxation. Having a garden to view means shorter post-operative stays, less pain medication, and fewer minor post-operative complications for surgical patients.

So, technically, what exactly is a "healing garden?" We could certainly argue that any garden is a healing garden, but the definition that landscape designers tend to use is simply "a garden in a healing setting designed to make people feel better." In other words, a garden to make people feel safe, less stressed, more comfortable, and perhaps even invigorated.

Elements to Include
Many of the principles of healing garden design can easily be integrated into our own gardens and landscapes. So how exactly do we get started designing a healing garden?

1. Some of the important design principles are to keep the garden simple, yet fill it with interesting form, texture, seasonal interest, and color. A smooth transition from one area of the landscape to another is important, as is good flow through the landscape.

2. Paths and surfaces should be firm and smooth with any changes in texture made gradually. Even if there is no need for wheelchair access in the home garden, having few tripping hazards will help us all enjoy the garden without any risks.

3. The garden will be much more comfortable, especially for someone who doesn't function well, if it is easily "readable." Having paths clearly laid out and landmarks, such as focal points, to orient to will minimize confusion.

4. A variety of sunny and shady areas for varying tolerances to light exposure makes a garden accommodate all, as does plenty of seating -- from lightweight chairs to move around to sturdy seats with backs and arms. A true healing garden provides places for sitting with company and places for solitude.

5. Water always provides a welcome addition to a healing garden. Still pools have a calming effect for contemplation, while splashing and moving water is invigorating and energizing.

6. When it comes to choosing plants, you can certainly select species with special sacred or evocative meanings. Or, simply choose plants that engage all your senses with textures, scents, colors, and sounds -- in other words, plants that make you happy.

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