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How does your garden heal?

By garden designer John Frater. For millennia nature and gardens have been associated with health and well being. However, somewhere in the late twentieth century the main stream health care establishment lost sight of this.

With advancement in medical science and technology more and more emphasis was placed on science based treatments and procedures. In recent decades, however, international research has affirmed the centuries old association between nature, gardens and health. Primarily undertaken in America, this research has isolated just what it is about nature and gardens that helps us improve our health. These finding are helping to inform how gardens are designed in health care environments. These 'healing gardens' are increasingly found in hospitals and hospices around the world because their benefits are widely shown to significantly benefit both patient and non-patient health.

Peace garden

In the main it is because gardens reduce stress that they are so effective. The reduction in stress is a causal factor in improved health outcomes of a range of other treatments. Well we all suffer from stress. Stress from our busy lives causes a lot of our health problems in the first place. Thinking in this way I began to see that many of the recommended design principles for healing gardens can easily be transferred to our own domestic gardens. The benefits of healing gardens are not exclusive to them. Indeed much of the research used to come up with design recommendations concerns regular public parks and gardens.

So gardens are beneficial to our health. But it is not as general as that. Some elements are positively contributing to these benefits more than others. These garden elements have been identified and fall into four main categories: Control, Social Support, Exercise and Positive Distraction. To enhance the healing quality of our gardens we can learn from this research and apply these simple practical and aesthetic guidelines. I will over the course of four short articles go into each of these four healing aspects of gardens. I will explain what they mean in their original context and how I they might be applied to the domestic garden.

It can seem wonderfully comic when science proclaims a truth that has been commonly accepted for centuries. On the other hand what the research does is shows what specific elements contribute to our health and well being. It is no longer left to chance. If we apply these design principles we can chose to increase specifically the health promoting benefits of our gardens. Now that has to be a good thing.

By John Frater

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