The Healing Garden

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In all cultures there is a recognition of the healing power of nature — a natural source of healing for the disabled and the well, alike.

Gardening season has come early this year. Climate change is perhaps a factor in this. And today’s unseasonably warm temperatures will undoubtedly bring a greater chance for severe weather later. But the early blooms that have emerged have taken a bit of the sting out of the costs of global warming. Mother Nature always seems to find a way to strike a better balance. And there is perhaps no better way for her to put that balance on glorious display than in the garden.

I have to admit two things from the outset: I absolutely love spending time in a beautiful garden, but I am also definitely not naturally gifted when it comes to the gardening arts. I have so many friends who seem to have the knack, and I constantly struggle with ‘garden envy.’ I always find ways to visit my green-thumbed friends in the spring because of how good it makes me feel to stroll through their picturesque backyard landscapes. (It also gives me ideas!) I know a great garden when I see one. I just wish I were better at creating one myself. It’s not so much that I want to feel as good at the art as some of my friends. It’s just that I want to create the kind of space that gives me the same sense of well-being that I have when I’m sitting in or ambling through the beautiful green spaces many of them have created. I have one area of my yard that I’m proud of, surrounding a small waterfall and stream, and where I grow all my culinary herbs and spices. Perhaps my zeal for cooking helped inspire me to create this space in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. The rest of my landscape — well, let’s just say it’s a work in progress!

I intuitively knew about the healing power of the garden long before I learned that there’s actually a scientific foundation for such a belief. So before diving headfirst into my own gardening odyssey for the year, I thought I’d do a little research. I was surprised to learn that there’s actually such a thing as “horticultural therapy” and that there are several associations dedicated to promoting its benefits. One of these is the American Horticultural Therapy Association, and their website has a lot of information on the benefits of botanical therapy, a wide selection of helpful publications, and links to other organizations involved in the science of “gardening for good.”

Research firmly attests to the therapeutic benefits of gardening, especially for those with physical or mental disabilities. But the benefits of spending time with the land and its fruits extend far beyond being a source of comfort and skill-enhancement for those with disabilities. All of us, it seems, would do well to set aside some time from our otherwise hectic and botanically sterile lives and contemplate the beauty and mystery of life embodied in the garden. The psychological, emotional, spiritual, and even physical benefits of spending time in a garden appear as abundant as the buds and blooms on the plants growing there.

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It’s probably no accident that all cultures on the planet have their own garden myths. There’s something very primal and profound about the image of an Eden where life thrives, is well-nourished, and all creatures live in harmony. Life is a miracle, and we are most whole and most well when we are intimately connected with it. But we can all too easily become estranged from the things that really sustain life in the machine-dominated and concrete world we’ve built for ourselves. In the pit of our souls, we all want to return to Eden. And sometimes it does indeed seem like paradise has forever been lost. But I take great comfort in knowing that any time I wish, and within the span of mere minutes, I can recapture a feeling of well-being like no other. I can walk out my back door and spend time contemplating the beauty and majesty of life in the garden, and I will be healed.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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