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Therapeutic Landscapes for Stress Relief

Feeling stressed? Has the Covid culture left you feeling socially isolated? Learn about the healing power of gardens and gardening in this article.

Cathy Johnson, Master Gardener

Therapeutic Landscapes for Stress Relief

The notion that gardens are healing places is not new.  It is well supported in research that outside settings improve mental and physical health . . . improved focus, improved creativity, reduced depression and stress, shortened hospital stays and increased test scores in classrooms where plants are growing. One only has to look at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Nature Heals Toolkit to see the profound connection between nature and healing. After all, folks are Covid weary beyond belief and wondering - is there some end in sight for the recurring surges and resulting restrictive lifestyle which seems to be the new norm? 

Peter Petrow of the Washington Post wrote an article, ‘Embracing Healing Places,’ which led me to thinking about how therapeutic landscapes might just be even more healing now than ever.  After all, humans are “biophilic” - innately drawn to life - because we are genetically connected to plants and nature. Being in nature makes our brains secure, more connected to what our bodies are experiencing. But the Covid pandemic resulted in more of us working indoors, some seldom having to leave our places of residence. We have become used to using our computers to shop and having items delivered, reducing the need to go outside. Social isolation can only increase feelings of disconnect, and a longing for things to “get back to normal.” 

Geraldine Perriam, a professor at the University of Glasgow, states that humans, while on a quest for healing, seek not just a cure, but alleviation and improvement in life style. The question for individuals then becomes, ‘Where do you need to go to for healing?  What places make you feel better.  The answer will be different for everyone, but a few common threads emerge from research, which are helpful to us all.  Water is the most common element listed in descriptions of healing places. The colors of blue and green are associated with calm, positive energy and better health outcomes. The obvious connection between the life-giving properties plants and water, comes to mind. 

On a quest for a feeling of well-being, columnist Pagan Kennedy suggests just going someplace where you can work the soil with your hands. Why? M. Vaccae, a soil bacterium, acts like an anti-depressant once it enters the human body. David Conradson, professor at the University of Canterbury New Zealand, suggests that folks go wherever they feel connected to nature. Are your senses being stimulated . . . all five of them?  Sensory stimulation is essential to achieving balance and a sense of ease. In these Covid weary times, humans want to feel “put together again.” 

Gardening is an authentic experience which provides all of the elements which humans seek in that quest for alleviation, a path toward healing. In imagining your “therapeutic landscape,” remember to think about where you need to go to feel better and be intentional about recognizing those feelings. Look at a map and find green or blue spaces, walk in your yard, or a neighborhood park. Go out of your way to seek your healing place. As for me, I think I’m headed for a garden with some green and blue, some trickling water, some fragrances, warmth, humidity, and just a place to unwind. Maybe I’ll see you there. Hygge on!


Nature Heals Community Engagement Toolkit, University of Minnesota Extension

Larson, Jeanne and Mike Maddox.  Center for Spirituality and healing University of Minnesota.  Presentation in June of 2019 at State Master Gardener’s Meeting.  “Healing Aspects of Gardening”

Petrow, Steven. Washington Post, ‘Embracing ‘healing places,’ January 4, 2022.  Many references cited.

Photo Credit: Free from Pixababy (1,2) & University of Minnesota Extension (3)

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