Garden Designers Roundtable: Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
~ John Burroughs

Autumn crocus, The High Line, New York City. Photo by Naomi Sachs

This blog post comes courtesy of the Garden Designers Roundtable, who invited me to be their first-ever guest blogger. I’m honored and excited to be participating in today’s roundtable discussion, the theme of which is “Therapy and healing in the garden.” All photos are by Naomi Sachs.

Some Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden

The idea that gardens and landscapes foster good health seems like a no-brainer, especially to gardeners and garden/landscape designers/architects. It’s like telling Newton that apples really do fall down. Sadly, though I’m preaching to the choir here today, many people still haven’t grasped this concept, and we can find all too many examples of landscapes that are anything but healing (picture, if you will, a parking lot at the mall…). At the Therapeutic Landscape Network, we focus a lot of our attention on the design of hospitals and other healthcare environments because – oddly enough – they tend to be so far behind as places that facilitate health and well-being on a holistic level. We’re getting there, but we still have a long way to go.

For today, since a big part of the TLN’s mission is to connect designers and health and human service providers with the research they need to design beautiful, nurturing, successfully restorative spaces, I thought I’d highlight some of the evidence that we’ve blogged about over the years. In this case, research that “proves” that being in and interacting with nature is, indeed, restorative for body and soul. This research is important because it’s positive ammunition. It’s what makes CEOs, and policy makers, and grant funders and our clients sit up and take notice (and change the laws and sign the checks!). I’ve provided a one-sentence summary of the research, with the title of each related blog post that you can link to for more information and full citations.

But first, for background, the seminal ‘View Through a Window’ study:
In 1984, Roger Ulrich studied two sets of patients, both in the same hospital, both recovering from the same surgery. The key difference: One group’s view from their window was of nature – grass, trees and sky; the other’s was of a brick wall. Ulrich found that the patients with the nature view complained less, required less pain medication, and made a faster recovery. Here, finally, was empirical proof of the salutary benefits of nature. Ulrich’s paper, published in the journal Science, got the attention of the medical community and legitimized the field of evidence-based design. Evidence-based design being the use of quantitative, and sometimes qualitative, research to design environments that facilitate health and improve outcomes. Since then, hundreds of studies have been published. Some, like those cited below, continue to demonstrate that contact with nature is good for people; some explore how people benefit, and what conditions are best for specific groups, needs, and situations (e.g., children; seniors with dementia; gardens for people who are immuno-compromised).

Innisfree, Millbrook, NY

The evidence since ‘View Through a Window.’ A few good examples:

Trees, greenery, and other vegetation make neighborhoods safer and more desirable. They even play a role in boosting students’ grades and reducing the risk of domestic violence.
See “Healing the Neighborhood: The Power of Gardens.”

Plants in an office setting improve worker satisfaction, creativity, and productivity.
See “I Demand Satisfaction! The Role of Nature in Job Satisfaction.”

As little as 10 minutes spent outside improves attention in children with ADHD; neighborhoods with more green space improve body mass index of children and youth.
See “Nature Deficit Disorder: Getting Kids Outdoors.” For many more resources on nature-based learning and play for kids, visit our Get Out and Play! page.

Uma, picking serviceberries. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Gardening improves health and happiness, including reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
See “Horticultural Therapy in the Wall Street Journal.” Horticultural Therapy is “a professional practice that uses the cultivation of plants and gardening activities to improve the mental and physical health of its participants,” (definition courtesy of the Horticultural Therapy Institute). Hort therapists often work with occupational and physical therapists in a garden setting; gardens that are designed specifically for this kind of therapy are called rehabilitation gardens. For more information, see the horticultural therapy page on our website and for a really inspiring post about the power of horticultural therapy, see A Life Worth Living: The Garden as Healer.

Exposure to nature makes people more altruistic and generous.
It’s true, Nature Makes Us Nicer!

Autumn leaves. Photo by Naomi Sachs

I hope that now that you’ve been introduced to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network Blog, you’ll stay awhile and read some of our older posts, and that you’ll visit us again for new ones (you can also sign up to have posts emailed to you). I welcome your comments, which can often lead to great dialog on the TLN Blog.

Many thanks again to the Garden Designers Roundtable for the invitation and warm welcome as a guest blogger. Visit the GDRT website (, or click on the links below, to read other bloggers’ posts (and to see some great pictures) – it’s an excellent group, and each blogger has something interesting to say on the topic.

Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Gardening: Designing a Landscape for Colorblind People
Ivette Soler, The Germinatrix: Plant a Garden, The Life You Save Might Be Your Own
Jenny Petersen, J Petersen Garden Design: Therapeutic Spaces
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber, Hegarty Webber Partnership: Homage to Ariadne: Labyrinthine Therapy
Rochelle Greayer, Studio “G”: A Tale About What Makes a Garden Healing

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23 Responses to “Garden Designers Roundtable: Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden”

  1. eft says:


    […]Garden Designers Roundtable: Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden « Therapeutic Landscapes Network[…]…

  2. Guest house knysna…

    […]Garden Designers Roundtable: Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden « Therapeutic Landscapes Network[…]…

  3. […] Last year, Genevieve Schmidt wrote a wonderful post, “Designing a Landscape for Color Blind People” for the Garden Designers Roundtable‘s forum on Therapy and Healing in the Garden (I wrote one called “Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden.”) […]

  4. […] mentioned evidence-based design (EBD) in my recent Garden Designers Roundtable post. In a nutshell, EBD uses quantitative, and sometimes qualitative, research to design […]

  5. Naomi Sachs says:

    Thank you, Robert, Ivette, and Jocelyn for your comments. Robert, I think the AHTA has made a lot of progress, but yes, they still have a ways to go, too. I’m sure they’d be open to your getting more involved and bringing them out of those dark ages! And if it’s any consolation, the Center for Health Design doesn’t have a FB page, either. Jocelyn, if you design lots of healing/sanctuary gardens for residential clients and want more exposure, you might want to consider joining out Designers and Consultants Directory. For designers who specialize in this type of work or who want to work more in this area, it’s a great investment: I heard the term “gray tsunami” for the first time at this year’s ASLA conference, and it makes total sense. We’d better start designing for it now!

  6. Thank you for such an informative post, Naomi. You’ve provided a wonderful resource here! I, too, appreciate your focus on research as validation. Although I do not create landscape designs for commercial properties, I will be following your links to glean information that I can apply to my residential clients. A combination of tough economies and an aging population will make valid horticultural therapy data extremely important.

  7. Ivette Soler says:

    WOW! Naomi! This is certainly a tour de force! I especially loved the “Through The Window” study – it makes so much sense! There is something so visceral about being in a garden, even looking at one! It changes you from the inside out. It seems to me that gardens in hospitals should be an automatic thing! I was lucky enough to do a garden for a church once, and that was such an incredible experience – I could see that that space extended the space of worship and connectivity. A healing space.
    Thank you SO MUCH Naomi – your voice is a tremendous addition!

  8. As a registered Horticulture Therapist with the American Horticulture Therapy Association, what we need and are lacking is recognition from the insurance companies. Most other therapies are reimbursed by insurance companies such as recreation, occupational, art and music therapy. Our national organization is stuck in an archaic mindset. They are not even on facebook
    I have my own business and have many clients and luckily work through the activities departments. Luckily I have been very busy for the last 16 years. Thank you for your post.

  9. Naomi Sachs says:

    Thanks, Annie, and thanks for sharing this article – kudos to you! I’m going to share it now on Twitter and our FB page as well. And why don’t you post on our Land8Lounge group? I’m sure others there would love to read it. Thanks for your comments, your positive energy, and your good work.

  10. Annie Kirk says:

    Yeah Naomi! Yeah for all the bloggers! Yeah for so many to have the benefit of reading this and the other posts! Great (and helpful) to broaden the conversation which broadens the opportunity for *healing*. Thank you. May I share (shamelessly) a recent article? On some thoughts on*how* to bring healing gardens home? Inspired by those (you know) *amazing* Portland Legacy Health System therapeutic gardens:
    Keep up the good work all!

  11. Naomi Sachs says:

    Wow, thanks for all of your wonderful comments. I’m so glad that this blog post is a good resource, and I hope a source of inspiration as well. It’s been such a pleasure blogging with the GDRT and reading others’ posts as well. Kari, I’m definitely going to use that quote! Liz, I have lots of suggestions for you for hort therapy stuff. Start with the links in the post, but there are also some good groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. It’s not the most lucrative profession, but very rewarding!

  12. Genevieve says:

    Wow, Naomi. I too have bookmarked this post and am going through all the of posts in a leisurely way. It is great to see the actual research on what we all seem to instinctively feel – that our connection to nature helps us be whole, and happy, and yes, nicer!! Even your photos are soothing to me…

    Lovely having you join the roundtable this month. Thanks for an excellent contribution!

  13. Liz says:

    I’m new to Hort Therapy – so new I barely know where to begin! – and I very much appreciate the compilation of studies you have provided. It’s great to have such a list of links and quick summaries in one place. So, thanks from a grateful Calgarian!

  14. Stevie says:

    This is an amazing collection of information, Naomi. Thanks so much for all the work you do – I know first hand how healing a garden is and I thank you for your work.

  15. Goodness, Naomi, as the Britisher of the group I didn’t quite appreciate your healing credentials. Had I done so I might have thought twice about blogging at all on this subject! Weston Hospice is the first therapy based garden we have worked on and so it has been a bit of a learning curve. But guess that is therapy in itself! We have a hint of a second hospice job arising from the first – so that will be interesting. I think you make such an important point about research validating what we feel instinctively! It is the only way you get CEO’s parting with the cash. Now, things like labys are seen as sexy projects. But global cash shortages make the funding ever more critical. Here’s hoping for an upturn!
    Best Wishes

  16. Wow – what an inspiring post you’ve written. Rather, what an inspiring BOOK you’ve written! I’ve bookmarked this so I can leisurely read through all of your information – truly, what you do is amazing. I wish there were more people like you out there not only beautifying the world, but helping people along the way. You must go to sleep at night feeling really, really proud! 🙂

  17. Many, many years ago I found a quote by Minnie Aumonier.
    To this day, it is just as true as when I first read it.

    “When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy,
    there is always the garden.”

  18. Pam/Digging says:

    You ARE preaching to the choir, but it’s an uplifting song and we like to hear it again and again. Thank you for all the great links, beautiful pics, and sound advice. And thanks too for guest posting with our group at Garden Designers Roundtable!

  19. Naomi Sachs says:

    Thanks, Jenny and Debbie! Jenny, your son was doing the exact right thing. That’s such a hard age, and I took plenty of solace in woods and fields while I was working stuff out. And Debbie, you said it. We’ve come a long way, and still have a long way to go. But at least we’re getting there!

  20. Naomi, What a great wealth of information you’ve shared in your post , thank you. I’m bookmarking the post for lots of future reference. The results from the ‘view from the window’ study seem so obvious now, but I guess the fact that so many people were surprised by the outcome really highlights how far the nature/health connection has come over the past few decades.

  21. Nature makes us nicer! I LOVE that and just a heads’ up, I’m going to steal that phrase from you. But so true. How many times have people been sick, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, you name it–then they go outside and connect with the natural world around them and it lightens their load! My 18-year-old son called from college yesterday, tearful and overwhelmed about mid-terms and a recent break-up. I was worried about him and asked, “Where are you?” and he said, “I’m walking in the woods by campus.” I said, “Keep walking. Find a spot that’s quiet so you can regroup and reflect. You’re going to be okay.”

    Thanks, Naomi, for all the work you do to help us all remember to stay connected to our “roots”–yes, you’re preaching to the choir, but you help us to spread this word, too. Cheers to you!

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