Gardens where nature provides healing, therapy and an overall sense of well-being
Nature, it seems, is indeed the best medicine. Research reveals that time spent in contact with nature improves both mental and physical health, while gardening itself is a healthy activity. Living in greener environments may even lengthen your life. According to a study of more than 100,000 women conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, “During an eight-year study period, there were fewer deaths among women who lived in the greenest surroundings — their mortality rate was 12 percent lower than those living in homes in the least green areas.”
The health-promoting benefits of nature are now being harnessed by health care facilities, public gardens and therapists in the form of healing gardens and horticultural therapy. From local hospitals to suburban landscapes, healing gardens offer respite for the weary and therapy for the sick of body and soul.
Come into the garden and discover how you can be restored.
Healing by Garden Design
Follow the signs to the healing garden at Stone Hill Farm in St. Charles and you will likely find Deborah Marqui sitting on her front porch to welcome visitors. She and her husband Buzz open their two-acre perennial gardens and woodlands to visitors on the second Sunday of every month from April through October and for special events and group outings.
Marqui started connecting with nature as a source of healing during two battles with cancer, the first with an initial terminal diagnosis. “When I was recovering from cancer, I knew that I had to slow down. I had learned a meditative practice prior to having cancer and I have a background as a psychotherapist. I knew we have to be in balance — body, mind and spirit,” she relates. “If you do not pay attention to one, it will affect the other.”
“Going through chemo, I sat on the front porch and learned lessons from nature — from squirrels and spider webs — lessons that began to teach me about God,” she recalls. She was inspired to open their gardens to the public in 2005 in memory of a client, a young mother she had helped with end-of-life issues before she succumbed to cancer. The healing garden has been open to all since that time for a nominal fee, and admission is free to cancer patients and survivors.
Visit some of the leading hospitals in the western suburbs and you will find an array of garden spaces. There are handicap-accessible enabling gardens designed for use in therapy and rehabilitation, courtyard gardens with shaded seating for relaxing, and walkways around the grounds that provide opportunities for exercise and fresh air.
“If you look at the science, it’s pretty clear that nature has healing and restorative benefits,” says Mary Lou Mastro, system CEO for Edward-Elmhurst Health. “We think not just about patients and their families but also about the staff. If you just take a few minutes away . . . it reduces emotional fatigue and stress. It’s very important for us to have these types of spaces.”
At Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, the landscape was designed in keeping with the Prairie Style of the architecture to create “a hospital in a garden,” not only on the grounds but also on terraces near patient suites. The hospital’s foundation is now raising funds for a new rooftop garden that will honor Susan Murphy, a nurse who died recently after 42 years of service at the hospital.
According to Mariani Landscape, which designed the grounds when the hospital was built, “The garden, divided to include both formal and natural spaces, was designed to accommodate a variety of users — a cancer garden features benches and statues for reflection; a heart health garden with open areas offers the opportunity for aerobic exercise and yoga; and a children’s garden has brightly colored statues and marbles that double as groundcover and toys.”
The Edward Hospital campus in Naperville contains three healing gardens, one near the Heart Hospital, one inside the grounds of Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, and the Wings of Hope Angel Garden that memorializes babies who have died due to miscarriage or shortly after birth. Mastro notes that the Edward Cancer Center has a balcony where patients can bring their IV poles outside during infusions. “Sometimes, we underestimate the value of a short break, even 10 minutes,” she says. “It’s very restorative.”
Hitchcock Design Group in Naperville specializes in developing healing gardens for health care and senior living facilities and has designed gardens for Edward Hospital, Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, and Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, among others. According to Geoff Roehll, senior principal who oversees the firm’s health care and real estate practice, healing gardens can take different forms but incorporate specific elements that are considered important to “evidence-based design.” He explains that a healing garden often includes “water features, seating areas adjacent to shade, and ways to engage the senses in the garden, such as plant material with contrasting colors, textures, and even touch, or certain herbs that give off a lemon scent.”
For health care facilities and senior residences, designing gardens to provide universal access is important to accommodate people with disabilities. “We want to create an environment where people feel comfortable,” he says. The comfort is in the details, such as tinted concrete to minimize glare and places to socialize or be alone, as one desires. Roehll is a proponent of Roger Ulrich, a professor whose paper titled Theory of Supportive Garden Design describes a healing garden’s functions as providing engagement with nature, a sense of control over the environment, and opportunities for both social support and movement and exercise.
When the new campus of Advocate Sherman Hospital was built on 150 acres, Roehll and his firm designed a sustainable landscape using native plantings and water and energy conservation techniques, such as bioswailes that filter parking lot runoff before it enters the lake, which is used for geothermal heating and cooling. He notes that staff and visitors appreciate the walkway around the lake, while the views of the expansive prairie gardens
bring nature inside to patients. Hitchcock Design Group recently redesigned the healing courtyard near the hospital entrance to add a fountain, shelter,
new landscaping and lighting.
Gardening As Therapy
At the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, the science of healing gardens is disseminated through educational programs in healing garden design and horticultural therapy. The latter is a relatively new discipline as a formal part of health care therapies, although the Chicago Botanic Garden has been offering similar activities since 1978, when they opened what was then known as the Garden for the Disabled.
Today, the Enabling Garden enchants people of all abilities and invites everyone to dig in the dirt. “Interest in using nature to benefit one’s health is absolutely exploding,” says Barbara Kreski, director of Horticultural Therapy Services for the Chicago Botanic Garden. She notes that a garden “appeals to one’s senses and refocuses attention away from the cares of everyday life.”
The Enabling Garden was designed to give easy access to people of all abilities who wish to help with gardening tasks. Kreski explains that the surface of the garden is completely flat with no edges to help those with mobility issues, while the garden beds are elevated with ledges for seating at three levels. Hanging plants operate on a pulley system so they can be raised or lowered as needed, and people with limited or low vision can help out with weeding in the garden planted on a grid system. The Enabling Garden also offers a feast for the senses, with water features that sooth with sound and brightly colored flowers and plants with strong scents. Visitors to the Enabling Garden can try their hand at gardening with tools designed for people with disabilities and get advice from trained volunteers who are on duty Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Garden also offers horticultural therapy for groups.
At Northwestern Medicine’s Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, patients who are recovering from traumatic injuries, neuromuscular diseases and strokes may be offered horticultural therapy as part of their treatment plan, which includes occupational therapy and physical therapy. The facility has sensory, enabling and labyrinth gardens that patients, visitors and staff can enjoy. The labyrinth garden was designed for spiritual contemplation, but also can be used for physical therapy.
According to Kyle Butzine, a Marianjoy physical therapist, the gardens are used whenever the weather permits to help patients regain mobility and muscle strength and challenge them on different terrains for walking and balance or wheelchair use so that they can return home to activities of daily living. “When admitted to the hospital, we try to establish long-term goals” for each patient’s progress, Butzine explains. Even the sensory garden can be used for healing. “Some plants were specifically placed in that garden to promote neuroplasticity . . . the brain’s ability to adapt and change,” he says.
Tracy Ekstrom, who supervises therapeutic recreation services and horticultural therapy at Marianjoy, says that horticultural therapy is employed to help patients with issues such as fine motor coordination, standing, or using a weaker arm. “All of our activities are goal oriented,” she observes. The gardens, which host concerts and other events, also allow patients “just to be outside and get fresh air.”
Events at Stone Hill Farm
Second Sundays in the Garden
Second Sunday of every month through October
Open to the public: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Yoga in the gardens: 1 to 2 p.m., registration required
$5 for an individual, $10 for a family, free for cancer survivors
Contemplative Prayer Group
Second Friday of every month, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Free, but registration and familiarity with Centering Prayer method required
Introduction to Centering Prayer
Saturday, August 4, 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.
$65 per person
Silent Saturday Mornings
Saturdays, August 18, October 20, December 1, 9 a.m. to 12 noon
$20 per person
Reflections: A Day Retreat for Grieving Individuals
Saturday, September 8, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost and registration at www.reflectionsretreat.wordpress.com
Awakening in Nature Retreat
Sunday, September 16, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
$75 per person (lunch included)
Stone Hill Farm is located at 37W249 Dean Street in St. Charles
For more information or to register for a special event, visit www.healinggardensatstonehillfarm.com or call 630-377-1846.