Medicinal gardens: application and meaning

Medicinal gardens: application and meaning

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Medicinal gardens serve for recovery. They help sick people to regenerate and heal their psyche as well as their emotional world. Such health gardens often surround hospitals, retirement homes and facilities for people with disabilities such as mental health problems.

The gardens do not serve as direct medicine, but support therapies and also alleviate stress for those affected in a situation that affects them. If you are admitted to a psychiatric hospital because of a mental disorder, if you suffer from a serious illness and therefore have to go to a clinic or if you can no longer cope alone in old age and therefore move to a retirement home, you usually suffer from stress.

This stress slows down the healing of the complaints for which the people concerned are in the facility. Instead of alleviating this stress with medication, many clinics now rely on medicinal gardens.

The healing gardens are designed for different groups of people affected: people with dementia, for example, only help slightly more miraculous paths because they lose orientation. The sidewalks should be kept dark so as not to dazzle the old patients. Flowers should remind the sick of memories of beautiful experiences. For dementia, there must also be no poisonous plants in the garden, as they often put things in their mouths.

Medicinal gardens are not used to help those affected to explore an “undeveloped wilderness”. On the contrary, they are intended to give people without full reading ability the opportunity to move around without overexerting themselves. That is why simple route networks, brochures and signs help you to find your way - with precise information on distances and places, ideally supplemented by the physical difficulty level of the respective walk.


In order for such a garden to promote health, it should meet the following conditions:

1) Have a clear design that appeals to different senses. Ambiguities, optical illusions, winding paths or abstract garden art are out of place here.

2) Access should be obvious and easily accessible.

3) The paths are easy and cannot be missed.

4) The room is open to promote encounters and thus helps to communicate with others and to experience something together.

5) The garden also contains intimate places where victims can mourn, relax, think or have private conversations. These can be pavilions, areas shielded by hedges with benches or groups of trees on a duck pond.

6) The garden should inspire those affected and break up cloudy thoughts, help them to develop ideas and set goals. Wood and stone sculptures, paintings and music also help.

Garden therapy

Therapy gardens help people with disabilities. Such complaints can be due to old age, as with the elderly, to diseases, both temporary and chronic, but also affect people in acute life crises and with mental health problems.

A therapeutic garden is not tied to a specific therapy, but should be adapted to the target group: depressed people have different needs than people who have had heart surgery, teenagers with eating disorders expect something different than seniors with a broken hip.

Such a garden is first and foremost an open space. Here, those affected, for whom their complaints make independent movement in society impossible, can be "themselves".

What is open space differs not only in the individual, but also in the target groups: in a senior room, a therapy garden is used to stay; it should enable people in the rehab clinic to exercise physically. It helps people with mental health problems to take on responsibility, to perceive the environment poistically and to take steps in the garden into a normal life.

Working in the garden of a psychiatric facility, a retirement home or a clinic for people with physical disabilities promises success in order to enable those affected to take an active part in a structured everyday life.

Studies show that people with dementia who work in gardens show significantly more interest in their environment, laugh more often, are more active and behave more peacefully than those affected without this possibility. They fall less often and sleep better.

Geriatrics Langenhagen, for example, has been supplementing its therapeutic range since 1997 with a garden that serves the needs of patients with physical, sensory and cognitive complaints.

Occupational therapists accompany those affected to check whether they have regained lost skills, but also how to compensate for permanent restrictions. Here they get to know new postures and find out how they can make their own gardens suitable for the disabled. They try out options that make their work easier.

However, they not only learn practically, but also relax and take pleasure in engaging in nature.

As a garden for people with disabilities, wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility can move around undisturbed. Normal beds, a slope and hedges also give you the option to practice body movements.

In a greenhouse, those affected can enjoy plants even in the cold months and train to walk on the paths there.

Different target groups

Seniors want to linger in the healing garden, observe, expand social contacts, pursue a meaningful activity, awaken memories and withdraw - children have the need to discover, play, observe, perceive their senses and have a task.

Sufferers in rehabilitation centers use the gardens to retreat, stay and for therapy.

People with physical or mental disabilities perceive their senses, learn work processes, assume responsibility and collect experiences of success.

People with “wellness complaints” who take time out want to have time for themselves and relax.

Special therapy gardens can be found at:

Special schools for children and adolescents, in kindergartens, occupational therapy facilities, facilities for the handicapped, homes for the blind, psychotherapeutic centers and psychiatries, clinics for the seriously ill and rehabilitation for traumatized people.

Company and community gardens

But companies also recognize the positive impact of gardens on the working atmosphere. More and more companies are greening inner courtyards and roofs, planting entrances and balconies. Employers kill two birds with one stone: employees feel better at work, and the positive atmosphere also affects customers.

Community gardens are designed to break the anonymity of the big cities, deepen social contacts in the district, offer relaxation, enable citizens to do physical activity, reduce crime and, in addition to social, improve the natural climate in the city.

The potential for this is huge: brownfield sites, vacant lots, areas on federal highways and highways offer large areas to enlarge the green spaces in cities. It does not have to be the "big hit", because green sidewalks, former tram stops, abandoned garden colonies and even traffic islands offer "invisible niches" to get involved.

In Hanover-Linden Nord, for example, there is such a garden near the Linden leisure center: people from the district plant various herbs, fruits and vegetables that they consume themselves in wooden boxes that they have made themselves.

The “district gardeners” meet here, exchange ideas, get to know each other and also supplement their daily menu.

The community gardens also include the intercultural gardens, in which migrants in Germany can literally take root. Germans and immigrants come into contact while they are designing the gardens together, they meet on neutral ground, because social hierarchies play no role at first. Intercultural gardens thus promote integration.

The treatment center for torture victims in Berlin plays a pioneering role. It founded a garden on the former site of the Moabit hospital and a rented small park.

Many of those affected cannot or are not allowed to work in Germany because they do not yet have a residence permit and / or are traumatized so that regular employment is difficult for them. However, many of them come from rural areas and they know how to plant a garden.

On the one hand, this therapy garden ties in with the abilities, memories and “home feelings” of those affected, at the same time it provides a daily structure and a meaningful activity that demands on the body. Those affected also harvest their own fruit and vegetables in the garden, which helps them to be more independent.

Most of those affected have been significantly healthier, both physically and physically, since they got involved in gardening. They also strengthen their self-confidence because they implement the knowledge and creative power of their culture in the new society.

The outpatient department for adults, the department for children and adolescents and also the housing association for women implement therapeutic work in the garden. There is also a memorial for mourners.

How does a healing garden help?

People with psychological limitations feel less stigmatized when working with natural materials - it “doesn't feel like therapy”. Plants, earth and water, sun, wind and rain are "neutral" and only help healing.

Firstly, gardening has an occupational therapy effect. During the watering process, those affected practice directing their hands, taking care of the plants, strengthening their muscles and loosening the soil, training their fingers.

Secondly, garden therapy has an enormous effect on the psyche. Terms such as "rooted" and "down-to-earth" are not coincidentally derived from the human-nature relationship. Gardening literally grounds the memories and symbolic world of psychologically confused people and brings them to the bottom of reality.

Experienced therapists help to bring symbols and metaphors into a context that is meaningful for those affected - without the supernatural prank as it haunts the esoteric scene.

Even “normal neurotics” help to work in their own garden to structure their thoughts, to get out of the stagnation of brooding and to solve problems creatively. For uprooted people with mental disorders, whose ideas whirl around as fragments, such rooting is even more important.

Metaphors can thus be linked directly to a practice. Those affected, who are stuck in traditional life structures and are afraid to leave them behind, can train this mentally - by weeding.

What "weed" do I have in my head, what should I get out. What should my “inner garden” look like so that I feel good?

Planting trees and flowers serves as a work on the metaphor of “taking root”. For people with mental health problems who have “lost their feet”, this is a sensible way to step on solid ground again.

The garden is a neutral place. Those affected in psychiatry, hospitals and old people's homes are doubly burdened: they suffer from their illnesses, they also suffer from the loss of their social environment and come into a new environment that is initially defined by the illness. In the garden you can get to know other people without sharing the "being sick" as an exclusive common ground. Celebrations in the park, walks with supervisors etc. strengthen this understanding.

Those affected find a meaningful task. One of the biggest problems facing people in homes and hospitals is addiction. They are cared for and find their passive everyday life senseless. Anyone who takes responsibility for plants has a job - more than that, they are not only cared for, but are now also carers.

Those affected also see the result of their efforts: trees grow, flowers bloom and shrubs bear fruit.

What is to be considered?

For wheelchair users, the floor should be easy to drive on and should not slip in wet conditions. Benches should be set up at shorter intervals than usual so that people with weak walking can walk longer.

If the benches are to promote communication, they need a distance that allows wheelchair occupants to be inside. The paths must be so wide that wheelchair occupants can use them, from 1.80 m upwards.

Water sources

Water is essential for sick people. At the same time, many of those affected forget to take water with them. Drinking water storage tanks in the garden help them; there should also be hose connections and water pipes for hand washing.

The water points should also be accessible for wheelchair users so that they can, for example, park and fill watering cans.

Water plays a major role in garden design: water inspires, it "cools the mind", it offers countless metaphors of healing: from the flow of life to the open sea. Wells, canals, streams, ponds and even bird baths are part of a healing garden.


Shadow is no more important for old people, sick people and people with disabilities than for people without complaints - especially in the summer months. Artificial shadows from parasols (near the benches) are best accompanied by natural shadows from trees.


The garden should have a handicap accessible toilet near the entrance, for those affected as well as the caregivers. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

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