Gardening and Health: Green Space Increases Your Headspace

One of the main purposes of having gardens is that this garden is your teacher and your friend.

—Juliette de Bairacle Levy, herbalist and author

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It wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I became acquainted with my good friend, the houseplant. I grew up in the deserts of Arizona, so plant life to me meant cacti, Palo Verde trees, and the occasional irrigated lawn. Now that I live in “the concrete jungle,” I have grown to value environments that more resemble an actual jungle. I rely on public parks, a community garden, and the houseplants in my apartment to give me the green space I need to increase my headspace. Whether I am passively enjoying the scenery or actively cultivating a garden, the whole experience is relaxing and uplifting—and not to mention a great workout if I am wielding a shovel in the garden!

Ancient wisdom tells us of gardening’s healing properties. Since the time of Egyptian pharaohs and Buddhist monks, humanity has turned to gardening to rehabilitate and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. Modern scientific studies are now able to develop quantitative evidence regarding the health benefits of communing with nature. One study found that after patients attended a horticulture class and participated in a planting activity like dividing and potting a houseplant, they experienced an elevated mood and decreased heart rate, making gardening a therapeutic option for folks wanting to improve their cardiac health. Another study found that hospital patients exposed to natural environments healed more quickly and completely than patients exposed to urban environments, suggesting that natural environments positively affect the parasympathetic nervous system.

While gardening and plant life is indeed a friend to us, it also makes a great teacher in that the plants that we cultivate can be formed into other healing modalities including flower essences, herbalism, aromatherapy, produce-rich diets, and much more. As an affordable and low-risk treatment, a San Franciscan physician is prescribing her patients a nature walk. As an Occupational Therapist, how would you incorporate gardening or plant derived healing modalities into your practice? Has gardening been a friend to you— what has it taught you?


American Horticultural Therapy Association. Retrieved from http://ahta.org/horticultural-therapy

Atchison, Ben, & Wagenfeld, Amy. (2014). “Putting the Occupation Back in Occupational Therapy:” A survey of Occupational Therapy Practitioners’ Use of Gardening as an Intervention. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2(4). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/ojot/vol2/iss4/4/

Docued. (2010, September 10). Juliette of the Herbs – PREVIEW [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/c_VRj1RMTXU

Flaskerud, Jacquelyn H. (2014). Communing with Nature. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 35(12). 975-378.

Franklin, Deborah. (2012). How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal. Scientific American306(3). Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nature-that-nurtures/

Haas, Francois, Mola, Ana, Rey, Mariano J., Whiteson, Jonathan, & Wichrowski, Matthew. (2005). Effects of Horticultural Therapy on Mood and Heart Rate in Patients Participating in an Inpatient Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program. Journal of Cardiopulminary Rehabilitation. 25. 270-274.

Miller, Daphne. (2014). A Prescription For Nature. National Parks. Retrieved from http://www.npca.org/news/magazine/all-issues/2014/spring/a-prescription-for-nature.html

TeachEthnobotany. (2013, April 13). Horticultural Therapy [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Ig6uPNexJ60

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