Horticulture Therapy: Healing Body, Mind, and Spirit with a Garden

Did you know that gardens can be extremely therapeutic? It’s true. In fact, natural environments can actually stimulate positive feelings within people while significantly reducing any negative thoughts with which they may be experiencing. What’s even greater is the fact that a garden can be enjoyed by everyone, there’s no preference or prejudice. We can all benefit, including children, the elderly, and those who are disabled. These gardens can rejuvenate us physically and emotionally; healing the body, mind, and spirit. A healing garden can be anything that you want it to be and tailored to fit any lifestyle or budget. For instance, some people find a windowsill herb garden to be quite invigorating while others might prefer strolling along meandering paths of a woodland setting. Maybe you take solace in viewing a quiet water garden, or perhaps it’s a child’s vegetable garden that does the trick. The point of a healing garden is to make yourself or others feel comfortable and stress free.

As healing gardens are intended to make people feel better, the overall design depends on who the garden will be for. Is the garden going to be strictly for your enjoyment, or will it fit a specific purpose, such as helping terminally ill patients and their families cope with overwrought feelings. Most often these gardens are established simply as relaxing retreats for us to focus or meditate. Healing gardens are a way to escape from life’s everyday pressures. A garden designed for meditation should remain free of clutter and provide suitable seating areas. Focal points, such as water features, and privacy elements, such as fences, are commonly incorporated into this type of garden. To aid in setting a serene mood, plants consisting of cooler shades such as violet, blue, and green are implemented. Green is naturally associated with nature; it’s a calming color and enables people to relax easier, but did you know that blue can actually lower a person’s blood pressure and respiration or that violet colors help alleviate migraines? Some people even incorporate medicinal plants into their healing gardens, as they believe the plants were put here for a reason-to benefit mankind by treating illnesses and maintaining good health. A simple herb or vegetable garden can serve this purpose as well.

Children’s gardens make wonderful, nature-filled environments for both younger and older kids alike. Keep them child friendly; avoid poisonous plants and those having briars or sharp points. Include comfortable play areas and provide opportunities for children to interact with their natural surroundings. For instance, encourage hands-on activities such as planting, caring for, and harvesting their own vegetables. Capture a child’s attention through sensory elements by including plants and others features that will stimulate all five senses. For example, encourage them to touch the soft, silvery leaves of Lamb’s ear. Let them listen to the soothing trickle of water from a bamboo fountain. Allow children to taste the ‘fruits’ of their labor, picking and munching on juicy tomatoes straight from the garden. Nothing comes close to the pride one feels in knowing you grew it on your own. Provide colorful flowers in a variety of shapes for children to view. Include scented plants that will awaken their sense of smell. Gardens can do wonders for children with an array of problems, such as self-esteem issues.

The elderly find gardens to be quite pleasant and enjoy the opportunity to get outdoors. A variety of plants having different shapes, textures, and aromas can help stimulate not only the senses but memories as well. This can also bring about interesting conversation pieces and encourage activity within the garden. People suffering from memory loss, as with Alzheimer’s, find these healing gardens calming and safe. The use of warmer colors in the garden such as red, orange, and yellow make seeing easier in older individuals. Comfortable seating should be incorporated so people can sit and watch various garden activities or simply ponder nature’s beauty. Various walking trails can be incorporated according to individual needs. For example, a continuous circle surrounding the garden will be less confusing for those with memory problems than paths which meander throughout the area. Also, handrails should be implemented for anyone with a higher risk of falling. If an individual cannot go outside due to illness or other conditions, situate the garden closer to the home where it can be viewed from a window.

Healing gardens can be specifically designed for disabled individuals as well. It’s a great way to encourage them to get outside and enjoy all of which nature has to offer. Even people who are visually impaired can enjoy and benefit from the relaxing atmosphere of a garden. Shape the garden with straight edges and right angles to help familiarize them with the garden’s layout. Adjust the textures along pathways to help indicate a change in direction. For example, transition from shredded bark mulch to brick or gravel. Locating scented plants, running water features, windchimes, and solid ornamental structures in various areas will also serve as reference points to aid in their getting around. Gardens can even make people with psychiatric disorders feel better. In fact, when I went through a bout of depression years ago, just getting out and working in the garden did wonders for me, lifting my spirits and clearing thoughts of despair. For people with more severe conditions, try keeping the layout simple with easily identifiable paths to prevent disorientation.

Whatever type of healing garden you choose to design, always consider the available space as well as the physical safety of others who will be using the garden, especially those having special circumstances. Make the garden as pleasant as possible and keep it simple. Too many features or clashing colors can cause chaos and actually add to stress levels. However, including a variety of elements with respect to forms, textures, and seasonal interest help provoke the stimulation of senses. Not enough of something is nearly as stressful as too much. Try to maintain a balance between the two. Providing focal points will create emphasis and helps people to orient themselves within the garden. Present easy transition from one area to the next to prevent confusion and keep hands-on plants such as herbs, vegetables, and cut flowers within easy reach. Raised beds and containers are ideal for this. Don’t forget to choose plants that arouse all of the senses. However, try to avoid plants that attract harmful pests and those which are toxic or contain thorns. Elements such as birdbaths, feeders, and small ponds can be implemented to attract wildlife animals such as birds or butterflies.

The healing garden can be as private and simple as the medicinal herb plants in your windowsill or a children’s’ play area. On the other hand, the garden can be as open as a park or woodland trail. It may be intended primarily for yourself or for others. A garden can improve our well being in many ways; try it, that’s all the proof you’ll ever need.

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