Across the Fence

with Ann Brooke

Category Archives: Gardens As Therapy

Nature is the best medicine: garden therapy

Running water and soft plantings make a restful combination

Running water and soft plantings make a restful combination

I grew up in a family where no-one ever fought, and even a loud argument was unusual. What we did when we were upset was to leave the house and go for a walk until we felt better. Denial? Repression? Maybe, but the way I remember it was as a chance to put my probably trivial woes into a more universal perspective. It’s hard to stay cranky when the sun’s shining and the birds are singing. That’s the healing power of nature.

In a literal way, the natural world proves a potent ingredient in stimulating recovery for hospital patients. Research shows that patients who can see a tree or a garden outside the window of their hospital room recover faster, need fewer medications, and have stronger vital signs than those who cannot.

Some years ago I went to visit my father when he was hospitalized. Every room in this modern Australian hospital looked out onto a courtyard with a bush garden including a small pond, trees, benches and paths – and people, both patients and visitors, enjoying it. The atmosphere in that place of illness and anxiety was calm, friendly and relaxed. Everyone I spoke to commented on how much the garden meant to them and how much it helped humanize an otherwise frightening experience.

Such a simple and generous idea, the nurturing power of the natural world, and so rarely given institutional expression.

Gardens for people with Alzheimers

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Plants have healing properties

Some brilliant horticultural therapist once put a bus shelter in a garden designed for an urban residential facility for patients with Alzheimers. The idea was that it was a familiar sight for the residents, and therefore comforting, and that if they wandered outside it would encourage them to stay put until one of the staff came to find them.

Since then, bus shelters, mailboxes, and other artifacts of city life have become standard furnishing for such gardens. Simple circular paths (can’t get lost), without too many twists and turns (too confusing) ;  nothing sharp-edged or harsh; nothing toxic (patients often put things in their mouths); familiar plants; no threatening shadows or dark areas – these are some of the considerations in such a garden.

Research identifies behavioral modification, medication, and a therapeutic environment as the three necessary factors in treating Alzheimers. Interior design and landscape design, carefully planned and executed, can greatly reduce the anxiety and confusion associated with Alzheimers.