Reflections from the Iris Respite House Healing Gardens

October 2022

The kids are back in school, I can hear them when I’m working in the garden. Their voices mark time in my workday, while the plants mark time in the garden. It’s an autumn garden now, alive with purple beautyberry, dahlias, mums, and autumn joy. All summer, nature and the gardens give abundantly: we have the sun until 9, flowers give us show after show, and the pollinators float around in front of our eyes. I can feel Mother Nature retracting some of that. As the plants start to die back, and darkness creeps in earlier, chasing me home at the end of the day, I can’t help but tug back against her, but she always wins.

In the past month, 3 people, on separate occasions, have turned to me within the first fifteen minutes of experiencing the Hope Grows gardens for the first time and said, “this is very relaxing,” or “this is very therapeutic.” The look in their eyes softened, they dropped their shoulders, smiled a little, and exhaled an unexpected, but welcome, sigh. The gardens seemed to make them feel a little safer than when they got out of the car. I’m glad. Because, at those moments, my mind was definitely not relaxed. I was actually completely focused on work, cutting a couple of nice bouquets or preparing to direct volunteers. I claim no credit for the biophilic effect, except maybe whatever regular upkeep I’ve been able to do on the plants.

One of my regular volunteers last year would always tell me that the garden helped her clear her head after work. I couldn’t claim credit there either, as I was usually focused on whatever I needed her help with. This has all gotten me thinking about the therapeutic nature of gardens, how to go about creating them, and where humans fit in. The plants can’t plant themselves, but once in the right place, with the right care, they can provide support and healing, without me even telling them to. They just do, reaching out like a great piece of music that soothes the soul-to everyone. Just like in music, they work off each other, joining with one another in harmony to create a stronger sense of peace and healing. I’ve said this before, but there is a greater intelligence at work in the gardens, one that doesn’t require me to turn it on every time someone walks into the garden that needs healing or peace. It’s very gentle, and you won’t find it in every garden. Watching the gardens help people like that makes me want to become a better garden caregiver, as it is undeniable that these gardens are themselves providing care for the caregiver.