Firsthand experience with 'healing gardens'

They're called 'healing gardens' because they tend to make people feel better. Here's one gardener's firsthand experience.

Courtesy of Doreen Howard
These flowers, as seen from my kitchen window, make me feel better, just looking at them. And they've inspired me to get out and work among them, even when I didn't think I could.

I wrote two blog posts earlier this year on healing gardens that included interviews with patients who benefitted from their interaction with flowers, herbs, and even gravel gardens. (Click here and here to read the original posts.)

When I wrote, little did I know that I would spend the next seven months with myriad medical problems. And I’ve learned what the interviewees felt when they touched plants, strolled through gardens, and healed.

I now look at plants and my yard with a new perspective.

Who's going to pull the weeds?

The gardens outside the windows of my home have saved my sanity, acted as incentives to hobble outdoors, and supplemented formal physical therapy sessions. Pulling weeds that drive you crazy when viewed day after day through a window is perfect therapy to stretch limbs and build strength.

My husband doesn’t do weeds, and the teenagers I hired tried, but they pulled up lots of emerging perennials. I was finally forced to creep outside using a cane, and pull dandelions, thistles, creeping Charlie, and more. That day I felt better than I had in two months. I felt physically and mentally stronger.

A succession of flowers really lifts the spirits

Six years of careful planning, as to what perennials to place where, provided a nonstop, colorful show of blooms from March to now. First, it was the bulbs, from tiny Tete-a-Tete daffodils to raspberry-ripple-painted Estella Rinjveld antique tulip.

Then early apricot-colored Silver Cup peony burst with blossoms, along with landscape lilacs and a host of red, white, pink, and mottled peonies. Early geraniums like Rozanne and delphinium soon followed.

When I got home from the hospital, I was greeted with the heady perfume of Korean spicebush, surrounded with Silver Vase and Onyx Black hellebores, plus a host of heucheras, ranging from Plum Pudding to Midnight Rose to Ginger Ale and more.

I call that corner of my garden along the edge of the screen porch, the Dan Heims Memorial Heuchera Garden, because Dan, president of Terra Nova Nurseries and heuchera developer, has given me starts of his creations or recommended I buy certain ones.

It’s paid off, because the low-growing, color-saturated foliage provides color nearly year-round, even in my frigid climate along the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

Wave after wave of summer perennials have cheered me when I looked out the windows and lured me outside to catch their fragrance, snip a few stems for vases, and to admire.

Currently, goldenrod; a late, blue monkshood; the second flush of delphium; orange and brown helenium daisies; and those stalwart Roxanne geranium are furnishing the show outside the kitchen window.

I’m so grateful to all the plants in my garden for cheering me on, giving me incentive to go outdoors to move my limbs and lift my spirits. The real dirt is that, for me, nature is the ultimate healer, whether it’s rejuvenating a battered plant, sprouting new branches to replace a damaged one, or healing the human soul. When I smell a peony or stroke velvety lamb’s ear, I know that all things are possible.

Doreen Howard, the Edible Explorer, is one of nine garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. If it’s edible and unusual, Doreen 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. To read more by Doreen, click here.

Editor's Note: The article on this topic that Doreen wrote for the American Horticulture Society magazine, "Gardens for Recovery," received an award from the Garden Writers Association.

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