Healing gardens aren’t a fad. One of the earliest healing gardens dates back to the 1100s. In a time before pain pills, St. Bernard’s hospice at Clairvaux Abbey in France featured a cloistered garden because he believed being in nature comforted his patients and reduced their suffering.
Do you need more than saintly intuition to answer the question, “Does a healing garden make sense for our facility?” Then consider the research. A 10-year study1 indicates that surgical patients with a room that looks onto a natural setting—versus a brick wall—had shorter post-operative hospital stays, took fewer doses of pain medication, and didn’t have as many postsurgical complications.
Another study of a healing garden in a pediatric cancer center2 showed that patients, family, and staff all experienced lower distress scores for anxiety, sadness, anger, worry, fatigue, and pain while in the garden. According to one of the authors, Roger Ulrich of Texas A&M University’s Department of Architecture, healing gardens can offer four benefits:
- Clinical—Gardens can help lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and cut a patient’s length of stay.
- Economic—The clinical benefits just mentioned mean gardens can reduce the cost of treatments and care, and lower the amount or dosages of pain medications used.
- Patient/staff/family—Gardens can increase the satisfaction with the facility and its care for all of these groups.
- Safety—When healthcare professionals spend three to five minutes in a natural environment, they emerge less fatigued and anxious, and make fewer medical and treatment errors.
Healing gardens can promote the health of patients and their families—in addition to the wellbeing and satisfaction of the staff. How can you make this work at the facility you design, own, or manage?
Tips for a truly healing garden
If you’re planning to add a garden—or already have one and want it to live up to its full potential—use these ideas to avoid the most frequent mistakes that can limit its benefits.
Provide easy access and circulation. Do your patients and visitors frequently require wheelchairs? If so, make certain 1) people can get into the garden (using ramps instead of stairs) and 2) the paths are wide enough to accommodate two wheelchairs side-by-side. You can’t imagine how often these simple things are forgotten—and reduce the use of a garden.
Offer 24/7/365 views. If you have winter, then your garden can have six months of bare trees. Using evergreens or seasonal evergreen clippings will make it more inspiring—even if people only see it through a window or a doorway. Also consider the view and lighting at night, when patients may be looking out, or staff and family may need an outdoor break.
Ensure the budget includes all key items. Designing and installing a garden shouldn’t require all the money you have. There is furniture to purchase, and regular maintenance and repair. Also, set aside funds for programs to keep it fresh throughout the year and get patients involved. For example, a senior center may want money for residents or guests to plant flowers there on Mother’s Day.
Watch designing by consensus. Often a committee is put in charge of developing a healing garden. Sometimes members can design the garden they think the healthcare organization needs. That leads to the next point.