Healing Gardens: Nurturing the Mind, Body and Soul

September 26, 2013

Echinacea purprea

Echinacea purprea (Photo Courtesy of Therapeutic Landscapes Network)

We all know that gardening can be good for our physical health.  In fact, studies show that an hour of work in the garden can burn as many as 272 calories.  Not only is gardening good for shedding a couple extra pounds but it’s also good for improving muscle strength, increasing flexibility and building bones to help prevent osteoporosis.  But have you put much thought into how gardening is good for our mental and emotional health?  No doubt you’ve felt the benefits.  You may have started the day on the wrong side of the bed, so to speak, and after an hour or two in the garden, trimming flowers, pulling a few weeds, watering or even just relaxing with a cup of tea, you feel noticeably better – your spirits have been lifted, your energy improved.  Again, studies have found that gardens and gardening activity can improve mental outlook and emotional mood by reducing stress, anxiety and depression.  Double the reason to get out in the garden!

The relationship between plants and gardens and our health is ancient.  As early as 3000 B.C. the Chinese have used medicinal herbs. The Greeks built a temple for Aesclepius, their god of healing, set among mineral springs, bathing pools, and  gardens. Green was a sacred color in ancient Egypt and represented the hope of spring that brought new vegetation and life.

Temple of Aesulus

Temple of Aesulus

This appreciation for the power of plants and gardens to our health has thankfully carried on to present times.  Healing gardens can now be found in community parks, arboretums, botanical gardens and variety of institutions including substance abuse treatment centers, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, hospices, retirement homes and hospitals around the world.

Many hospitals and health care facilities incorporate green spaces, flowerbeds and views of gardens into their surroundings.  The Seattle Children’s Hospital is one such institution that puts a focus on planting and maintaining a beautiful landscape in and around the facility.  There are many pocket gardens and walkways for patients and family members to explore or simply rest in.

Seattle Children's Hospital Bellevue

Seattle Children’s Hospital Bellevue

Another local community garden dedicated to health and well-being of children is the Seattle Children’s PlayGarden.  As their website says, “The Seattle Children’s PlayGarden is a space where children of all abilities can play outdoors and stretch their imaginations and independence: kids on two feet, kids with walkers, kids in wheelchairs, kids who communicate differently. A welcoming place where children with special needs can play along side their typically developing siblings and friends.”

Seattle Children's PlayGarden

Seattle Children’s PlayGarden

What does a healing garden entail?  A healing garden can take many forms but sensory interaction with nature is a key element.  In fact, the more the five senses are engaged, the better.  Colorful flowers and dancing leaves in the wind stimulate our eyes.  The relaxing sound of water or the activity of frolicking wildlife engages our ears.  The smell of newly stirred earth or the scent of fresh herbs tickles our noses, while the flavor of a spicy chive or sweet strawberry tempts our taste buds.  The velvety smoothness of lambs’ ear or the roughness of a gunnera leaf stimulates out sense of touch.

When creating your own garden, here are some simple ideas to incorporate a healing element.

  • Grow plants that you find pleasing.  Are you energized by bright colors? Go wild!  If you enjoy cooking, incorporate herbs and vegetables into your garden.  Plant sage or lavender in some pots to be used for aromatherapy.
Herb Garden Photo: Monicoco

Herb Garden
Photo: Monicoco


  • Include a place to sit and observe or a path for walking through the garden. Enclose it with shrubs or fencing to create a secluded retreat.  For more ideas, see our recent blog post on creating privacy in the garden.
Garden Seating Photo: B Spencer Terry

Garden Seating
Photo: B Spencer Terry


  • Add a focal point for meditation and reflection such as a piece of sculpture, a special plant, interesting rocks or a water fountain.
Stacked rocks in the garden Photo: Lucia Galovicova

Stacked rocks in the garden
Photo: Lucia Galovicova


  • Encourage butterflies, birds, insects and other wildlife to the garden.  Choose plants that supply food for visiting birds.  For ideas, read our blog post on Landscaping to Attract Birds.
King bird eating berry

King bird eating berry

If you have an interest is creating a garden that incorporates these elements, we’d love to help.  The healing power of gardens and the desire to create a space for rejuvenation and relaxation is close to our hearts.

To learn more about healing or therapeutic gardens, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, which lists healing gardens throughout the United States and Canada, as well as links to other informational websites and organizations.



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  1. Pingback: Can I install my landscape design in phases? | Sublime Garden Design | Landscape Design & Landscape Architecture

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