Great Outdoors & Healing

Posted on April 29, 2010


Evidence-based design has been proving the benefits of nature in healing for some time. Healing gardens are popular ways of buiding the outdoors into the treatment environment. In addition, growing your own food and urban farming have been catching on in cities, both as a way to fight hunger, but also to combat various urban ills and instill pride in the outdoor city environment.

Still, it is a hard sell to some facilities on outdoor access for patients.  Earlier this month, a WSJ article on utilizing gardening, weeding, clipping and arranging flowers outdoors emphasized how some hospital systems were using these activities as components to rehabilitation and treatment.  Legacy Health was mentioned in the article, not only because it uses gardens in its treatment, but because it offers a formal horticultural therapy program as an option for caregivers.

Other institutions not only offered access to the outdoors, but structured activities and classes. Reports noted how gardening had positive effects on patients’ mood, stress levels, ability to recall memories, perceptions of pain, and even strength and stamina in elderly patients.

These ideas are not exactly new.  The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Therapeutic Garden Design newsletter had an article on horticultural therapy at the Miami VA five years ago, and the ASLA professional practice network on healthcare and therapeutic design has been around at least that long. The outdoors is used much more intensively with psychiatric patient rehabilitation. Maybe others should give it a try.

As facilities plan for future expansion and incorporate more “green” into their buildings, they should give some thought to (including the practical aspects of access, safety, monitoring, etc.) and remember that the outdoors plays a large part in healing when you can see it, and an even larger role when you can participate in it.