Gardening for Health
How Nature Works Its Charms continued...
There are other benefits to being in nature as well, including
exercise, exposure to vitamin D from sunshine, and the capacity of light to
counter seasonal depression. And for people in restricted environments or with
chronic conditions, the payoffs may even be greater, says Richard Zeisel,
president of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care in Lexington, Mass., a company that
manages living-treatment residences for people with Alzheimer's disease.
"You can either upset people and then give them drugs to relax them, or you
can not upset them in the first place."
Hearthstone's approach, in which gardens are an integral part
of the residences, dramatically decreases anxiety, agitation, aggression, and
social withdrawal among patients, and thus the need for antipsychotic drugs.
"It's a practical question: would we rather spend money on drugs, or would
we rather spend money on flowers?" Zeisel says.
Nature, the Do-It-Yourself Way
Even seniors whose environments do not include attractive views
or actual gardens can get close to nature, says Teresa Hazan, a horticultural
therapist at Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore., which provides therapy for
patients at local hospitals.
She recommends that senior residences set up outdoor gardens,
accessible to all. Three to five large clay pots are enough: one for favorite
herbs, one for a shrub or tree, another for flowers or vegetables. A plant in
anyone's room can also be healing, she says. When you become dependent on
others and have less control over your life, says Hazan, it's very restorative
to have something that's dependent on you.
Two Women's Success Stories
A single amaryllis bulb drew Jo Clayton, a science fiction and
fantasy writer and author of 35 novels, out of depression when she was
struggling with bone cancer, Hazan says. "We spoke about the power of the
amaryllis bulb," says Hazan, "and I compared it to the power in
her." Clayton, who had never gone outdoors much, began spending time in
nature, painting landscapes and resolving issues with family members before her
In O. Henry's short story "The Last Leaf," a young
Greenwich Village artist is sustained through pneumonia by looking out her
window at an ivy vine. The view is a painted one, though the heroine doesn't
know this, and it gives her the strength to recover.