Archives For healing garden

Planting well-being: near and far

How the Horticultural Therapy Department makes an impact on a communities health, education and wellbeing.

Clare Johnson —  October 10, 2016 — 2 Comments

This year, the Horticultural Therapy Services department consulted with a wide range of organizations to bring the healing power of nature to communities across the globe—from Illinois to the Philippines. 

This past spring, the Horticultural Therapy department was contacted by Park School—a self-contained public therapeutic day program in Evanston, Illinois—to develop a plant-based therapy program alongside its staff and students. This program was generously funded by Foundation 65, the educational foundation for Evanston-Skokie School District 65. 

Throughout the spring and early summer, we planted and tended an accessible, outdoor container garden as part of the students’ therapeutic curriculum.

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Planting sensory containers with a student at Park School

Park’s devotion to its students, community, and environmental education landed the school a grant from the GRO1000 grassroots grant project. This grant enabled Park to contract with the Chicago Botanic Garden to design a permanent sensory garden for the school. 

As the design consultant, I led the garden design steering committee—comprised of Park staff; Mary Brown, Ph.D., of District 65; and Park’s PTA—through the design process, resulting in an accessible and engaging sensory garden design set to be installed on October 14 and 15. 

The Park School Sensory Garden boasts elements such as an outdoor classroom with overhead pergola, accessible garden shed and raised containers, hanging sensory planters, and a memorial garden. Park School will be hosting a volunteer day on Saturday, October 15, for local community members interested in getting involved in this fantastic project. The volunteer day will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a garden dedication at 2 p.m. 

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Rendering of the Park School Sensory Garden (Clare Johnson)

The restorative power of nature knows no bounds, and we’re fortunate to be able to provide consulting services to organizations near and far. When Rachel Jones, a Peace Corps volunteer serving in the Philippines, contacted us in early 2016 asking for design guidance, we immediately said “yes.”

Rachel works at a nonprofit organization called My Refuge House. It’s a shelter for girls who have been rescued from commercial sexual exploitation and abuse. Two years ago the shelter switched from a highly clinical track of therapy to one that is more culturally relevant and uses alternative approaches. As a professional who had previously worked with horticultural therapy, Rachel created a project and received a grant to create a healing garden on the property for group therapy and individual meditation.

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Collecting cuttings from community members for the healing garden

Rachel and I discussed some of the fundamental principles of therapeutic garden design, including but not limited to private and public gathering spaces, lush plantings, smooth paving, shade structure/trees, safe perimeter, moveable seating, and so on.

Rachel engaged the local community while constructing the garden. She shared a story about how she collected some of the plant material: “Today we went on a hike up the mountain, where the shelter is located, to ask people for cuttings from their plants. We met great people and they were all very generous in providing plants for our garden.” When planning a garden, involving your community is a great way to increase the ownership of a space, and the devotion to the mission.

It was wonderful to read the updates from Rachel as they came to the end of the installation. 

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The Healing Garden at My Refuge House in the Philippines

When the garden was completed, they hosted a dedication ceremony memorializing the hard work that had gone into the creation of the healing garden. It was an honor to be a resource for this incredible project, and we hope to have a powerful effect on many other communities, moving forward. 

The healing power of nature, much like these projects, has no limits. Something as small as a shady nook with a gliding swing can make a world of difference for someone in need.  

Find more information about the project at My Refuge House by visiting the Peace Corp volunteer’s blog


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

In the summer of 2002, a large, multidisciplinary group of professors, healthcare providers, and design professionals gathered at the Chicago Botanic Garden to help form the curriculum of a new, original certificate program.

The goal of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate Program was, and remains, to provide a useful, up-to-date, and engaging professional development opportunity in healthcare garden design that reflects the multidisciplinary nature of this emerging field, and allows participants the opportunity to focus their learning on topics of particular relevance to each person.

PHOTO: 2015 Healthcare Garden Design class.

The 2015 Healthcare Garden Design class
Photo by Carissa Ilg

PHOTO: Participants rest in the shade of a garden during a site visit as part of the Healthcare Garden Design course.

Gwenn Fried, a program instructor, having a conversation with 2015 program participant during a site visit to a healing garden as part of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate course. Photo by Carissa Ilg

From the start, evidence-based design has been the core of this program, with a focus on using research results to design garden facilities that allow for and make possible specific health and wellness outcomes, while encouraging the design team’s creativity and the application of professional insight.

What you can expect to learn from attending this course:

  • Learn from key industry leaders why healthcare gardens constitute an essential component of customer-centered environments of care. Learn how these gardens positively impact patient health outcomes, stress reduction, and satisfaction, as well as employee retention, marketing activities, philanthropy, accreditation, and the bottom line.
  • Gain a more thorough understanding of how evidence-based design is fueling growth in healthcare gardens and restorative environments, and how research informs the design process.
  • Define best practices in this emerging field through collaboration with colleagues from a variety of professions.
  • Discover how healthcare gardens can lead to increased levels of outside funding and contribute to successful marketing activities.
  • Learn about the full range of benefits that therapeutic gardens make possible when used by health professionals including doctors, nurses, and horticultural, art, music, physical, occupational, and recreation therapists.
  • Engage in case studies, multidisciplinary group projects, field trips, and other learning activities that focus on the unique characteristics of healthcare gardens and their design for specific populations and facilities.
PHOTO: Splitting into teams, each group designs their own Healthcare Garden Design project to present at the end of the program.

Splitting into teams, each group designs their own healthcare garden design project to present at the end of the program. Photo by Carissa Ilg

PHOTO: Another team sketches out their Healthcare Garden Design.

Another team sketches out their healthcare garden design. Photo by Mark Epstein

The Healthcare Garden Design (HGD) program at Chicago Botanic Garden was one of the most information-packed programs I have ever attended. Every speaker was at the top of their field and imparted practical, useful information that I was able to take back to my special-needs school to use. I loved that the speakers had diverse backgrounds—which gave a well-rounded view of what healthcare gardens should entail. Because of what we learned at the HGD program, we were able to design a wheelchair-accessible therapy garden that meets the needs of all our students. The program gave us insight to avoid problems, add security and safety, and create a useful, beautiful garden for students with very complex needs. I can’t say enough about how valuable the HGD program was for my professional career as a special-needs educator with an extreme interest in horticulture therapy.
—Janel Rowe, Bright Horizons Center School, Bright Garden Project co-chair

Each cohort is composed of up to 24 professionals and students from throughout the United States and abroad.

Past participants include:

  • Healthcare executives, administrators, and facility managers
  • Landscape architects, architects, and garden and interior designers
  • Nurses, doctors, horticultural and other adjunctive therapists, and other medical professionals
  • Graduate students in degree programs in these fields

Upon completion of this program, the participant’s ability to design and promote healthcare gardens will be markedly improved. Someone who has completed the program will be capable of applying their knowledge, skills, and insight to the design of healthcare gardens for any population or facility.

What you won’t find in the marketing material—the exclusive intangibles of this course—is the experience of immersive learning from the broad range of distinguished instructors, in a spectacular setting. The Chicago Botanic Garden itself is a masterpiece of great design, and the classroom feels like an illustrious museum. The curriculum and instructors provide personalized and customized learning. Participants have created enduring friendships and professional relationships in this course.

There is no other course like this one; the Healthcare Garden Design certificate program provides a unique and extraordinary experience.

PHOTO: Final 2015 Healthcare Garden Design group presentations.

Final 2015 Healthcare Garden Design group presentations
Photo by Carissa Ilg.


Our next program begins May 11, 2016. Register for the Healthcare Garden Design certificate program today.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org