For some people, the re-engagement with nature was a positive to glean from this past pandemic-filled year. With festivals, concerts and other favorite pastimes placed on hiatus romps through parks, nature preserves, and garden-adorned areas were a saving grace and an opportunity to take in fresh scenery while dually taking precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.
With pre-pandemic life starting to re-emerge, the power and beauty of spending time in nature can still play an important role — particularly from a mental health perspective, as we continue unpacking some of the challenges associated with this past year.
One of the simpler ways of enjoying the peace and serenity of nature is through a healing garden. They were around long before the coronavirus, and their source as a place of therapy certainly will continue long into the road ahead.
What is a healing garden, and where did the concept come from?
While there is no hard-and-fast description of a healing garden, there are some core characteristics that set them apart from traditional gardens or landscapes. Generally speaking, healing gardens are noted for their simplicity.
Most healing gardens contain all, or nearly all, elements found in nature. In other words, sculptures, structures, or other manmade items typically fall outside the realm of what this type of garden would entail because they are considered distracting.
Some of the most common elements found in nature typically are interspersed into healing gardens — think robust, varied, lush vegetation and assorted colors of flowers to evoke a sense of peace and wonder. Some form of a calm water element, such as a small stream, is another common trait.
The roots of a healing garden go back to ancient times. Chinese people, for example, have long looked to plants and other natural sources for their healing powers.
One of the earliest traces of healing gardens within the U.S. stretches back to Colonial times. According to historical accounts, the Quaker community used gardening as a means of expressing creativity and therapeutic practices.
In more modern history, healing gardens have frequently been linked to the medical community to bring comfort to patients and loved ones grappling with challenging, life-altering circumstances. According to the National Garden Bureau, Philadelphia’s Friends Hospital was a pioneer in the link between modern medicine and nature.
The NGB states the positive correlation was made “after a physician noticed the psychiatric patients working in the hospital’s fields and flower gardens were calmer and that the gardens had a ‘curative’ effect on them.”
You can create a healing garden in your own yard
Since healing gardens are noted for their simplicity, creating one in your own yard certainly is a realistic notion. There are a number of resources online that provide ideas on some of the plantings that would work in most yards. PennState Extension is one such resource.
Pamela Hubbard, a master gardener with PennState Extension, recommends gardeners list their three most important health concerns, or those facing family members.
“Your garden should address specific healing needs and accommodate the limitations of the visitor or gardener,” Hubbard says. “Of course, it must be visually pleasing. Once you have decided your basic goals, it is possible to prioritize design features.”
From her vantage point, Hubbard says there are a number of considerations that can come into play, depending on the amount of yard space available. A walking path or benches for sitting are among the considerations. Attractions that could bring wildlife into the garden also might be worthy of consideration.
Much like dealing with a physical, mental, or emotional ailment, creating and tending to a healing garden requires time and energy. But the benefits, quite simply, can be beautiful.