Plants Possess Healing Power



Plant World

Plants Possess Healing Power

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing 



Science has confirmed what we have known since ancient times - that gardens are places of healing. Plants have the power to calm, heal, and inspire. Horticultural therapists explore how interacting with green plants is good for the body and soul. Horticultural Therapy is not new - it has had a long history dating as far back as 2000 BC in Mesopotamia.

Nature enlivens the perception of life all around you. It gives you meaning and hope – the sky is bluer, the grass seems greener, and the flowers are brighter than ever before.

Horticultural therapy combines social services, education, and gardening to improve the lives of people with physical and mental health problems. Therapists engage patients in gardening and plant-based activities to help them reach therapeutic and vocational goals. They work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, schools, community gardens, retirement centers, and correctional facilities.


Opening a path to the soul

Potting soil, fresh from the bag, dark brown, fragrant - it's an invitation that no one can resist. Reach in, dip your hands, feel the lumps of soil and crumble them between your fingers. Soak in the scent. It's a pleasure, a micro-excursion for the senses. Gardening is a bit of work, but anyone can do it. Watching flower bulbs open or just pulling weeds can reach deep into your soul.

Those who have forgotten almost everything needed for life will respond to the soil, the greenery, flowers, vegetables, and fruits – the beauty of nature – found in a garden. Patients who can no longer walk, stand, or speak, can visit a garden or park and feel the healing benefits immediately. Well-being is enhanced whether through active or passive involvement.

Some patients have problems planning, remembering, and processing impressions in meaningful ways. A garden can be calming and even reveal to the patient what they are missing. Those who have a deep distrust of anything that looks like "therapy" will find healing without being fully aware of it. Therapists can lead sensitive patients to a greenhouse entrance, and what needs to take place will happen naturally without saying a word. Pouring earth over their seeds, any novice gardener can begin this healing journey.



Caring for delicate plants is intuitive and inborn

Plants belong to the earth. What is green has to go up, and roots have to grow down into the soil. What's great about gardening is that you don't have to explain what is essential. And you can immediately see how the process of growing plants works.

Take a patient, sitting in her room all morning, silent and lost in herself, to a greenhouse, and within moments she will be laying out seedlings with deliberate and concentrated movements. An ailing old man might carefully and conscientiously pluck dead leaves from geraniums. And another who crossed her arms defensively as she entered the greenhouse is now potting lavender at a speed that amazes.

What "garden therapy" actually is, what triggers the love of working with plants in a person's head - that is not that easy to know. Therapists who use the healing properties of gardens are characterized by a peculiar combination of eagerness and thoughtfulness.

If a patient can suddenly speak or move better, you simply cannot know whether they have just learned that while potting sunflowers. Gardening is always just one component of a comprehensive treatment plan. Gardeners radiate infectious enthusiasm working in the soil as only someone who experiences the plant world's magical effect can.



Gardening helps identify a patient's difficulties

No garden has the same effect on every person, no matter how well thought out and planted. Gardening activities are soothing, but they often have the unexpected result of making inner turbulence visible.

Garden therapy reveals this often in and around working with plants. Some patients automatically push all pots to the left when planting because they have lost the feeling for the right half of their body. Others regularly fill planting pots with too much soil because they cannot finish actions once they have begun. Others stand perplexed in front of the pot and the earth because they suffer from apraxia, the inability to organize movements in a meaningful way. These severe disturbances are noticed in the nursery garden and diagnosed in "normal" everyday clinical practice. But other injuries are more hidden and complex. What can bring hidden issues to light for the first time are these interactions with gardening. Because discovery is not part of the clinical setting but in an open horticultural space with its own laws and rules.


Plant world provides relief for the psyche

Cultivating our knowledge of the natural world through plants, gardening, and spending extended lengths of time around them has many benefits. These activities tend to help a person create better relationships with others and increase feelings of compassion in people.

Mentally ill patients, even those who have had long-term treatments, make amazing discoveries by working in the garden. There are excellent programs that offer care and rehabilitation. Program activities can occur in the greenhouse, workshops, in a farm shop, and hands-on in a garden.

There are programs run according to anthroposophical principles, which is a spiritual movement developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925), an Austrian philosopher and social reformer. 

Anthroposophical principles are based on the idea that a person’s moral, spiritual, and creative sides need as much attention as their intellect – to develop the whole person. This is done through nurturing the life of the soul both in the individual and in human society. Gardening and garden therapy are excellent ways to connect to the spiritual world.



Being around plants and taking them in through your senses – just looking at them - helps people feel calm and relaxed. By decreasing levels of anxiety, plants can help a person feel more secure. Interacting with plants increases attentiveness and memory. Whether at home or work, being around plants helps improve memory and attention span and increases concentration.

Parks or botanical gardens in a community have many direct benefits to local residents. Flowers and ornamental plants increase levels of positive energy. Your performance levels improve, and this impacts your state of mind. Gardens and parks offer recreation to residents, patients, and travelers. Healthy people are happier people, and those who use gardening or park experiences to exercise often have excellent overall health and a more positive mental outlook.




© 2021 Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing. All rights reserved.


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