A History Of Healing
For centuries, from Egypt and Mesopotamia to Persia and Greece, gardens have been integral to the world of healing. A document, allegedly written by a monk in the early part of the ninth century, describes an ideal garden for the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Gall in Switzerland. In it he mentions many formal features found in today’s healing gardens: intersecting paths for contemplative walking, a well or fountain, a herb garden and a green “court” or lawn.
The Orto Botanico di Padova in northeast Italy, founded in 1545, was one of the first educational physic gardens associated with medicine, and remains one of the oldest existing botanical gardens. The vast knowledge collected from it, and many other gardens around the world, has contributed immensely to modern medicine.
The Chelsea Physic Garden in the United Kingdom has occupied four acres of land on the edge of the Thames since 1673. First established by the Apothecaries in order to grow medicinal plants, this extraordinary London garden has helped change the world, and contains a unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful and medicinal plants.
Gardens were acknowledged for their rehabilitative powers as far back as the fifteenth century when Spanish patients were encouraged to take up gardening. Three centuries later German horticultural theorist, Christian Cay Lorenz, wrote some of the first recommendations for hospital garden designs. And the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, extolled the virtues of fresh air and natural sunlight, and strongly believed that plants and outdoor spaces should be valued for their healing qualities.
Therapeutic gardens are not just a trend…they’re the future. Research has shown that gardens are places of healing. Literally. The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom now offers green social prescribing for patients, an outdoor activity that helps them heal quicker and reduces the need for pain medication.
“As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible,” said Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of Awakenings. “All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens”
Hospitals have also begun incorporating gardens into their designs, and there are exciting future careers in horticultural therapy and therapeutic garden landscaping. Horatio’s Garden is a UK-based charity that creates and nurtures beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres. Maggie’s is a cancer support charity whose award-winning buildings are surrounded by therapeutic gardens created by leading garden designers. And the Greenfingers Charity builds therapeutic gardens at children’s hospices, spaces that give children with life-limiting conditions a chance to relax and be inspired.
Whether you use them to grow edible or not, gardens are food for the soul. Numerous studies have found that gardening can assist your body in fighting disease.
- Protect your mind and memory as you age.
- Boost your mood endorphins.
- Aid your recovery after hospitalisation.
- Be good for your heart.
- Improve your hand strength.