Design principles for therapeutic garden environments


  • Provide sensory stimuli that is noninvasive in character to draw our attention away from the initial feeling state to an external focus.
  • Facilitate physical and psychological movement with pathways and/or vistas through to a variety of types of spaces, thereby assisting a shift in perspective.
  • Create areas for safe seclusion as well as social interaction to help think and work through issues.
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Specific suggestions to achieve these goals are:

  1. Lush, colorful planting that is varied and eye catching so as to suggest the image of a gar den. Over and over, trees, plants, and greenery were cited as the most significant helpful characteristic.
  2. Appropriate plant selection, with special attention given to cultural requirements and correct placement in the garden, is one of the essential elements of a therapeutic garden environment, as dying and unhealthy plants have a negative psychological impact on those observing them.
  3. Flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials provide a sense of seasonal change that reinforces one’s awareness of life’s rhythms and cycles.
  4. Trees whose foliage moves easily, even in a slight breeze, draw the user’s attention to the patterns of color, shadows, light, and movement. This was described by interviewees as a soothing and meditative experience.
  5. Features to attract birds — such as a fountain or birdbath, a bird feeder, trees appropriate for roosting or nesting — stimulate the senses and help to lift people’s spirits.
  6. Contrast and harmony in texture, form, color, and arrangement of plant materials provide a variety that holds the attention and helps to draw our focus away from ourselves.
  7. Plant species that attract butterflies call attention to the ephemeral, serving as a gentle reminder of the preciousness of life.
  8. In addition to providing an external focus, sound can create a psychological screen (white noise) that serves the restoration process. A water feature can provide this pleasing and soothing sound. Care should be taken to place it in a wind-protected location where people can sit nearby, and where airconditioning or other irritating noises do not create too much competition.
  9. For the comfort of users, where offices or patient rooms border the garden, create a planting buffer of sufficient distance and depth so that people walking or sitting in the garden do not feel that they are intruding on the privacy of those indoors.
  10. Paths that meander allow for strolling and contemplation and complement more heavily used direct routes between access points. Where the space is large enough, pro- vide varying vistas, levels of shade, and textures of planting along these routes.
  11. Select paving surfaces that are smooth enough to accommodate wheelchairs and gurneys.
  12. In long-term facilities, arrange entrances to the garden and width of pathways so that volunteers or family members can easily bring a patient on a gurney or in a wheelchair out into the space.
  13. Electrical outlets allow for the garden to be used for hospital parties or other sponsored functions, extending the use to other people who may not usually come.
  14. Nighttime lighting maximizes the therapeutic benefit by allowing people to use the space safely after dark, or to look out at the garden from indoors.
  15. Seating arranged for social interaction (right angled or centripetal benches, or mov- able chairs) near to the entrance into the garden adds convenience, as this area will likely be used for quick smoking breaks by staff who know each other.
  16. Seating partly enclosed by planting, or at the perimeter of an open space, provides a degree of privacy for those wanting to be alone, or who want to observe from a distance.
  17. Fixed seating with backs for sitting in comfort is especially important for garden users who may be physically weak.
  18. If bench type seating is provided, select a material that is appealing to the touch (i.e., wood) and a size (4–6 feet) such that one or two people can “claim” the space. The image might be of a garden bench, rather than a park or bus stop bench.
  19. Increase the seating options available with movable seating so that users can meet their own particular needs. These chairs can be moved, selecting the degree of sun and shade, as well as determining the size of the seating cluster.
  20. Benches, platform seating, or planter edge seating with something to support the back allows people to sit with their feet up — or they can lie down to take a nap or sunbathe, as was frequently observed.
  21. Tables with movable chairs or benches provide for users who want to hold a meeting or eat, especially where the space is adjacent to the cafeteria.
  22. Adjustable umbrellas allow people to control the amount of sun or shade, so important to those who feel unwell or are taking certain medications.
  23. Wind shelters, heat-reflecting surfaces — or alternatively, shade-producing arbors — and other structures and planting help to mitigate the climate, and extend the use of the gar- den into several seasons.
  24. Where there is a view, make sure that some seating faces that direction to facilitate psychological movement out of the space. If the exterior space is a roof garden or terrace, the edge rail, balustrade, or planter should be sufficiently low or transparent so that people seated can take in the view.
  25. Where there is not a ready made view, a sense of mystery and movement can be created by designing smaller scale glimpses and intriguing focal points within the garden, to draw the users’ attention and, sometimes, facilitate a change in perspective.
  26. Providing one or more eye-catching and unique features by which people will identify a garden — such as a sculpture, wind chimes, an aviary, a fish pond — serves to anchor memories of the garden and the restoration achieved there.
Cleveland Clinic Children’s, University Hospital’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and Akron Children’s Hospital ranked among the top 50 health centers in several categories in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2017-2018 Best Children’s Hospitals Rankings.

Source:

Marcus, C. C., & Barnes, M. (1995). Gardens in healthcare facilities: Uses, therapeutic benefits, and design recommendations. Concord, CA: Center for Health Design.ISO 690

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