THERAPEUTIC GARDENS: A Study of Design Elements Integral to the Development of Healing, Restorative and Accessible Public Spaces
Rebecca A. Bachand
Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Annaliese Bischoff Patricia McGirr, and John Tristan, faculty sponsors
'Much of the relaxing, meditative quality of Durfee garden comes from the ancient beech and ginkgo trees, which filter the sunlight.'
During my four years as a student in the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I have been involved with several projects that included the study of therapeutic gardens. These projects piqued my interest in the fields of horticultural therapy and ecopsychology. A two-month hospital stay interrupted my junior year and gave me personal insight into the studies that have been done in these fields.
Studies have shown a correlation between access to the 'natural' environment and recovery from illness. Patients in hospital rooms with views of gardens or wooded land often have shorter recovery periods than those without similar views.
The research discussed here focused on determining the key components of a therapeutic garden. Four components were isolated: accessibility for persons with disabilities; therapy opportunities: that is, the availability of the space for people who want to participate in physical or mental therapy sessions away from a health care facility; sensory stimulation, including the stimulation of the sensory perceptions of sight, sound, touch, scent and taste; and escape, or the ability of the garden to impart a feeling of being away from everyday surroundings or routines.
When incorporated into a design, these four elements can help create a space that may have numerous mental and physical benefits for its users. This paper presents four case studies of gardens that feature one or more of these design elements. Each garden is discussed under the heading of the particular component I believe the space most strongly represents.
One of the primary concerns of a therapeutic garden is that it be accessible to all users. Accessibility should consider not only those in wheelchairs, but also persons who are blind, deaf, or lacking motor skills. The following case study describes a garden designed to fulfill all Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. The award-winning Access For All Garden at Sea World Ohio is a unique space which was designed to respond to the needs of persons with disabilities.
Key features of the Access for All Garden include raised planting beds that allow room for people in wheelchairs to touch the plantings and paths graded so that the gradient of slope never exceeds three percent. Vertical wall planters provide areas for vast numbers of plants to be easily accessible while taking up very little space. Hanging baskets allow people to lower pots of plants to a workable height and raise them back up when they are done working with them. Curbs have been replaced by a change in paving material. Crushed stone next to unit pavers allows blind visitors to know they are at the edge of the path and thus minimizes the risk of tripping or falling. The sign at the entrance to the garden has raised letters instead of Braille characters because less than ten percent of the blind population reads Braille.
Perhaps the most innovative design elements in the Access For All Garden are the water wall, which allows people in wheelchairs access to a waterfall, and the raised lawn, which is elevated to seating height to allow ease in maneuvering from a wheelchair onto grass. Sea World of Ohio, utilizing the skills of its landscape horticulture department, is determined to make the park barrier-free. The department's goals include making the public aware of what changes can be made to a space so that the activities of those with special needs are not different from those of other users. They hope to show park visitors that accommodations for the disabled can be made easily and inexpensively, and thus demonstrate the ability to accommodate all people at any location. Doing so is important because, 'anyone, at any time, could become a person with a disability' (McCartney 1998).
After a serious car accident in 1995, I spent four weeks in therapy at Fairlawn Rehabilitation Center in Worcester, Mass. I worked with physical therapists to regain ambulatory skills and occupational therapists to develop fine motor skills. At the time, recreational therapists had begun integrating therapy into social settings through shopping trips, movie outings, and board games. Fairlawn Rehabilitation Center has recently implemented a horticultural therapy program. This program integrates developing fine motor skills with a social atmosphere through gardening.
The program thus far consists of a small indoor greenhouse and a portable tray of gardening supplies. Once a week the patients go to the greenhouse to plant seeds and water or prune existing plants. Although many patients are reluctant at first, they soon get very involved in the social atmosphere and relaxing activity of gardening. Many patients take comfort in the program, as they may have left a home garden behind when they entered the therapy center.
This small program will soon expand to include outdoor planters. These planters will be raised to allow for wheelchair access, as well as to give standing patients something to lean on to adjust their balance. Patients will be able to sow and maintain these planters. The planters will also contain various types of plants for sensory stimulation (Riviera 1998).
The Joel Schnaper Memorial Garden provides accessible sensory stimulation to patients in the AIDS clinic at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Center in New York City. This rooftop garden, which can be viewed from within the hospital rooms, includes objects to stimulate the human senses. It provides various stimuli within an area where patients and their families can relax and escape the sterility of the hospital setting (McCormick 1995).
Wind chimes provide various tones heard throughout the garden. These chimes are designed to ease stress and detract attention from outside noises which can be very irritating to patients who become more sensitive to sudden sounds as the AIDS virus progresses. For visual effect, and to direct patients who may suffer from dementia, a compass and leaf pattern are painted on the floor pavers. There is also a kinetic wind sculpture that can be seen from anywhere in the garden, as well as the clinic rooms.
The Joel Schnaper Memorial Garden is designed with a relatively open layout that is broken into 'rooms.' These 'rooms' of the garden are distinguished by the fragrances that emanate from them. To give such spaces identity, different fragrant plants, such as wisteria and apple, are used in each.
The act of touching plants has been shown to be very therapeutic (Kaplan 1989). Therefore, raised beds containing plants with interesting textures have been made accessible to patients. Also, small water features in the garden contribute additional stimuli to the garden's therapeutic environment.
According to ecopsychologist Rachel Kaplan (1989), the best way to improve one's mental and physical well being is to 'escape' from current activities. For example, when suffering from work-related stresses, it is often beneficial to take at least a short vacation. The feeling of being away from one's routine can restore mental health and relieve stress.
This sense of escape can also enhance physical well being. A strong correlation has been found between exposure to the outdoor environment and recovery time in hospitals. This can be achieved through outdoor views, or access to outdoor courtyards, though long-term physical exposure has been found to work best (Kaplan 1989).
To demonstrate the escape component of therapeutic garden design, I have included one of the gardens on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The meditation area of Durfee Gardens is flanked by greenhouses. On the south side is Durfee Conservatory, a large greenhouse where visitors are welcome and classical music can be heard. French Greenhouse on the north side of the garden creates a view of vibrant plants behind frosted glass. The east and west sides of the garden are edged with translucent Japanese screens.
Much of the relaxing, meditative quality of this garden comes from the ancient beech and ginkgo trees, which filter the sunlight (fig. 1). The garden is very quiet because it is located just outside the main core of campus. Most pedestrian traffic occurs on the main path on the other side of the conservatory. The garden is adjacent to University Health Services and could be quite valuable to their patients as a place for mental and physical therapy sessions.
In conjunction with another project, I developed a conceptual plan for the Durfee meditation garden. This concept was further developed into a planting plan which designates areas of the site to be planted with arrangements for various forms of sensory stimulatory plants (fig. 2, table 1). There are currently two pools located on the south side to provide the soothing sounds of water. By replanting this area, a further sense of enclosure can be achieved, adding to the feeling of escape already present in the garden.
The only drawback to making the Durfee meditation garden a therapeutic garden that fulfills the four traits discussed in this paper is its inaccessibility to persons in wheelchairs. To make this space wheelchair accessible, the rest of the garden would have to be drastically altered, either through the removal of some of the Japanese screens, or the construction of a new path system. Unfortunately, these measures are not feasible at this time, but following the guidelines of my proposal, the director of Durfee Conservatory will implement the new planting plan in the fall (Tristan 1998).
Fig 1. The meditation area of Durfee Gardens, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Fig. 2. A planting plan for the meditation area of Durfee Gardens calls for raised beds and shrubs to create enclosure and define space. Fragrant plants along paths will release their scents when touched. Colors, forms and textures will provide visual and tactile interest.
Table 1. Plant Schedule
|lb||Impatiens Biflora||Impatiens||T, C/S|
|Mb||Muscari botryoides||Grape Hyacinth||SM|
|Th||Tulipa hybrida||Tulip||SM, C/S|
|Vines||Cp||Clematic paniculata||Sweet Autumn Clematis||SM|
|Hh||Hedera helix||English Ivy||T, S/C|
|Perennials||Ac||Asarum Canadense||Wild Ginger||C/S|
|Ds||Dicentra spectablis||Bleeding Heart||T,C/S|
|Fog||Festuca ovina glauca||Blue Fescue||C/S|
|La||Lavendula angustifolia||English Lavender||SM|
|Sc||Senecio cineraria||Dusty Miller||SM, C/S|
|Sb||Stachys byzntina||Lamb's Ears||T|
|Ts||Thymus sp.||Thyme||SM, C/S|
|Vxw||Viola x wittrockiana||Pansy||C/S|
|Shrubs||Ea||Euonymus alatus||Burning Bush||C/S|
|Sv||Syringa vulgaris||Common Lilac||SM|
|Vc||Viburnum carlesii||Koreanspice Viburnum||SM|
|Trees||Bn||Betula nigra||River Birch||T|
|Cf||Cornus florida||Flowering Dogwood||T, C/S|
SM, Smell; T, Touch; C/S, Color/Sight
In the course of studying therapeutic gardens, I have realized the inherent value of access to open space. I The fields of horticultural therapy and ecopsychology are gaining recognition as valuable tools in the treatment of mental and physical illnesses. It would be an enormous benefit to society if these fields were further integrated into the design and planning of public gardens. The development of outdoor spaces at health care facilities could shorten recovery times of patients, while their creation at corporate facilities is already showing improvements in workers' attitudes and stress levels (Kaplan 1989).
Further development of these types of open spaces would not only be beneficial to their users, but would help generate a new awareness of the value of gardens among the public. Having plants at eye and hand level (as one would in an accessible garden) makes them more noticeable to passersby, creating a stronger impact and generating interest in natural and built environments. By developing more places like Sea World's Access For All Garden, designers can let the public see how easily ADA standards can be implemented, something the medical community has been advocating for years. It should not be hard to convince the public of the benefits of these environments, as they can witness their own stress reduction and change of mood whenever they enter surroundings that they enjoy. What remains to be seen is how much convincing it will take to get designers, planners, and builders to implement these criteria in future developments, thereby Increasing the public's opportunities to experience the healing qualities of such environments.
- Kaplan, R. and S. Kaplan. 1989. The experience of nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- McCartney, R. 1998. Phone and personal interviews with author. April and May.
- Riveira, P. 1998. Personal interview with author. April.
- McCormick, K. 1995. Realm of the senses. Landscape Architecture 85 (January): 62-63.
- Tristan, J. 1998. Personal interview with author. April.