Here is the thing. I cringed when I realized that I had inadvertently signed up to post about Healing Gardens. What do I know about “Healing gardens”? Little. Except that most I see make me wince. It’s the overworked themes, twee fiddily-ness, garden junk, and green nooks that are often tortuously carved out of places that weren’t meant to be, that bug me most. I am ever surprised by a truly inspiring ‘official’ “Healing Garden”.
Last month, I met a man who once had a client who was the heiress to a plastic empire. He told me this story:
This client, in her later years, suffered a stroke. At around 80 years of age, she was not one to accept anything less than 100% recovery. While she had healed to be back to nearly 90% of her original function she simply was not satisfied and believed that two things would restore the final 10%. First she partook of treatments from the famed local Maharishi Ayurveda Center (famed because the likes of George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts and George Hamilton have been rumored to have made visits). And second, she must sit with her dogs in the ‘Healing Garden’ of one Clara Endicott Sears.
Never mind that in the mid eighties (at the time of this story) Clara Endicott Sears had been dead for over 20 years and only the faintest of remnants of her garden still existed.
Seems the Plastics Heiress and Clara were of subsequent generations. Clara was friends with the Plastics Heiress’s parents. Childhood visits to the ‘Healing Garden’ stuck and in later years a firm belief persisted that a visit to this place would provide health.
All of this has me wondering ever more about Healing Gardens. What makes them truly healing? Is it because they are sited near a hospital, or a recovery center? Or because they have themes about the cycles of life or religious symbolism? That they are handicap accessible? I think not.
A true healing garden has an indescribable sense of place. It holds enough magic, mysticism and memory to make an 80 year old stroke victim jump a stone wall and trespass in order to sit in its ruinous state.
Now, blessedly, I have on my hands, the restoration of this particular place. I am still trying to understand its appeal and meaning. Yes, it has twee statuary (and some less so), it has some sort of symbolism in the layout (though I am yet to fully understand it), it has extraordinary vistas, and even an auspicious location, but I am beginning to think that the secret of its spirit is most likely found in the original purpose of Ayurveda.
It is a garden that is not just content to improve the health of one individual, but is also designed to help create a healthy society. It is a belief that each truly healthy individual contributes to producing a disease-free and peaceful, well-adjusted community, society and world. I think Clara believed this deeply. I think that true health can be had in a garden. Which has me thinking that perhaps every garden, if looked at the right way, is a healing garden.
Make sure your check out more Garden Designers Roundtable-ers and their posts about Healing Gardens.
Naomi Sachs : Therapeutic Landscapes Network : Beacon, NY
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA
Jenny Petersen : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin TX
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK