A Garden That Heals

LWTC 5-18-09 ViKonoLspe 034My primary purpose in creating my show garden, Dragonfly is to demonstrate how nature can play a key part in healing. I recently attended a horticulture conference where a seminar focused on the benefits of nature. It was led by Andrea Faber-Taylor, a researcher at the Landscape & Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois. I learned we have two types of interacting with the world – directed attention and involuntary attention (aka fascination). Directed attention occurs when we are working, attending school, even watching tv. Directed attention requires effort on our part and we have a limited amount available to us. When our directed attention is depleted it leads to increased stress and mental fatigue. Conversely, involuntary attention requires no effort on our part and its result is feeling refreshed and reinvigorated. It literally replenishes our stores of directed attention so we can focus on the tasks at hand. So what are some of the best sources of involuntary attention? Experiencing nature – looking at trees, birds, walks, water, hiking, biking, etc. Andrea Faber-Taylor’s research showed that by just having a tree to look out at through a window, can increase our stores of involuntary attention. We need a daily restoration of nature to refresh our directed attention reserves. This is where having your own garden comes in.

Particularly when dealing with stress, grief or loss, our stores of directed attention are severely depleted. It is harder to focus and everyday tasks seem even more challenging. I know the weeks and months after my son died, it seemed like I was living in a dense fog. It was hard to even accomplish the simplest tasks. But I found spending time in my garden, merely sitting with my dogs and watching the birds or working the soil, was not too hard for me. In fact, it was something I could manage. Being in nature, even just my back yard, was “good medicine” for my soul. So you see why I want to tell you about the healing properties of gardens.

In future posts, I’ll go into more depth about gardens that heal and how this shaped my Dragonfly garden. I really hope to inspire you to connect with the nature that is already around you. Even if all you have is a pot or two with flowers, plants or vegetables, just that act of involuntary attention (or fascination) can assist you with the journey of healing and recovery.

If you’d like to read more about the benefits of nature, read here about Rachel & Stephen Kaplan’s research on restorative environments.

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2 Responses to A Garden That Heals

  1. gerilynnb says:

    Really interesting. The directed and involuntary attention even resonates with my work experience as well. Taking a break to do anything like go outside seems to allow the brain to work on things in a different way – and I often come back to my work and suddenly realize I have a solution for a problem that was hanging over me before I took the break. That said, dealing with grief, especially in a work environment is extremely challenging. Working in a dense city, it can be hard to find green spaces or someplace to escape to – especially in winter.

  2. Thanks for such an excellent example of how else this idea can benefit us. The study was focused on how nature enhances children’s capacity to learn, but the principles and benefits are not limited. Adults benefit from interacting with nature as well. Urban environments pose a challenge, but the study showed that even having a single tree or plant can be beneficial. As can the ability to look outside a window and see space rather than a wall, a couple feet away. When I worked in a cubicle, I brought several indoor plants which sat on my shelf units. And I preferred to take a walk during my lunch break than eat at my desk. I found I was more productive than when I tried to power through.

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