Therapeutic Gardens

Article excerpt

Located in the East Harlem community across from Central Park sits the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center, a long-term care facility that serves over 700 residents. The center provides services to the elderly and people with a range of developmental disabilities and chronic illnesses, including 156 residents infected with HIV, one of the largest AIDS care facilities in the state. A tranquil rooftop garden caps the center, providing a therapeutic environment for the adjacent AIDS care wing. The garden, built completely by donations and volunteers, was completed in June 1994 and is dedicated to Joel Schnaper, a landscape architect who specialized in urban gardens and who died of AIDS.

The Joel Schnaper Memorial Garden is a "restorative" garden. It advances the idea that properly planned and operated gardens reduce stress, encourage a sense of well-being, and serve as effective therapy for long-term health care patients. The garden's design focuses on the specific needs of HIV residents. Many of the patient's health concerns are addressed, including strength and stamina, varying sensory abilities, sunlight sensitivity awareness, orientation, and the need for activity, interaction, privacy, and independence. Plant selections encourage a sense of empowerment through careful use of color, fragrance, texture, sound, and taste. Plants link the garden with the center's physical and occupational therapy programs, advancing the therapeutic value of nature as a complement to traditional medical and social programs.

Gardens offer a unique therapeutic resource. Nature can respond to the isolation and sense of crisis in illness experienced by some patients, and can help to nurture the individual at this vulnerable time IN life. The elements of soil, water, plants, and sunlight combine with the rhythm of the seasons to provide sensations and orientation that can restore a sense of well-being.

Gardens have been a part of human settlements since the development of agriculture. The rich gardens of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia exemplify the importance placed on maintaining contact with nature within an urban environment. But the garden as a source of well-being has not always been a cultural ideal. As historian Sam Bass Warner, Jr., has noted, gardens reveal a culture's relationship to nature. At various times, gardens have been interpreted as protective retreats, stages for social display, or links to religious experiences. Warner observes that when a culture finds intense feelings in nature, gardens are interpreted as agents of therapy--places to promote healing and the relief of pain.

In Europe during the Middle Ages gardens were used for restorative purposes. Monasteries and hospitals ministering care to travelers, the poor, the sick, and infirm often incorporated courtyards to provide a protected outdoor setting for recuperation and to produce food and medicinals. …