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What Therapeutic Garden Do You Admire?


In Your Words
What Therapeutic Garden Do You Admire?

Compiled by Kun Hyang Lee, HTR and Patty Cassidy, HTR
Contributors: Jack Carman, Leah Diehl, Hoichi Kurisu, Susan Rodiek, Connie Roy Fisher
Reprint permission has been given by the American Horticultural Therapy Association

A therapeutic garden is a space that provides a profusion of plants and design elements intended to improve the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual well-being of the garden users. How these gardens are designed and used is open to interpretation, although therapeutic garden characteristics were developed by the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA, 1995). Several leaders in the field of therapeutic garden design were asked what therapeutic garden they admired.

Susan Rodiek, Ph.D., NCARB, EDAC
Fellow, Center for Health Systems & Design, Associate Professor in Architecture, Texas A&M University

Warrior and Family Support Center Healing Garden
I recently discovered an exceptional therapeutic garden near San Antonio, Texas, at the Brooke Army Medical Center, “Warriors and Families Support Center” (designed by Quatrefoil, Portland, OR). What surprised me most was the mixture of native and conventional plant materials in soft, natural groupings to create a rich variety of multi-layered effects — sometimes appearing cultivated, and sometimes feeling like wild nature. This created a fascinating experience that changed at every vantage point along the walkways, revealing a wide array of flowers, fruits (wild and cultivated), butterflies, birds and bird nests. The garden also used an innovative combination of trees, shrubs, tall flowers, hanging vines, and trellises to create semi-transparent screening between outdoor sitting areas and nearby walkways, allowing them to be closely spaced in a relatively small area. The dedicated “healing garden” was surrounded by fitness trails and exercise stations set in the native landscape, with occasional small open pavilions having comfortable cushioned seating, ceiling fans, and lighting. The final surprise was a separate therapeutic “combat zone” — a large mound of rough ground studded with cacti, yucca, and gravel trails, where rehabilitating veterans could practice stealth exercises and re-experience landscape conditions similar to where they had been wounded. The garden was funded by Returning Heroes Home. Photo: B. Yang

Jack Carman, FASLA, RLA
Designer of therapeutic gardens and landscapes – nationwide

The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden

The role of public gardens as sanctuaries where individuals can restore themselves both mentally and physically is becoming increasingly important. The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden, an 11,000 square foot garden, is just such a setting. It is located on the east side of the National Museum of Natural History at 9th Street between Constitution Avenue and the National Mall in Washington, DC. The garden is comprised of plants that support the life cycles of eastern United States butterflies.

This garden is significant in many ways. While it has been designed to attract butterflies, it is also an educational opportunity for people, young and old, to learn more about butterflies. Just as important, the garden offers respite for countless office workers and tourists who just need a breath of nature. As Roger Ulrich has stated, “nature is a positive distraction” and this garden is a sanctuary in a busy urban environment. This garden is a wonderful example of how gardens can be used in public settings for restoration and respite. Photo: J. Carman

Connie Roy-Fisher, RLA, ASLA, LEED AP
Designer of over 14 healing gardens including the Jacqueline Fiske Garden of Hope, Fl.

Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center Garden

These two concrete planters for tomatoes, built by the Boy Scouts, have always inspired me. From these two planters, Alee Karpf, HTR, CTRS built amazing programs that have benefited many veterans. They have become centers of pride and places to socialize, have encouraged plant sales to build awnings and buy garden features, and inspired grants for greenhouses where plants are grown and taken to those who can’t venture outside. If you visit on the right day, you can experience the amazing fragrances produced from cooking basil and tomato sauce, humanizing an instutional facility that many now call home. Photo: C. Roy Fisher

Elizabeth R. M. Diehl, RLA, HTM
Her most recently designed therapeutic garden – Gainesville VA Domiciliary Honor Center Gardens

The Howard Ulfelder, MD Healing Garden

The garden I would like to suggest is the Howard Ulfelder Healing Garden at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care in Boston. It was built in 2005 and designed by the partnership of Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. (architects) and Halvorson Design Partnership, Inc. (landscape architects).

This is a beautiful garden that is expansive in terms of its view because of its location on an eighth floor rooftop, but it also has an intimate feeling because, at 6300 sf, the garden itself is not very large. The plantings and teak and granite furnishings are natural and beautiful, and along with the trees and small reflecting pool, create a calm and serene environment. Because of its rooftop location the views are stunning and include the Charles River and daily sunsets. One of the things I find most powerful about this space is that its location and setting create a strong sense of prospect and refuge – two very important aspects in healing design. The setting also conveys the strength and beauty of nature, of which we, as humans, are one important but small part. I think that feeling – that we are part of something larger than ourselves – can be a comforting experience in stressful times.

Hoichi Kurisu, ASLA
Landscape designer specializing in healing and Japanese garden designs

Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital Healing Garden

Therapeutic gardens as a term is often overused. As far as I am concerned, a therapeutic garden does not yet truly exist. I believe a therapeutic garden has to contribute to human beings in such a way as to elevate your mind and to make it so you forget yourself and your past, and realize at that moment your oneness with nature. This takes balance, composure, and textures on top of the five senses. In other words, the element that affects the inner sense is not physical, it has to be mental. From our work, the healing garden at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in Lebanon, Oregon is the closest to serving this purpose, and even that is not 100% a therapeutic garden.


  • American Horticultural Therapy Association (1995). Therapeutic Gardens Characteristics. Retrieved December 12, 2012 from
  • Kun Hyang Lee, HTR (AHTA) and HTM from Asia Pacific Association of Therapeutic Horticulture, develops therapeutic horticulture programs and works with different populations in South Korea. She finished her HT internship at Legacy Health in Portland, Oregon.
  • Patty Cassidy, MA, HTR is on the national AHTA board of directors and practices therapeutic horticulture with seniors in Portland, Oregon.

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