A Japanese garden designed to be calm and reflective

In Illinois, a serene Japanese garden helps young people overcome addiction problems.

Courtesy of Doreen Howard
Small spaces filled with plants, water and rocks define Rosecrance's healing garden. Typical is this entry pond.
Courtesy of Doreen Howard
The two waterfalls at Rosecrance each have 12 drops, symbolizing the 12 steps to recovery for those with drug problems.

Rosecrance Serenity Garden sits within 18 acres of woodlands surrounding a facility in Rockford, Ill., that treats young people with addiction problems.

It’s an excellent example of how use determines a garden's design and how the Japanese style was adapted for specific therapy needs, because it is calming and designed to help a person look inward and reflect.

There are three essential building blocks of a Japanese garden: soothing and reflective qualities of water; rocks for the sense of stability and plants with numerous textures and shades of green.

Rosecrance features two cascading waterfalls; an acre pond stocked with koi, bluegill, and bass; 1-1/2 miles of curved walking paths that wind through 2-million-year-old boulders; and an abundance of plants from towering Scotch pine to oak leaf hydrangea.

Symbolism abounds here. Each waterfall has 12 drops, representing the 12 steps of recovery. Every path is curved, because there are no straight lines in life, according to Susan Rice, public relations director for the Rosecrance Health Network.

Some of the boulders are designed to slough off water, while ones next to them have hollows to retain water. “We need to learn what to release and what to hold on to,” Ms. Rice explains.

The ordered, relaxing garden is exactly what adolescents who have addiction problems need to explore life analogies, exercise, participate in group therapy, and contemplate.

“Our patients have used drugs to hide their inner feelings,” says Rice. “The garden is a protective, safe, nurturing place where those feelings can now come to the surface. That is when lasting recovery begins.”

Christine Nicholson, supervisor of experiential therapies at Rosecrance, uses the garden as a backdrop for art, music, and meditation. Patients learn to breathe deeply and get back in tune with their senses ... to see, listen, touch, and smell again.

They do metaphor exercises, too, such as learning how to prune. They discover that pruning a tree is like cutting loose the negative and toxic people and elements in their lives, says Rice.

Nicholson adds, “We teach patients how to use nature to ground themselves, instead of angering, flipping out, and making bad decisions.”

Before the garden was built, the treatment center was at an urban site, and patients would run away when upset. The staff would have to hunt for them, usually finding them at a nearby convenience store.

Now, patients go for a walk by the water or go to a place special to them in the garden. Many epiphanies take place out there, Nicholson says. A patient will say, “Wow, I’ve got it!”

The ultimate metaphor is when a young person is ready to leave, usually after 30 to 60 days of treatment.

The bell tower that sits at the north end of the pond contains a 120-pound, 38-inch high solid brass Buddhist-style bell from Thailand. When a patient leaves, he or she takes a wooden mallet and strikes the bell 12 times to symbolize the 12 steps of recovery they have completed.

Those E-flat peals reverberate sweetly through the trees, water, and secret gardens amongst the boulders with the music of another success and a tribute to the healing effect of nature.

This is the second of two posts about "healing gardens." Read the first one by clicking here. Also, click here to read the article on this topic that Doreen wrote for the American Horticulture Society magazine, "Gardens for Recovery." [PDF]

If it’s edible and unusual, Doreen Howard figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly Durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide, and for Diggin' It..

Editor’s note: Look for more blog posts by The Edible Explorer, Doreen Howard, in our blog archive. For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, check out our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden pho

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