The Garden Heals
by Nigel Summerley
The healing power of plants is well-known – to homeopaths and herbalists and allopaths too.
And those who garden know that to be immersed in the world of plants is to be closer to something that is rewarding, beautiful and therapeutic.
Now conventional science has concluded that gardens in care homes could play a crucial role in helping to stimulate the memory processes of those suffering from dementia.
Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School have reported that green spaces helped care-home residents relax, and in particular reduce the agitated states of those with dementia.
They also concluded that gardens provide welcome spaces for interactions between patients and visitors, thus helping to stimulate memories. No great surprise here, really.
The Exeter study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (and supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula), looked at the findings of 17 different pieces of research in this field. This research covered residents at 11 UK care homes, plus services in America, China and Europe.
Now here’s a bit of a surprise…
Dr Ruth Garside, one of the authors of the paper, was quoted as saying: “There’s a lot we don’t know about how a garden’s design and setting influences its ability to affect wellbeing, yet it’s clear these spaces need to offer a range of ways of interacting – to suit different people’s preferences and needs.”
Surely it’s not rocket science… or even horticultural science. Just ask a gardener.
Yes, vertiginous steps and deep ponds and vicious cacti might be ingredients to avoid if frail people are going to be in the garden, but otherwise it’s common sense, isn’t it?
By coincidence, a key character in my recent novel ‘Like A Flower’ is a dementia sufferer in a care home – someone distraught at losing her garden and someone finding some solace in just being able to be outside and to see plants.
Any garden, however humble, can be a therapeutic space. Not just for dementia patients, but for all of us.
* Nigel Summerley’s novel ‘Like A Flower’ – a story of life, death, love and gardening – is available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Like-Flower-Nigel-Summerley-ebook/dp/B00A6TSI8G