Gardening for Good Health – Healing Gardens

Healing Gardens

by Susanna Felts

How gardens are helping hospital patients get healthy—And how  you can reap the benefits, too.



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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.”

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