What exactly is a healing garden? How can I include one in my garden?
Caroline Humphrey, Pocatello, ID
A water element and lush, green foliage are two ways to set a quiet, calming tone to a garden.
Photo/Illustration: Deana Tierney
Barbara Blossom Ashmun, contributing editor and author of Garden Retreats: Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary, responds: Healing gardens of the past were often located in sacred places like cloistered gardens within monasteries and Zen gardens surrounding Buddhist temples. They served as contemplative places to restore the mind, body, and spirit. Today, healing gardens are often designed for public spaces to alleviate the stresses of daily life. They are commonly found at corporate campuses to help employees relax and on the grounds of hospitals and hospices to provide comfort.
We can create healing gardens in our own private spaces, as well. For me renewal comes from the act of gardening; tending plants is so absorbing that I often forget my troubles. It allows me to connect with spiritual aspects and become part of the bigger picture.
For many gardeners, fragrance is a key to healing. The scents of rosemary, roses, lilies, and honeysuckle evoke feelings of joy that heal the sorrows of the day. Color, too, can lift the spirit. For many, white is the most uplifting color, perhaps because it reminds us of light and purity. Pastels are comforting: Pale ‘Visions in Pink’ astilbe, baby blue ‘Summer Skies’ delphinium, and creamy yellow ‘Anthea’ yarrow are tranquilizing and easy on the eyes. Some gardeners need a shot of heat to heal. For them, the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of dahlias, daylilies, and floribunda roses are a jolt of necessary fire, like cayenne in hot tea that heals a sore throat.
Water is also important to a healing garden. The reflective surface of still water can help a busy mind quiet down. Water attracts birds and butterflies, adding another pleasurable dimension to the garden. Use a pond or even a simple water bowl to achieve this. In my own garden, I rely on several birdbaths.
The sounds of a bubbler, creek, or waterfall have a cleansing effect. Other sounds evoke restfulness: the rustling of ornamental grasses or the ring of a gong, reminiscent of a temple bell’s call.
Japanese garden style with its meticulously pruned plants is a good model for a healing garden. The strong sense of order is calming to the mind, and the predominance of green foliage sets a quiet mood. Places to sit and gaze are important, too, especially in the comforting, dappled light beneath the tree canopy. Sculpture, such as icons of serenity like Buddha and St. Francis, can soothe and heal by reminding us of love and compassion.