Big (Green) Deal: Garden Therapy

From Spry Living:

Healing Gardens: How gardens are helping hospital patients get healthy—And how you can reap the benefits, too.
by Susanna Felts

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 (

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.”

On this first day of summer, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of Horticulture Therapy. What better way for people to relieve the stresses of daily life in the concrete jungle than with playtime in a lush green one? And I don’t think you need to go to a trained professional to unleash your inner gardener. Just find yourself “a bit of earth” and enjoy as happiness starts to grow!


One thought on “Big (Green) Deal: Garden Therapy

  1. My thoughts exactly. It’s nice to go view beautiful botanical gardens, all neatly planned and weeded, but my garden always looks like a wild thing, and some of the weeds have the prettiest flowers. And I can always lose myself in it, as the minutes turn to hours. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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