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The healing power of well-inhabited gardens


Last week I went to visit my mother. She lives at Nazareth House, a place which provides care for the elderly (and occasionally the not so old). My mother is an artist. In spite of increased physical constraints and discomfort, she continues to draw and paint. She had asked if I could get her a black pencil. I’d bought her two.

When I arrived the main door was wide open and I went directly to my mother’s room. She wasn’t there. I heard voices down the corridor and went to investigate. As I got closer I realized people were playing Housie, a game that involves a soft form of gambling, similar to Bingo, and quietly came away. I knew my mother hadn’t developed a taste for this popular New Zealand game and so wouldn’t be there.

I decided to settle for leaving the pencils in her room where she could see them, and to go without making contact. However, as I was unlocking my bike, ready to leave, I noted a movement in the garden opposite. I then saw the familiar outline of my mother, bent over and pushing a walking frame. Pushing my bike, I followed the path into the garden and found her sitting comfortably on a wooden seat under some trees in the garden.

I sat beside her. After a short while she bent forward and reached with a very shaky hand, towards the wheel of the walking frame. I couldn’t see what she was reaching for, except maybe to capture the flickering shadow?

Very gently and competently she picked something up and put it on the towel beside us.

It was a cicada. I hadn’t seen it. I was surprised.

I continued to sit and without realizing it, became absorbed in the life of the garden: the monarch butterflies, the sparrows, the bees, the falling leaves and the cicada clumsily walking and falling over and landing helpless, upside down, before getting back on its feet and struggling on.

Before long, it was time to go, me to return home and my mother to join the others for afternoon tea. I looked for the cicada. It had left. We had stopped noticing. My mother thanked me for coming. I thanked her for the special time, for this wonderful moment in time. I’d arrived feeling tired and stressed and left feeling soothed and restored.

I was reminded of the uplifting effect of sitting in this garden when I read a Blog in the What We See website, about the research of Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, on the healing benefits of access to gardens, to nature, in health care settings. See Healing Gardens in Hospitals

I realize land is becoming increasingly expensive; however I hope more people will see the benefits of the healing power of gardens and parks. I feel very thankful Nazareth House has such a place, for the sake of people such as my mother and the cicadas and many other inhabitants.

Your comments, links to other projects (gardens and pocket parks), and Blogs very welcome.

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