Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth Day in a Therapeutic Garden

As I stood at the gate of my community garden, I thought about the events of this Earth Day, April 22, 2008. I have listened to all of the activities being held and all of the progress we are making in improving our environment. This is the 38th year that we have focused attention on the effects of what man is doing to our planet and we still have a long way to go. (Still thinking the glass is half full and hoping that we are making positive changes.)

I look around the garden and see what a few people are doing to connect with the earth. It is impressive what everyone grows and how they approach gardening. There are mounded vegetable rows, leaf covered plots, fences surrounding individual plots, a bird house, all signs of spring activity. People are preparing for another growing season.

The Township has added several raised planting beds for the seniors in the community. I helped the Recreation Department design the planters and I am anxious to see how they are used by the older adults in the community. Some shade and a few benches should be added. Fortunately the water line has been extended to the corner where these raised beds are located.

Our community garden plot already contains 40 little lettuce plants, a row of spinach and a row of radishes. The trellises has been constructed that will support the sugar snap and pole beans. Starter potatoes have been planted. And there is room for much more in this 25’ by 50 foot garden plot, as soon ass the dangers of frost have subsided. I am on the hunt for ‘new’ heirloom tomatoes to plant this year. And, finding the oriental cucumbers is always an illusive pursuit.

The therapeutic aspect of this garden, for me, is to watch the vegetables grow and our children help us plant the young plants. Is this a therapeutic garden? The answer, for me is yes. It is a place for me to socialize with others. I just met a new friend; Bonnie, last evening and we shared all kinds of garden related stories. I get to tell my wife about what I planted in the garden today and how the sunflower seedlings are doing. This is a Therapeutic Garden in all it’s aspects of healing – reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, helping balance circadian rhythms and other qualities that make our connection with nature so important.

Every day should be an Earth (focused) Day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Flowers

I received the following message from Lee Shahay who is the Horticulture Director at Parker at Stonegate Assisted Living in Highland Park, NJ. Lee has been working with the residents - helping them to get ready for spring. The residents have been taking cuttings from the ornamental trees and shrubs on the Parker at Stonegate campus and bringing them inside to encourage the branches to bloom early in the season.

Lee wrote, "In a program I ran last Friday we talked about a variety of flowering trees, and the solarium is filled with branches whose buds are about to explore into an array of color. The residents are having great fun watching the progress, and stopping by each day to see what might be blooming. There is a very good possibility that our raised beds will be installed this spring, which means we can begin to do more ground planting. I am very excited about what the coming of spring will mean for our horticulture program here at Parker. Have a great day."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Theraputic Landscapes Research Initiative (TLRI)

What is the TLRI?

The TLRI is an accessible compendium of current research on the topic of therapeutic landscape and garden design. Summaries of research germane to the topic of Healthcare and Therapeutic Design will be made available to ASLA members. Also in initial stages is an interactive component, in the form of a blog, to allow for the necessary dialogue, and continuing refinement and application of this research.

How can I access the TLRI?

You can access the interactive blog and all related resources @

You'll find hands-on content and research, for example:

I recently stumbled up an Australian radio show 'All in the Mind' which featured a show about nature and it's psychological benefits.

The synopsis: "Intuitively we sense that nature relaxes us -- even small pockets of green in the concrete urban jungle seem to make a difference. But finding good scientific evidence for how and why has been more difficult -- until now. Crime rates, academic performance, aggression and even ADHD. Could a bit of greening make all the difference? And, ecology on the couch -- a self described 'ecotherapist' with novel techniques."

The site also contained some great links to Landscape-related resources, including the following site with some great research: The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign), that is "... is a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Greenhouse Grants

I just received this message from AHTA regarding their Greenhouse Grant Program.

It's definitely worth checking out:

Hello AHTA Members & Friends,

We'd like to remind you that the deadline for the 2008 Greenhouse Grant applications is quickly approaching.

If your program (or someone you know) would like to apply for a free greenhouse
from SunPorch Structures, download the application information at

This is a great opportunity - don't miss out!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March Newsletter


In the last newsletter we talked about native plants in relation to sustainability. It is important to understand that native or indigenous plants have adapted to a particular region over hundreds of years, making their success rate better than non-natives. Reasons for adding them to your garden include:
  • Preserve bio-diversity
  • Save water
  • Need little or no fertilizer
  • More resistant to pests and diseases
  • Home for local wildlife

Research indicates that “grass and trees in outdoor spaces increase the use and social activity in outdoor places.” The paper “The fruit of urban nature: Vital Neighborhood spaces” by William Sullivan Frances Kuo and Stephen DePooter (2004) indicates that grass and trees “contribute to the social cohesiveness and vitality of a neighborhood.” This makes sense, because we know that people will gather in friendly nature-specific environments, as opposed to areas paved with asphalt or concrete. A bench under a tree is more inviting and a welcoming place to meet.


There are many advantages for adding raised planters to your garden. In addition to making access easier, you are able to control the soil that is used (especially in poor soil areas). Using a rot resistant wood, such as cedar, prolongs the life of the planter. Treated woods should not be used, especially if you plan to eat what is grown.


The word Equinox comes from the Latin word aeguus for equal and nox for night. According to Wikipedia the Equinox occurs on “the 21st day of the last month of every quarter of the calendar year.” On this day “the center of the Sun will spend a nearly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth and night and day will be of nearly the same length. There are all kinds of traditions associated with this event. A favorite personal activity is to cut branches of forsythia and place them in a vase of warm water. This ’forces’ the plant to bloom earlier—bringing a welcome sign of Spring. You can also try branches from cherry trees, quince and other early flowering plants.


Early spring, when the buds begin to swell, is the optimal time to prune roses. Make the pruning cuts one quarter of an inch above an outward facing bud at the same angle of the bud. Pruning the interior will improve air circulation and prevent disease.


Chaenomeles sp. or Quince is an old ‘estate’ plant that seem to have disappeared. However, they are worth considering again. They are a flowering shrub that bursts with color in early spring. They like full sun and well drained soil. Taller varieties can grow up to 6 feet high. Shorter varieties such as Cameo and Jet Trail are 3 feet tall. Pruning helps to keep their size under control. They are also a good plant for forcing in early spring.


Farmers have been guided by the phases of the moon for the best times to plant. Plants are believed to grow faster and larger when planting is coordinated with the cycles of the moon. When the area of light on the lunar surface gradually begins to increase after a New Moon, this is the time to plant above-ground vegetables such as lettuce and peas. When the light after a Full Moon begins to decrease, this is the time to plant below-ground vegetables such as turnips and potatoes.


In order to reduce the spread of diseases, be sure not to touch vegetable plants when they are wet from the morning dew, irrigation or rain, according to Barbara Bromley, Mercer County Horticulturalist.

"Gardening is an exercise in optimism.”
-- Anonymous

Green is great in 2008!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Horticultural Therapy Greenhouse Grants

The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) has an excellent grant program that is definitely worth checking out. Greenhouse Grants from the Douglas J. Schwartz Living Foundation provide SunPorch Greenhouses to facilities that use horticulture as a treatment modality.

The generosity and support of the Foundation enables organizations to continue their good works through winter months and to serve many more individuals than would otherwise have been possible. Grant-receiving organizations work with older adults, families at risk, abused children, those with head injuries and other physical and mental disabilities, and other populations.

A link to the grant application and related information can be found here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions: Therapeutic Gardens

Are gardens good for you?

Spending time outside in a garden has been shown to positively affect a person’s emotions and improve their sense of well-being. Access to nature has been shown to balance circadian rhythms, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and increase absorption of Vitamin D naturally. The important message is that nature is beneficial to our overall health and well-being. We are all connected to nature and it is important to maintain that vital connection.

Aren’t all gardens therapeutic?

While all natural settings have the potential to heal, therapeutic gardens are designed to meet specific physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of certain patient populations. . Evidence-based studies guide the design of a garden based upon the best research that is available and show that therapeutic gardens improve patients’ quality of life and facilitate healing. Many times therapeutic gardens help to lower health care costs.

What are examples of therapeutic gardens?

Alzheimer’s gardens
Rehab gardens
Senior community gardens
Cancer patient therapeutic gardens
Meditation gardens
Residential gardens

What is an Alzheimer’s Garden?

Alzheimer’s Gardens, also known as dementia gardens and wander gardens, are customarily developed as part of senior residential communities and adult day care facilities. These gardens are specifically designed to meet the needs of individuals with memory impairment. Dementia gardens are enclosed spaces with smooth level pathways, non-glare surfaces, non-toxic and non-injurious plants, and familiar home-like features, such as wind chimes, birdbaths or a garden bench to sit on and enjoy the flowers. These garden features are very important because they have the potential to trigger positive emotions and memories from a person’s past. The smell of basil can elicit wonderful feelings of a family cooking Sunday dinner. Maybe fresh lavender placed in a bureau drawer will remind someone of a happy childhood. The use of familiar elements within a garden can have positive effects and help the person using the garden actively engage with the outdoor world around them.

Are healing gardens different?

‘“Healing gardens” are a type of therapeutic garden. Healing gardens are typically designed in partnership with specialized healthcare facilities, such as cancer centers, pediatric hospitals, and treatment centers for post traumatic stress disorders, to name a few.

What goes into designing a therapeutic garden?

Therapeutic gardens are ideally a collaborative effort. They are created by a team of healthcare professionals, caregivers and if appropriate, the patients or residents themselves, all lead by an experienced licensed landscape architect.

For more information, visit our website.