How Landscaping and Gardening Can Boost Mental Health and Wellness

Pat Lincke works in the gardens at Friendship Village in Dublin. The elevated gardens are assigned to residents who plant and tend the plots.

Andy Howland and his landscape team at Friendship Village of Dublin planted 10,000 annuals in May 2020 when COVID-19 kept residents isolated. As director of enhancements and landscape, Howland knew the plants would boost mental health, quicken patient recovery and enhance their social connections.

“The pandemic brought on a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and decreased social interaction, so we went all out with plants,” says Howland. “Getting outside and experiencing the spring of 2020 became a breath of fresh air for our community and their visitors.”

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Since starting at the retirement community in 2014 during a massive building expansion, Howland has been a firsthand witness to plants’ transformative power. Once considered a luxury, green spaces have gained more importance over the past four decades. In 1984, Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson wrote a landmark book, “Biophilia,” in which he argued our natural affinity for other forms of life in nature is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living species.

Jane Cunningham finds a quiet place to read in the gardens at Friendship Village.

Karen McCoy, landscape architect and principal at MKSK, confirms the increasing role nature is playing, specifically in health care design. In the 1980s, McCoy was working at Karlsberger Cos., a former regional architecture firm focused primarily on health care development.

“At the time, some interesting research showed the value of biophilic design in health care recovery,” says McCoy. The pioneering study by Roger Ulrich compared groups of post-surgery patients that viewed natural scenes versus urban walls. The patients with the natural views recovered faster and needed less pain medication. More studies supported the value of nature, not only for the patient but also their entire family and even hospital staff. As these studies recorded outcomes, an evidence-based design approach emerged and still drives design today.

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