Therapeutic Gardens in Health Care Design

The power of landscape architecture in creating healthier environments for patients and caregivers.

Long-standing research has shown how the simple act of viewing or visiting an outdoor landscape benefits our health. It’s why corporations value the “corner office” and why picture windows have become a staple in our homes. Simply put, viewing landscapes makes us feel better.

In health care environments, therapeutic landscapes or gardens are designed to meet the particular needs of a specific patient population. They often engage that population actively and deliberately, aiming to first and foremost relieve stress. When done correctly, therapeutic gardens are a collaborative effort between architects, landscape architects and healthcare professionals – the doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, recreational therapists and staff members who understand the unique needs of their patients.

A therapeutic garden is any plant-dominated landscape designed with the primary goal of improving health through interactions with nature. Characteristics of therapeutic gardens can vary, but these spaces generally offer highly accessible pathways and feature a mix of plants to create a variety of colors, textures and aromas to create an enriching sensory experience.

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We know that for health care patients, high stress levels can lead to decreased immune function, extended healing times, higher rates of infection and a greater chance for medical complications, all of which can lead to longer hospital stays. For people in high-stress environments, providing opportunities to connect to nature can be particularly beneficial. The sheer act of looking at landscapes has been shown to have multiple health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and heart rate, relaxing muscles and decreasing feelings of stress.

For patients, this may translate to faster recovery times, less reliance on prescription pain medications, fewer complications and better overall emotional well-being. For health care staff, a therapeutic garden offers a space for respite from an otherwise stressful job and can create a greater sense of well-being and, hopefully, reduce attrition rates and the likelihood of medical errors.

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Patients and their families and the health care staff who care for them need places where they can go to find comfort and calm. In our work with health care clients, we see how landscapes and therapy gardens can help individuals feel happier and healthier.

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