The third garden on my walking tour featured plantings that held productive and medicinal qualities. This beautiful parterre garden became even more appealing when I discovered plants like coriander, mint, thyme, rosemary, lavender and artichokes arranged with the love and care usually reserved for roses and other purely ornamental plants.
People have long planted medicinal gardens full of herbs and other health giving plants but there is some research to indicate the medicinal benefits of a garden don’t just stop there.
A 1984 study by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich was able to show that gazing at a garden can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other conditions. His team, who monitored patients recovering from surgery, noticed that those with bedside windows looking out on to leafy trees healed on average a day faster and needed less medication than those who did not.
Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emerita, Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture also says there’s good evidence a well-designed garden can reduce your levels of pain and stress. By doing that, it can help boost your immune system in ways that allow your body and other treatments to heal you. She recommends a ratio of at least 7:3 of greenery to hard surfaces to be the most effective.
According to Cooper Marcus, aside from the many herbs and vegetables available for planting, the healing powers of a garden can be intensified by keeping the following things in mind.
1. Keep it green. Lush, layered landscapes with trees, flowers and shrubs of varying heights should take up to about 70% of the space with walkways and other static areas about 30%.
2. Keep it real. Abstract sculptures do not soothe people who are sick or worried.
(I’m not sure if I completely agree with this one. The artwork and sculpture I saw seemed to enhance a garden’s relaxing qualities.)
3. Keep it interesting. Mature trees that draw birds and chairs that can be moved to facilitate private conversation promote greater interaction.
4. Engage multiple senses. Gardens that can be seen, touched, smelled and listened to soothe best. Though strongly fragrant plants should be avoided.
5. Mind the walkways. Wide, meandering paths that are tinted to reduce glare allow people with low eyesight to enjoy the experience more. Also, watch paving to avoid anything that might trip someone.
6. Water with care. While the sound of water can be relaxing, fountains that bear more resemblance to a dripping tap or urinal are not. Nor is the strong smell of algae.
7. Make entry easy. Gardens should not be too far away or behind heavy doors. While the sense of discovery can be a nice one you don’t want to have to work too hard to enjoy your garden.
For my part, anything that can help reduce stress has to be a good thing. I finished my walk feeling both energized and relaxed. Unusual to feel both at the same time.
For further reading on the studies mentioned please see scientificamerican.com.