Create your own healing space, or gain strength in one designed by someone else.
Having a tree canopy overhead is like having a hug.
Hugging trees may be out of fashion, but what if a tree was to hug you? It’s a concept garden designer Betsy-Sue Clarke employs when creating a therapeutic space. “We all need a hug,” she says. Betsy-Sue specialises in healing gardens and says an enclosed place to sit – preferably by water or with a view – is a key feature. “Having a tree canopy overhead is like having a hug.”
The idea of gardens as remedial spaces is not new: sixth-century Persian gardens aimed to help connect people with God, Japanese Zen gardens have long promoted healing meditation, while monastic infirmaries almost always include a cloistered garden.
Surgical patients with views of nature have been found to have shorter post-operative stays, take less pain medication and experience fewer minor post-operative complications than those facing man-made structures such as buildings.
Similar results have been noted since nurse and horticultural therapist Steven Wells created a therapeutic garden at Austin Health’s Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Kew, Victoria.
Steven originally thought patients at the Acquired Brain Injury Unit would benefit from gardening activities, but now patients from all the departments – as well as visitors – use the space. One patient even got married there.
Science backs up centuries of garden practice. Professor Roger Ulrich, director of the Centre for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, found that viewing greenery helped with stress recovery.
As well as aiding physical health, gardens aid spiritual recovery, Betsy-Sue says. She cites key elements:
Being able to see the seasons changing helps with moving forward.
The sound of water is important and watching water moving – never in a straight line – reminds us that our lives aren’t perfect and controlled either.
Seeing how plants battle and survive helps us to battle our own storms.
Some plants evoke memories from our childhood – good and bad. “I try to replicate elements of loving memories to help visitors feel safer,” Betsy-Sue says.
The ability to make a memory in a garden, whether it’s placing flowers in a vase or stacking rocks, allows you to say, “I’ve been here”, and gives you a moment of peace or of letting go.