Gardens as Tools

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.”


Gifts for Gardeners

This is the season to make your favorite gardener happy.

We will explore gifts for a gardener in these four categories: Upscale, Kitsch, Junktique, and Living.

Upscale depends on what the recipient would find enduring in appeal and impressiveness. This is not the same as “expensive,” but alas upscale items tend to be costly.

The Kitsch category is often defined with negative terms, e.g., tasteless, aesthetically deficient, and excessively sentimental. Never mind! One person’s “kitsch” is another’s “cute.” This is hazardous territory for the gift-giver, unless his or her taste reflects that of the recipient.

Items that may be considered Junktique are often old, but the essential concept is that they are recycled: their use is the garden is not the same as their original purpose. (A friend collects antique gardening and farming tools, but those belong in a category of their own.) This is where you find a discarded bed frame with a new life as a “garden bed.”

Finally, we have the Living category, the principal members of which are plants and personal services. This category might also include certain fauna (a nice koi for a friend’s pond, for example) but does not include feral mammals or herbivorous insects. That would be whimsy gone overboard.

Watch for next week’s column for an exploration of the Kitsch, Junktique and Living categories. For today, here are examples of the Upscale category. (I have no financial interest in any of these items, but am available for field-testing!)

  • Bronze garden tools are stunning in appearance, quite durable in use, and suggestive of the Bronze Age (late to arrive in the Americas). Find them at
  • Hand-made, heirloom-quality garden tools are American made and exceptionally rugged. One source is
  • How about a high-grade shovel, engraved with the gardener’s name? Find it at the Best @ Dianne B:
  • Nicely designed, and well-made garden pots, statues or decorative art pieces will be welcomed, especially if they echo the style of the recipient’s garden. A Gothic urn wouldn’t belong in a contemporary garden, for example, unless one could call it eclectic. Many choices are available at (click on “Garden Ornaments”).
  • Decorative corners for raised beds, available from, combine an attractive appearance with a necessary function. A gift set of four corners could be complemented with the lumber for a sizable raised bed, a desirable asset in most gardens.

The Upscale items listed above can be ordered online; early decision-making would provide time for timely delivery.

In all cases, evaluate a gift you are considering by asking if you would be an appreciative recipient. That works best when you are a gardener yourself!


This essay lists the website of the British maker of bronze garden tools, but these tools are in fact available closer to home. Harley Farms Goat Dairy, in Pescadero, California, contacted us to report that they can supply the full range of these tools, “along with goat cheese and other high quality hand made products.” In fact, I saw these impressive tools at the Harley Farms booth at the 2012 San Francisco Garden Fair, but then misplaced their contact information! The website has photos of the tools.