The Therapeutic Benefits of Gardens.

photo - Jan Johnsen, Croton Point Park

Robert Ulrich was in the hospital with a badly broken leg.

Forced to lie flat on his back, Ulrich, an environmental psychologist, stared for hours at a too bright ceiling light surrounded by acoustic ceiling tile.

 “I much I wished I had an attractive image on the ceiling,” Ulrich recalls.

White Birches - Jan Johnsen, Boscobel

Now the director of the Center for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M University, Ulrich produced groundbreaking research that found that viewing natural scenes in a hospital aids stress recovery by evoking positive feelings, reducing negative emotions and blocking or reducing stressful thoughts.

When test subjects viewed gardens as opposed to urban scenes, they exhibited lower alpha rates which are associated with being wakefully relaxed.

Garden by Jan Johnsen

Further research by Ulrich indicated that surgical patients who had views of nature had shorter post-operative stays, fewer negative comments from nurses, took less pain medication and experienced fewer minor post-operative complications than those with a view of a brick wall!

Healing begins in a garden.  All hospitals should have healing landscapes for patients to visit.

Landscape by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

But  what does a healing landscape entail specifically?

In the United Kingdom, Maggie Keswick, a well known English garden writer, was dying of breast cancer and her wish was for her partner, noted landscape designer, Charles Jencks, to set up a series of cancer centers which provided a sanctuary away from clinical hospital environments.  Thereafter, a number of MAGGIE gardens were established in Scotland, Keswick’s country of birth.

A recent Maggie garden was developed by English designer, Dan Pearson, at Charing Cross Hospital, London. It was widely heralded but the photos show a rather uninspiring outdoor what does a healing garden need to be, specifically? Bridget Rosewell wrote about the Pearson garden in the great website, Thinkin Gardens:

"Looking round rather wild eyed and frankly astonished, I reflected on what was wrong here.  I concluded that there were three things lacking.  They are green, seating and a place to cry

Greenery carries huge symbolism of hope and in a winter garden gives structure and density.  It is no accident that so many successful gardens have yew hedges [this is England]. 

 Seats give the opportunity to meditate, to doze and to absorb the reality of growth and renewal. 

A place to cry is denied by the busyness of hospitals and the necessity of treatment.  But recovery requires it and it in turn requires privacy and hidden corners."

I must admit I never thought about the 'place to cry' and hidden corners but you know it makes sense....

A great post about healing gardens is from University of Minnesota (click here) 


  1. Nice post, Jan. You might be interested in the Therapeutic Landscapes Network,, including our blog. Our organization is devoted to providing information, education and advocacy about gardens and landscapes that promote health and well-being. I just recently wrote a post on evi for the Garden Designers Roundtable, "Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden," And we live close to each other! I'm in Beacon, NY.

  2. Hi Jan,

    A thoughtful post and I fully agree with the idea that gardens and/or green spaces must provide a positive contribution towards healing even if this is simply just a good view from a window. Better still is interaction with the garden or green space. I think that the creation of garden sanctuaries should be a fundamental consideration of good garden design no matter for who the garden is being designed for. Many thanks for your post and I like your blog. Best Regards, Tim

  3. Thanks for this post...I could not agree more. This kind of space fulfills a number of functions. One of the best therapeutic spaces I know is behind St Luke's church on Hudson St in NYC. There are paths that vary in width, wide open spaces for multiple groups, and quiet corners where a good cry could happen in privacy. There is sun, shade, and shelter. Above all it is beautiful, which lifts the heart and spirit of anyone who visits there.

  4. I hope all hospitals take note of wonderful that such a simple thing can help people heal! These ideas will make it more pleasant for the visitors as well, possibly encouraging more visits to recovering friends and family. Thanks for spreading the word!

  5. Thanks all! I am going to find St Luke's on Hudson Street...and yes, we need garden sanctuaries in every urban area with places to cry...and rejoice.

  6. Hi Jan!
    I'm a new follower and was struck by the beauty of your photos while passing through. Thanks for adding some goodness to the world with this!

  7. thank you fashion therapy! (boy do I need some of that...)

  8. I appreciate you foe posting such a wonderful Blog.The greatest high quality LED Grow Lights enjoy a 95% effectiveness rating which indicates that practically all with the gentle is helpful on your facilities and will directly support them mature.


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