How Gardens Heal Us

Rozae Nichols

Have you ever noticed that after a few hours working in your garden, or simply wandering among trees, a field of wildflowers, near a lake, or an endless desert walk, you actually feel mentally and physically uplifted?  You are not imagining this refreshed state of mind. Cognitive scientists call this Horticultural Therapy.

Horticultural therapy is a professional practice that utilizes plants and gardening to improve mental and physical health. It is rooted (pun intended) in the idea that interacting with plants can bring about well-being, whether it’s tending the garden or spending time around plants and nature.  It is proven that anyone can benefit emotionally from interaction with plants, including veterans, children, the elderly and those dealing with addiction and mental health issues.  Therapeutic gardens are designed to facilitate interaction with the healing and restorative elements of nature.

Within our own creative studio & garden at Flora Animalia, our daily experience of plant life and growing our edibles transforms us mentally and spiritually.  Plants and their environments offer a sensory stimulation as we experience sound, fragrance, texture and taste. Imagine the sound of leaves moved by the wind, or birds singing in the evening. These are simple yet calming pleasures that so often can all forget to access throughout the hectic pace of our lives.

As  Neurologist Oliver Sacks MD,  puts it, “The role that nature plays in health and healing becomes even more critical for people working long days in windowless offices, for those living in city neighborhoods without access to green spaces, for children in city schools or for those in institutional settings such as nursing homes. The effects of nature’s qualities on health are not only spiritual and emotional but physical and neurological. I have no doubt that they reflect deep changes in the brain’s physiology, and perhaps even its structure”.

People and plants share an ancient bond. Trees and vegetation have always provided us food, medicine and shelter, and artistic inspiration.  Nature calls to us something very deep and life affirming.  Biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition.  Hortiophilia, the desire to interact with, manage and tend to nature, is also deeply instilled in us. Nature’s powerful healing, calming and organizing effects on our brains have long been utilized by our ancestors and recently by neurological disorder therapists in what is known as the  method of Horticultural Therapy.

Many studies have found that living close to green areas can alleviate adverse environmental exposures such as air and noise pollution, inspire increased physical activities and lower stress.  And the scientific fact that plants and trees convert CO2 to clean oxygen is another remarkable health benefit derived from the botanical world.

Tending, pruning, watering, and nurturing a plant are all activities that require observation, creativity and patience. Gardening is indeed a form of caring for something, for life itself. Protecting and taking care of something always gives pleasure and can inspire deeper meaning in life.

Being surrounded by nature doesn’t mean one has to live in the middle of the countryside. Whether we live in urban cities or near parks and wilderness, there are endless places to experience plant-lifeMore and more attention and interest is being given to urban gardens and the importance of having green patches in high density population areas. The rise of community gardens and farmers markets in every major city, and attention brought to the role of whole food in our everyday life are all examples of the sustainable, holistic movement we are experiencing in the recent years.

Now more than ever urban gardening has become a popular movement within our society. The rise of edible garden rooftops, gardening workshops, or plants on balconies and windowsills are all examples of our desire to feel more connected to nature.

OsterGRO rooftop garden in Copenhagen, Denmark

OsterGRO rooftop garden in Copenhagen, Denmark

When you are feeling lost, down or discouraged, take a walk outside, look for some green and let plants inspire kindness and peace. Now more than ever, we are all in need of some reassurance and pleasure that can always be found in simplest of moments; visiting an accessible place with vegetation, trees and botanical life.

Here at Flora Animalia, the creative space where we design our organic garden clothing, adjoins our very own edible garden. Many times a day we will take our work or our meetings outside- to talk, to listen, to refresh the imagination, to feel inspiration, to calm the spirit, to plant, to grow. We always return to the joyous task of designing and making our clothes & wares with a renewed sense of connection and purpose.

What we give and what we receive from our garden is direct reciprocity. If we are kind, generous and caring towards our plants, we will receive their bounty. This holds true of human & animal relationships and life itself. Even during this crisis, we each hold the power to regenerate and build hope through the experience of being with and protecting nature.

Plants be with you,

Rozae Nichols & Amber Bewick


Further reading can be found here & here