Archive for the ‘Healing Garden’ Category

The healing garden down the street: Guest blog post by Joan Vorderbruggen and Lisa Overby-Blosser

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
Joan Vorderbruggen's garden patio. All photos by  Joan Vorderbruggen

Joan Vorderbruggen’s garden patio. All photos by Joan Vorderbruggen

I first met Joan Vorderbruggen at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) meeting in 2013 in Boston. She presented an expanded version of this lovely post, and I was very moved. Sometimes we researchers and designers get so bogged down in trying to analyze and quantify everything that we forget the more human and – dare I say it? – even the spiritual dimension. Joan’s and Lisa’s words, along with images from Joan’s garden, get to the heart of it. Many thanks to both of them for sharing here.

The healing garden down the street
By Joan Vorderbruggen and Lisa Overby-Blosser

The spring of 2012 held little hope for my neighbor, Lisa, wife and mother of four teenagers.  Lisa had just been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and was given a year or less to live. Asking me if she could spend time in my backyard garden, she felt time in a peaceful setting would help her deal with the upcoming chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other stresses.

Over that summer, Lisa spent a great deal of time walking the 5-house distance to my yard, sometimes barely able to put one foot in front of the other.  Still, she persevered, settling in to journal, sketch, and just be in the moment.  While I encouraged her to come and go as she pleased, I was happy that at times, she would join me on my deck and, without any prompting, speak of how the garden and natural world supported her during that time. I asked if I could share her words with others.

Lisa’s words (italicized) fit neatly within the framework of Stephen Kellert’s Biophillic Design Elements (below). According to Kellert, these elements stem from an intuitive human-nature connection, where people feel that spending time in nature can help them heal mentally, physically and spiritually. The Biophilia hypothesis assertion is that because humans evolved with nature, they feel comforted by nature (Kellert and Wilson, The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1993).

The idea of prospect is primarily about being able to control your view, to scan the horizon and understand where you are in relationship to your surroundings.
In the garden you have control – of where you sit, where you look, what you choose to focus on – whether it’s a wide view or something really small…  There are so many choices available to you.  The fact that you can make a choice of something can be healing.

Prospect. Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen

Prospect and Refuge


Refuge allows us to feel safe, sheltered and protected.  In my garden, Lisa chose to sit under a grapevine trellis.  She speaks more in metaphor of her feelings of refuge.
The garden is always welcoming; no plants fall over or trees drop their leaves in disgust or empathy when I took my hat off exposing my baldness….  The garden accepts where your body and emotions are at that moment in time.

Water. Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen



Of nature’s elements, water is perhaps the most profound and cross-culturally recognized healer. Lisa was immediately drawn to the water in our garden, a small pond with a tiny trickle down a stack of limestone.
The pond’s waterfall is a lullaby to my ears…. One day I noticed that there were ripples in the pond.  In the garden, there is change.  Sometimes when you’re ill, you don’t see changes fast enough.

Lupine. Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen


Lisa commented on the variety and change that occurred in the garden. She noticed how specific flowers bloomed for a particular week, only to be replaced by another type of blossom the following week.
[The garden was] an abundant feast to my eyes, to which I could never take all of it in within a visit.

Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen

Sensory variability

Besides the visual treat, Lisa spoke of the soothing garden sounds, such as the waterfall or wind chimes.  She noticed the scent of lemon thyme planted along a path, and she relayed the rejuvenating sense of touch.
The feeling of the wind and warmth of summer brought me back to the basics of staying in my skin – of keeping me from disassociating myself from my body (as one can during medical treatment).



Lisa noticed that I had made an effort to mimic nature’s patterns – whether it was a path that resembled a dry river bed, or the way I stacked rocks to look like they had settled there naturally.
You took time to plan it all, but to the observer, it looks natural.  The garden didn’t have to be perfect in the sense that it appears artificial.  It’s all real.

Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen


Playfulness brings life and sprit to a place, and Lisa pointed out several instances of this within the garden, captured through movement, light, squirrels and birds.
I was attracted to the birds in the pond – their hysterical antics while taking a bath would bring laughter, even when I was in a lot of pain…I am reminded that I can laugh – things can still be funny.  



Paths in particular can be alluring, especially when they don’t reveal everything at once.  Around the corner, behind the bush, the mystery of what lies ahead is the very thing that draws us in.
The different paths allow your mind to wander in different ways.
Paths always symbolize a journey, and that’s encouraging.  Even just seeing the paths would help – I’d walk them with my eyes, too tired to venture on foot.

The Elements of Biophilic Design are the intentional vehicles that designers can use to facilitate healing. Healing occurs when people are allowed to slow down, breath, observe, and be genuine with the surroundings and themselves.  This can lead further to stress reduction, and it can also recharge one’s emotional and physical self to move forward:
By taking the time to sit, it gave me the energy to go back home and to be a mom and a wife. 


The Elements of Biophilic Design also provide for a direct link to the natural environment, where we can take time to ponder our existence within the natural world. Lisa told me of her feelings of peace; coming from the times she could sit and contemplate a tiny detail on a single flower, or the spot of light reflecting on a stalk of a plant.
Each visit and encounter is distinctly different, in all the times I have sought the shelter of the garden, the experience is never duplicated.  In the garden I come to see life, growth, and predictable gentle deaths.  In its fullness the garden is a happy place.  

Milkweed seeds

Lisa shared with me that the time in the garden reduced her pain and stress level. As I write this, it is the end of summer, 2014.  For right now, Lisa’s tumor is gone and her cancer is considered stable.  She cautiously credits time in the garden as a possible reason for the good news:
The garden allows you to take deeper breaths – to breath.  Maybe just getting rid of stress helped heal the cancer.

Joan Vorderbruggen, AIA, is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at North Dakota State University. “Architect and academic, nature girl and gardener, Joan’s interests lie in the human/nature connection and how that can support well-being and healing in architecture and design.”

Healing garden for a veteran wins national award

Friday, July 25th, 2014
Harvest Home -  Julie Melear

The Wounded Warrior home, built for the Solar Decathalon, with its award-winning landscape design

George Washington University graduate students Julie Melear, Janet Conroy, and Mary Sper’s landscape design for HARVEST HOME, a Wounded Warrior home built for a veteran, has won the Gold Award in outdoor design from the Association for Professional Landscape Design (APLD). The house was designed and built by college students competing in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, which challenges collegiate teams to design solar powered houses that are cost effective, energy efficient, and attractive.

The goal for the solar competition was to create a comfortable and healing environment for its resident, a military veteran battling a combination of physical and emotional trauma. The landscape design – which was the basis of Julie Melear’s master’s thesis – continued the house’s conservation theme with the following outdoor elements:

  • A rainwater cistern to collect 100 percent of the roof runoff;
  • Deck tiles made from recycled tires;
  • A beehive and compost bin;
  • Two organic gardens with edible plants.

The house, including the outdoor landscape elements, was donated to Wounded Warrior Homes in the San Diego area and a veteran has already been chosen to occupy the home.

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Site Conditions
The house sat on tarmac at a former Marine Corps base in Irvine, California. The lot measured 78’ x 60’ and the house had to face south to maximize sun exposure on the solar panels. On both sides, an invisible 52-degree angle established a Solar Envelope which had to contain house and landscape. The project was subjected to a limited water supply and harsh Santa Ana winds during the competition.

Client’s Needs
HARVEST HOME was Team Capitol DC’s entry in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. In October 2013, 20 worldwide collegiate teams competed to design and build zero energy homes that were also attractive and affordable.

Design Intent/Project Description
HARVEST HOME was designed for a returning war veteran suffering from PTSD. All aspects of the landscape were designed for the health of the veteran as well as the desire to reconnect him to community and family.

The foremost design goal was to create a peaceful and healing environment for the injured war veteran.

The second was to incorporate sustainable elements that raise the home’s energy efficiency and showcase the value of responsible landscape design.

The third goal was to work within strict parameters including temporary installation, harsh environment, tight space and solar envelope limitations. The concept for the design, “Erasing the Lines”, incorporated this theme in all design decisions.

Harvest Home -  Julie Melear

The final landscape plan doubles the square footage of the 900 sq. foot home through use of ramps, decks and landings and creates an enjoyable way to take advantage of the mild climate. The Harvest Deck showcased a unique dining table featuring a water rill and herbs down the center of the table. This high impact water feature provided sensory stimulation for the residents and combined with the rustling grasses on the north edge of the deck to reinforce the restorative qualities of nature.





Environmental Responsibility
Irvine is in the Native Coastal Scrub plant community. Many of the plants selected were native to the region and able to withstand adverse climatic conditions without additional intervention. Two vegetable gardens provide fresh, organic produce enhancing the veteran’s ability to heal both physically and emotionally. Research shows that working with the earth engages the homeowner in a restorative, healing activity that stimulates positive growth.

Due to the temporary nature of the exhibit and the growing interest in new farming techniques, the edibles were planted in recycled milk crates. These modular units could be changed based on the season and weather conditions. Not only are they easy to use, they are very affordable and represent alternative methods of gardening.

Other energy efficient elements included a cistern, which collected roof rainwater. This stormwater, along with grey water was used to irrigate many of the plants. Additional sustainable practices included recycled materials, solar lighting, a beehive, a compost bin and a clothesline used to save energy when drying laundry. We built a system that harvested valuable resources to create a home that is both sustainable and beautiful.

Harvest Home - Julie Melear


The first therapeutic garden in Romania!

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Planting in Romania healing garden

Landscape engineer Nicsanu Marcela recently posted a photo on our TLN Facebook page with an image of raised flower beds and this caption: “First therapeutic garden in Romania!” That was pretty exciting. I emailed her to ask whether she’d like to do a guest blog post, and she agreed. Here is her post:

The first therapeutic garden in Romania opened its doors in June 2014, at Mocrea Psychiatric Hospital in Arad County. This first garden opened the way for horticultural therapy, a healing method used in almost some psychiatric hospitals in Western Europe and the USA.


Enter now! Landscape Architecture for Healthcare Communities awards

Friday, June 27th, 2014
Smilow Cancer Hospital healing garden

The stream at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital. Design by Towers Golde. Photo by Naomi Sachs

2013 was a momentous year for landscape architecture in healthcare design: It was the first year that Healthcare Design and Environments for Aging held the Landscape Architecture for Healthcare Communities Awards.

The projects were chosen by two different panels of jurors – one for Acute Care (Healthcare Design) and one for Senior Living (Environments for Aging and Long-Term Living). Acute Care and Senior Living project award winners were featured in the December digital issues of Healthcare Design and EFA magazines. Acute Care award winners were also featured in the May/June 2014 print edition and will be honored in November at HEALTHCARE DESIGN14 in San Diego, CA. Senior Living project winners were honored at the Environments for Aging conference in May.

And here’s more good news: They’re doing it again! Submission are due for both categories on July 14, 2014 so get busy with your applications.

This is a terrific opportunity for landscape architects and healthcare facilities with successful therapeutic landscapes to showcase their work, and for everyone else to see the best examples of how it should be done. (more…)

Gardens in Healthcare – Earlybird registration ends 2/1

Friday, January 24th, 2014
Legacy Emanuel Children's Garden

Legacy Emanuel Children’s Garden. Photo courtesy Legacy Health

Earlybird registration for Legacy Health’s annual Gardens in Health Care conference ends February first!

The Gardens in Healthcare conference: Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces
When: Fri, April 4, 2014, 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Where: Lorenzen Conference Center, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Portland, OR

Featuring the new book: Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Marni Barnes, LCSW, ASLA, APATH
Clare Cooper Marcus, M.A., MCP, Hon. ASLA
Teresia Hazen MEd, HTR, QMHP
Duncan R. Neilson, Jr., M.D.
Naomi Sachs, ASLA, EDAC