But the adults desire some different features. Middle-aged adults, for example, tend to look for peace and quiet in the garden, and older adults are more likely to seek stimulation. At one new senior residence Rodiek studied, the facility’s architect had created a lovely, secluded lawn and pond at the back of the apartment building. But every afternoon, the researchers noticed, at around the same time, the elderly residents dragged their lightweight aluminum chairs to the front of the building to be part of the community of commuters passing by. “You can only watch a pond for so long,” Rodiek says. “And a grass lawn doesn’t change much.”
The Search for Standards
To help ensure that outdoor areas promote as much healing as possible, Rodiek has recently created a checklist, drawing on the evidence described above, that administrators of long-term care facilities and others can use to evaluate their garden design. And she is working on one geared specifically to hospitals so that hospital-accrediting agencies can set standards.
Codified standards are needed because therapeutic gardens are becoming so popular. “New hospitals are now competing on the basis of whether they have a ‘healing garden’ or not,” Cooper Marcus says. “But when you go to look, some are not much more than a rooftop with a chaise lounge and a few potted plants.” Designing a good garden for health care settings “isn’t rocket science,” she adds. Yet basing the design on good science instead of whim will strengthen the healing nature of nature.
What Makes a Garden Healing?
The following checklist, based on research, shows what works:
Keep it green
Lush, layered landscapes with shade trees, flowers and shrubs at various heights should take up roughly 70 percent of the space; concrete walkways and plazas about 30 percent.
Keep it real
Abstract sculptures do not soothe people who are sick or worried.
Keep it interesting
Mature trees that draw birds and chairs that can be moved to facilitate private conversation foster greater interaction.
Engage multiple senses
Gardens that can be seen, touched, smelled and listened to soothe best. But avoid strongly fragrant flowers or other odors for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Mind the walkways
Wide, meandering paths that are tinted to reduce glare allow patients with low eyesight, wheelchairs or walkers to get close to nature. Paving seams must be narrower than one eighth of an inch to prevent trips by patients trailing wheeled IV poles.
Water with care
Fountains that sound like dripping faucets, buzzing helicopters or urinals do not relax anyone, and neither does the strong smell of algae.
Make entry easy
Gardens should not be far away or behind doors that are too heavy for a frail or elderly person to open.
This article was published in print as "Nature That Nurtures."