Following recent surgery, I felt too fatigued and sore for even light gardening. Those limitations lasted about one week, after which I could again put in several hours on easy—and overdue— tasks: weeding, installing small plants, pruning, all of which helped a lot in my recovery.
This episode stimulated thoughts of the garden’s many functions beyond pleasing the eye, feeding the stomach and providing regular light exercise.
Without minimizing the direct benefits of ornamental and edible gardening, consider the types of therapeutic gardens: healing, meditation, contemplation, and restorative.
“Healing” means helping individuals to overcome physical, mental, emotional or spiritual challenges.
“Meditation” involves deepening personal knowledge and attaining inner peace.
“Contemplation” involves thoughtfully examining issues larger than oneself, perhaps in a religious or mystical manner.
“Restoration” refers to returning to an ideal or normal state from a stressed or agitated state, or from boredom or difficulty in focusing.
A garden designed to help individuals to overcome physical challenges is described as an accessible garden. The design typically emphasizes raised beds, tall enough to provide easy access to the gardener who cannot kneel, or finds it difficult to do so. (Rising from kneeling could be just as challenging.) There are also convenient tools, e.g., rolling seats, tools with long handles, telescoping pruners, for gardeners who have grown to be less than spry.
Other kinds of accessible gardens are designed for gardeners with partial or complete loss of sight, emphasizing blossom fragrance or plant texture over appearance, to favor smell or touch.
No garden, however accessible or well intentioned actually effects any healing or restoration. Only the gardener who desires to be healed or restored can achieve such outcomes. In this perspective, the garden is not the cure, only the gardener’s tool.
The focus on the gardener is the same for meditation and contemplation gardens, which offer only nature’s calm environment to invite the gardener to forget for the moment personal stresses and the busy world’s demands, and to consider issues greater than “why snails?”
There’s one more type of therapeutic garden: the motivational garden, which helps those who may be bored or having difficulty in focusing. Once we have begun gardening, and experienced the satisfaction of seeing plants grow under our hands, even a brief visit to the garden stimulates the urge to pull a weed, deadhead a faded blossom, or move a misplaced specimen to a better spot.
Gardens are valuable tools for many special purposes; many gardeners find them therapeutic on all occasions.
The American Horticultural Therapy Association provides its definitions and positions regarding therapeutic gardening.
The American Society of Landscape Architects offers an interesting essay, “The Therapeutic Garden— A Definition.”
Pinterest (which collects photos on various topics from many sources has several unorganized groups on topics related to therapeutic gardens. A search on “horticultural therapy ideas” yields this collection, which demonstrates the wide range of ideas that people associate with “horticultural therapy.”