Archive for the ‘Garden Therapy’ Category

Designing a Garden Considering Autism and Special Needs:

Is your garden providing too much stimuli, or too little?

What makes a soothing area in which to re-center?

What should pathway surfaces be like and how wide?

How do environmental noises make an impact on the garden experience?

One of my favorite (and award-winning) websites is the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. It’s an extremely thorough resource for those specializing in combining their landscape design skills with concepts of health and well-being.

Two months ago I asked its founder and director Naomi Sachs, if by any chance she had ever done a story about landscape design for autistic children. I already knew Naomi had her finger on the pulse of her field. Lo and behold, she and Tara Vincenta (both ASLAs) were in the process of writing an extended piece about Autism and Special Needs. Tara is founder and principal of Artemis Landscape Architects, Inc. and Naomi not only runs the resource website but runs her own landscape design and consulting firm. Below you can link to the article.

I urge you to head right to these links for some valuable information on how to make your landscape, your garden, your park of optimal benefit for these individuals. After all, April is Autism Awareness month. All of us know of folks with special needs.

The publication article: Outdoor Environments for Children with Autism and Special Needs. It outlines research and design considerations for creating outdoor, nature based spaces that allow children with autism and other special needs to play and learn at their own comfort level, overcoming common challenges in a safe, fun environment that is equally engaging for any child. Find the article via: http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/04/outdoor-environments-for-children-with-autism-special-needs-in-informedesigns-implications/

True to thorough form, Naomi has also collected a list of Resources on Autism and Access to Nature posted here. http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/04/april-autism-awareness-landscape-architecture-month/implications-resources-2/

Check out Therapeutic Landscape Network — a site that emulates enormous dedication, research and study. http://www.healinglandscapes.org/about-mission.html

Nancy R. Peck


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You’ve heard that exercise is good for your physical and mental health. You’ve also heard that being outdoors de-stresses and improves the mood—clears out the cobwebs. I know you’re already aware of how gardening is therapeutic.

Well, now there’s a new name for all of this. . . brought to you by the world of science + copywriting.

Green Exercise—when you combine exercise with nature—when you commune with the outdoors and move about a little bit. What will they think of next, you ask? Nature-deficit-disorder, attention- restoration theory, environmental psychology, biophilia, Green Gym and green prescription—that’s what.

At the University of Essex-UK, using meta-analysis and assessment of multiple studies involving 1252 participants, it was quantitatively implied that even short five-minute spurts of green exercise had long-term health benefits. All types of green exercise were beneficial—and the presence of water in the natural environment created even more positive effects.

Self-esteem especially increased for the youngest subjects. And the mentally ill showed the greatest rise in self-esteem improvements. As Jo Barton concludes about the results “we believe that there would be a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to self-medicate with green exercise.”

In another study at Wageningen University & Research Centre in the Netherlands, gardeners over 60 were compared with non-gardeners over 60 in the same neighborhood. A significant increase in perceived health and decreased stress levels was found.

And in New Zealand, the Get Growing with NZ Gardener television show teamed with the Mental Health Foundation: “. . . gardening is a great way for people to incorporate the five winning ways to wellbeing into their lives—connect, learn, give, be active and take notice.” They add (what to us may seem obvious):

  • Joining a gardening club or community gardening project can help you connect with new people.
  • Gardening can inspire you to take notice of the natural world around you.
  • Learning about plants keeps you discovering new things.
  • Regular gardening can help bring structure to your life.
  • Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and is a good form of physical exercise.
  • It’s a good outlet for your creativity and it is fun.
  • Growing veggies and herbs can encourage healthy eating and save money.
  • You can give surplus veggies or cuttings to friends, family and neighbors as a gift, or trade them with produce from other people’s gardening successes.
  • Gardening is something the whole family can do together.

Hmm. Push-ups today or weeding?  Have you squeezed in your Gardening Green Exercise today?

Photo: Tom Adamson, Flickr Creative Commons

Nancy R. Peck

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Floral art by Cecelia Webber

Art by Cecelia Webber

Are you looking at this image? Are you really looking at it?

This is the work of professional artist Cecelia Webber. Each floral graphic image is entirely made up of small repeated, graceful human figures. Her website shows more artwork and you may contact her to buy prints. Which is your favorite? I like the feathery dandelion which you’ll see at http://ceceliawebber.com/

One of the places Cecelia’s work is featured is at the Renown Institute for Cancer in Reno, NV. This is an unusual medical institution that sees value in the healing aspects of art and proves it with a very successful hallway gallery program. One can immediately see how incorporating art in the healing environment makes sense for the morale of patients, loved ones and staff.

In her blog, Cecelia shares her gratitude about having her work featured there. “I couldn’t be more pleased to be part of a space made so well with such a wonderful goal in mind . . . I hope that my art will do its small part to give the patients and staff at the hospital something positive to see each visit.”

Watch the enthusiasm for this program at Renown’s Art of Healing video here.

Floral art by Cecelia Webber

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I’m fascinated by mention of gardens that crop up in unexpected places and under unusual circumstances. Of course, gardens don’t just crop up. They are initiated and fostered by humanity.

Nevertheless even in serious controlled places, there’s gravitation toward experiencing the beauty, challenges, and the pride that comes along with gardening. Perhaps gardening is doubly inspired because of entrapment, restraint and a pervading heavy atmosphere.

Rocky, raw, remote Alcatraz Island is one such site. The island was used as an army fortress in the early 1800s, a military prison in the mid-1800s, and a federal penitentiary established in 1934. Over the years, soldiers, wardens, guard families and prisoners were drawn to gardening however possible. 

When the penitentiary system abandoned the island in 1963, flowers and plants found freedom to wander and grow unsupervised, unguarded—Agave, Albizia, Baccharis, Centranthus, Fuchsia, Pelargonium, ivy, yucca. 

Today, we see that the Alcatraz gardens have come back to life under the dedicated nurturing of an active staff, 40 volunteers and docent led tours.

garden tours at Alcatraz

Garden tours at Alcatraz

The Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project was spearheaded in 2003 by the Garden Conservancy in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Much research, planning, and fundraising preceded a year’s worth of overgrowth and debris-clearing. Between 2003 and 2008 more than 22,000 volunteer hours were logged. Finally, plants were able to be re-introduced in their original areas. Heirloom rose hybrids were discovered as well as Welsh rose bushes previously thought to be extinct. The island finds more than 200 species of plants. (more…)

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flower bouquet

This was news to me. There’s talk among hospital authorities in the UK . . . Should flowers in the hospital room be banned? Some UK hospitals have taken this step already.

A range of reasons: flower-water harboring bacteria, greater workload for hospital personnel, space constraints, spills, harm to high-tech medical equipment. In particular, flowers, live plants, fruits, vegetables are not allowed in treatment rooms of patients with low white blood cell levels.

There are opposing views about the validity of this recommendation and a lack of statistics, but consider yourself warned. Infection reduction in hospital is a big issue now.

Before showing up at the hospital with a get-well bouquet, you might want to call the hospital first and ask if flowers are banned in patient rooms.

Nancy R. Peck

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plant Braille marker

Plant Braille markers

We had found our way to the Center in Watertown, Massachusetts with the combined help of GPS, pencil notes, Google maps and finally by querying dog walkers. Precise parking lot at last located, we followed our noses along the historic 38-acre campus paths. Just past an ages-old Copper Beech was the reception entrance, where we were to get a visitor pass. A staff member guided us through a dark hall and then outside to paths leading to the horticulture center. 

This is the story of a few garden club gal-pals paying a visit to the Thomas & Bessie Pappas Horticulture Center located within The Perkins School for the Blind.


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flowers in black and white

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to experience my life without color. From my naive viewpoint, I’m assuming that viewing bunches of black and white flowers is equivalent to . . . well . . . endless months of enormously cloudy days.

Color vision deficiency in its rarest form does limit a person to shades of grey as in the image above. But other forms of deficiency are not as extreme. Deuteranomaly, for instance, may be the most common type, mildly affecting red-green hue discrimination in 5-8% of males, and some females. According to Wikipedia, another more rare form exhibits a difficulty discriminating blues from yellows.

An excellent article on this topic is making its way around the landscape design community. It is written by Genevieve Schmidt. It appears on her website/blog North Coast Gardening. She rounded up research and then summarized recommendations to those gardeners who might encounter homeowners experiencing color vision deficiency.

A good recommendation she includes is—take the color-blind client nursery shopping. This helps the designer get a better sense of their particular color challenge and to learn what horticulture elements are uniquely delightful to this particular person.

The thorough article includes an interview with a color-blind gentleman, comparison photographs, and additional links. Also are recommendations regarding maximizing texture, light effects, variegation, layering, and inclusion of dramatic shapes. Optimal garden experiences might include elements that freely react to wind, and that favor the other senses with scent and sound enhancements.  

Explore Genevieve’s website including her delightful video and “About” page. Among her other positive outlooks she says “Designing a garden for someone who is color blind isn’t reducing enjoyment for anyone else, rather it’s stealthily adding a whole new dimension of enjoyment.”

Nancy R. Peck

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