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Designing Specialized Healing Gardens for “Behavioral Health” Centers

The characteristics and functions of a typical healing or therapeutic garden are becoming more widely documented, yet those for specialized healing environments within the hospital setting remain relatively unknown. We at MacDonald Environmental Planning are very excited to be working on three separate hospital projects with a “behavioral health” garden component, and adding to the dialogue on creating healing garden environments for these distinctive users in the months to come.
A well designed garden contributes substantially to the overall perception of health and wellness within any healing environment. A profusion of plants and plant/people interactions, defined seating areas and garden perimeters, easily readable pathways, and understandable wayfinding all work together to form gardens which provide a sense of security, serenity and safety for patients, family and staff alike.

When designing for the emotionally vulnerable and/ or cognitively impaired, security and safety become primary. Insure that gardens are indeed secure through physical enclosures such as high walls and plantings that are not scalable. Remove any potential weapons by securing furniture to paving, and using solid concrete rather than pavers or stone which could be dislodged and thrown. As in any healing environment, avoid any and all poisonous plants.

In this challenging economy, hospital administrators are facing strong pressures to become more patient- oriented and improve patient healthcare experiences. A number of studies have demonstrated the healing effects of nature to patients, families and staff in highly stressful situations. Additionally, it is being shown that creating gardens is an effective means for hospitals to achieve more positive market identities. As evidence-based design becomes the standard in hospital design, so too is the inclusion of healing or therapeutic gardens.