1. Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief

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I was introduced to the garden as a healing place when I was 10 years old. One of the family rituals was the Saturday afternoon ride. The Friends Hospital azalea garden in Philadelphia was usually the destination in May and June. I recall walking down the lush paths among the outbursts of pink, fuchsia, white, and lavender blooms. My mother once mentioned that the gardens were there for the patients who were experiencing mental illness. Although, at the time, I did not make the connection between the garden and its therapeutic value, I later learned as a graduate student in psychiatric nursing the power of a garden to heal.

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I spent one of my clinical practica in psychiatric nursing working at a psychiatric rehabilitation center with patients who had been deinstitutionalized after years of living in the local state psychiatric hospital. My objective was to learn to work with a group of patients therapeutically. Most of the patients at the center were not very verbal, not good candidates for "talking" group therapy. Serendipitously, I discovered a large plot of unplanted ground in the yard and asked the Director permission to plant a garden with my 8 patients. The first step was planning the garden: vegetables or flowers? The group chose vegetables with an eye to harvesting the bounty. I found someone to donate seeds and plants: radishes, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, squash, and a few pumpkin plants. Every week in the spring, we planted, watered, loosened the soil, weeded the rows, and watched our garden grow. Everyone had specific responsibilities. Everyone felt a sense of ownership and pride. By the time my practicum had officially ended, the patients were enjoying the garden's bounty. There was even enough for take-home packages. I returned in the fall for a brief visit, in time to see the pumpkins we had planted carved out in celebration of Halloween. The "garden group," as we were called, had a very special and lasting connection. In my long career as a psychiatric nurse, growing the garden with the group remains one of my most powerful therapeutic experiences.


Gardening as a therapeutic activity is having a resurgence as part of the modern holistic health movement. Therapeutic gardens are especially helpful for children dealing with a variety of disabilities, for the elderly experiencing chronic physical problems or mental problems such as dementia, and for those experiencing mental illness. Gardens are increasingly viewed as centers for health promotion where stress is replaced with peace. The American Horticultural Therapy Association ( defines the parameters of horticultural therapy and describes research and educational programs that are advancing its use.


For me the garden is a place of refuge, a place to amend the soil, plant for future growth, rearrange and redesign, appreciate the seasons of life, and weed out the problems. My garden is orderly and private, a safe and quiet haven from the chaos of life. Plant a garden, even if only in a container, and experience its power to change your perspective.


Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN