History is full of gardens used for the purpose of healing. Zen gardens in Japan, monastic gardens whose herbs provided the base for early medicines, soothing parks near cemeteries where families would picnic near the graves of their loved ones are a few examples of healing gardens. Today, healing gardens allow adults and children who are in crisis, whether from illness, trauma or grief, to find an oasis of peace and beauty in the midst of a turbulent, confusing and often frightening time. The creation of a healing garden for children is a challenge, and is limited only by budget and imagination.
The Science of Healing Gardens
Various studies, such as the one conducted by Roger Ulrich, director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A & M University, have shown that gardens can play a role in healing. Ulrich's study found that exposing people to nature helps block stressful thoughts and creates positive feelings. These people had lower alpha rates, helping them to relax and heal faster. As a result of these studies, a number of hospitals are using gardens to help children deal with their health issues.
The Value of Healing Gardens for Childen
One of the most important things for children is play. During play, the child is in charge. She can forget her problems, placing herself in a world where problems like cancer or death don't exist. Or the child might choose to act out the problem, explaining to themselves how and why things happened and what the outcome should be.
Children's Play Garden
Healing gardens for children must have elements to help them with creative play, and to inspire and comfort them. In the Leichtag Family Healing Garden at the Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego, the children's healing garden has a huge dinosaur called "Samosaurus," or "Sam" for short. This dinosaur is one of the children's favorite objects. Even at night, Sam's healing magic is apparent. The dinosaur is lit by tiny white lights that shine in the dark, promising days of playtime. There is also a 7-foot-tall seahorse fountain, a windmill, benches shaped like starfish, and a deep blue wall with discs of glass in the shape of zodiac constellations. Sam and the other elements provide hope and something for the kids to look forward to between treatments and testing.
Gardens to Celebrate Life
The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center has built an unusual type of healing garden. This garden celebrates the lives of loved ones that have died with a tile handmade by the children. There are picnic tables, pathways where the kids can run, flowers and a labyrinth that can be used for play or quiet meditation. The garden encourages play and helps the children celebrate and focus on the love and warm memories they have of their loved one, while acclimating them gently to the concepts of loss and death.
Fairy Gardens for Children
Fairy gardens are also popular with kids. These miniature gardens let the children's imaginations take flight as they create a garden that will attract fairies. The children themselves design, plant and maintain the gardens, adding details like little houses and tiny pathways that bring fantasy to life. These gardens can be small, with each child making her own garden in an individual planter, or can be a larger, cooperative effort.
Life in the Presence of Death
Gardens alone will not cure the problems that these children face. But the relaxing peace of nature, the opportunity for play, the presence of loving family and caring staff, and the reminder of life and beauty in the midst of death, illness, and ugliness allows their spirits to begin healing.