White oak. Photo by Henry Domke, henrydomke.com
The best friend of earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the earth.
– Frank Lloyd Wright
Let’s say you are designing a healing garden – for a client or yourself – and you only have 10 square feet of planting space. You could plant a few shrubs, or a few more perennials, or a bunch of annuals. Or you could plant a tree. If there’s enough vertical space, and there usually is, go for the tree. Why? Here are some reasons:
Shade is one of the most important components of any therapeutic landscape, and yet it is overlooked so often that sometimes I just want to cry. I’ve seen countless designs that might be successful if enough shade were provided for people to actually enjoy the garden even on hot, sunny days. I’m going to do a whole post on this soon, but I’ll point out a couple key things here. Especially in the healthcare setting, shade is crucial. Many people are “photosensitive” – sensitive to sun and bright light, either because of their condition or from the medication that they’re on. Imagine a garden in a cancer center without shade. I’ve seen those! If you include trees in your design, make sure they are big enough when they go in to provide shade right away. See that mother who is visiting her sick child and wants to sit with him under a nice, shady tree for a few minutes? Look her in the eye and tell her to come back in five years when the tree will be big enough to provide adequate shade. Or plant a big tree and watch as people gravitate to and gather under its soothing, protective boughs. Speaking of which…
You can’t beat trees for symbolism. They are so strong and resilient, and yet so graceful, flexible, and nurturing. And they can live for hundreds of years. Pretty inspiring. Furthermore, lots of trees are used for medicinal purposes. Even if a willow isn’t actually harvested for its analgesic properties, it can still be a good symbol of pain relief in a setting where healing is the goal.
Alone with myself
The trees bend to caress me
The shade hugs my heart.
Sight is the most obvious sense, and we can appreciate a tree from a distance, from below looking up at the leaves and the patterns of light filtered through them, from above looking down through a window onto green rather than brown or grey. Remember Roger Ulrich’s seminal study* of patients recovering from surgery? The view that the patients had who recovered faster and needed pain medication was of a grove of trees. (more…)