As I wrote in July, healing gardens are places that heal us in all ways: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. A garden doesn’t just heal our souls by bringing joy, peace, balance, and wholeness, a garden also has the added benefit of helping our physical self as we work to maintain this oasis of beauty; it literally exercises our bodies and helps us heal and stay healthy in that way too.
The garden is a refuge for anyone seeking solace, quiet, reflection, or comfort in difficult times, and researchers have actually found that the right environment–usually one with natural elements–can promote healing.
There’s even a whole field devoted to the idea of promoting the people-plant relationship: Horticultural Therapy. It’s what it sounds like, basically using horticulture in a therapeutic way, or using horticulture for wellness and to heal. It involves the use of plants and plant-related activities to improve the body, mind, and spirits of people. It is a field that focuses on the people-plant relationship, or looking at the benefits of plants for people, rather than the view that horticulture usually takes that focuses on the plants.
According to the book Horticulture As Therapy by Sharon Stimson & Martha Straus, “Horticultural therapy is a treatment modality that uses plants and plant products to improve the social, cognitive, physical, psychological, and general health and well-being of its participants. While treatment and rehabilitation typically have been offered in health care facilities, many have found that a garden offers a complementary health care setting that helps to restore physical and mental health to those who work the soil and watch seeds grow.”
Many gardeners can personally attest to the healing powers of their hobby. I know that I can. Who among us hasn’t experienced stress, frustration, depression, and found that being in a natural setting or working in the garden is soothing, calming, therapeutic, offering peace and tranquility?
We all can benefit from plant activities and gardening to ease stress because:
- Plants are calming, therapeutic and soothing.
- Gardening is relaxing and reduces stress, and helps you unwind and clear your mind.
- The peacefulness and tranquility of gardens and gardening reduces tension and anxiety.
- Working in a garden is an outlet for creativity and a form of self-expression.
- While in nature or gardening, you become absorbed and for a brief time forget everything else and can regain pleasure.
Gardening also helps us physically because the physical labor of gardening is similar to the effects of exercising and is a natural way to stretch, reach, bend, walk, and move.
As a moderate exercise activity gardening lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and reduces muscle tension. It also heightens the senses, improves circulation, builds physical endurance, and burns calories. You can burn about 360 calories an hour from gardening.
And, a garden can literally be physically healing if you incorporate edibles such as herbs, trees, vegetables, fruits, etc. for their healing properties and to improve your physical health.
Judi Gerber is a garden and agriculture writer, a horticultural therapy consultant, and a certified Master Gardener with the UC Cooperative Extension Los Angeles, Common Ground Garden Program. Her book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay was released in September 2008.