The healing effects of gardens
To be able to nurture a plant and to experience in turn the nurturing effects of being in a garden… are surely amongst the greatest pleasures we can know. The symbiotic relationship between humanity and the plant kingdom stretches back to the earliest times. We respond to plants at a very deep level. Plants represent life.
The healing effects of gardens are many.
There are the physical aspects of garden work. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of many serious illnesses, and the necessary tasks of maintaining a garden in good order develop our physical endurance, flexibility and strength. In a garden, we breathe fresh air and our lungs are grateful.
Our senses are sharpened by listening to the sounds of wind through the leaves and water splashing gently, smelling the scent of flowers and wet earth after a summer shower, touching the myriad textures of wood, grass, petals, seeing the glory of innumerable colours and tasting the fruits and vegetables that grow. We can even poultice our sore muscles with the leaves we have grown!
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A garden stimulates our mental faculties. In a garden we can learn by trial and error, we can create, we observe the cycles of life, and draw conclusions. At the same time as we are rooted in a physical present, a garden encourages us to dream of the future and meditate on the past. We can plan. A garden is a constant potential for success. Next year, it will be better, more beautiful, and more bountiful. As we grow older, we sow seeds which we know will never come to maturity in our lifetime, but which nonetheless we will leave as a legacy for future generations. Our optimism develops and we feel positive about the future. And in the process of envisaging this future, we learn patience, for there's nothing like a garden for developing that quality, along with sheer awestruck wonder at the glory of creation, and the ever-repeating miracle of renewal. Much as you might want to, you just can't rush it.
Stress and aggression, anger, impatience, nervousness or depressions have no place in the garden. They melt away in the actions of digging, pruning, weeding and planting, or are gently soothed into happiness as we simply allow the natural environment to act upon our being.
Plants respond to our care unconditionally. If we show our love to them, they will return it to us by thriving, irrespective of who we are, where we come from, the knocks we have received in life. Observing the effects of acceptance of our love raises our self-esteem, and we feel deep fulfilment and satisfaction from our participation in the creation of a place of beauty. To tend a plant is to engage in a form of relationship that our ancestors knew was in a very real sense vital, and which connects us subtly.
Horticultural Therapy is well recognised as providing therapeutic benefits in a variety of settings from prisons and secure psychiatric units to projects designed to provide rehabilitation after accidents or to build confidence and self esteem in people who have learning or other disabilities. Thrive is a national UK horticultural charity that exists to enable disadvantaged, disabled and older people to participate fully in the social and economic life of the community. Their website is at http://www.thrive.org.uk/ and is well worth a visit.
In conclusion, I have to say this. The healing effects of gardens can be experienced by us all, without exception. It doesn't matter a jot whether your ‘garden’ consists of many landscaped acres or one small seed tray on the windowsill. In the town, in the suburbs, in the country, everywhere there are people, there is scope to plant a seed, to nourish a green dream and to feel the profound satisfaction that results.