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How Gardens Help You Heal

    Humans are hardwired to seek solace in nature. Our ancestors looked for trickling streams to quench their thirst, shaded alcoves for protection from predators and lush greenery for foraging.

    The comfort we derive from these spaces goes beyond aesthetics; it can actually improve our physical health. And you need only look at the increasingly popular hospital garden for proof.

    Splash Supply Company is proud to have built and designed the healing Reflection Garden at the main entrance of UPMC Memorial Hospital in West Manchester Township. This space, which includes a meandering koi pond, huge waterfalls and bubbling fountains, provides a place of comfort for patients and visitors.

    These kinds of healing gardens are growing in popularity across the world as researchers confirm what common sense already tells us: Reconnecting with nature makes us happier and healthier.

    Planting Seeds for Calming and Healing

    Would you rather look at a parking lot or a flowing stream? Most people are going to pick the stream – and there’s good reason for that.

    Verdant trees, bright flowers and other natural elements relieve stress. Water specifically triggers a scientifically measurable sense of ease in most people, according to some studies. It might have something to do with the sound of running water – which drowns out the noise of traffic and barking dogs – or it might be the way our focus softens when we look at something as visually simple as water trickling through a stream.

    It doesn’t take a doctor to figure out that people heal better in calm environments – but if you do need proof, just check out some of the research cited in this 2012 article on hospital gardens by Scientific American. Their findings include evidence that

    • Heart surgery patients who look at nature photography experience less anxiety and need fewer pain medications than those who look at a blank wall or an abstract painting.
    • People feel less anger and pain after looking at greenery and water for just three to five minutes.
    • Hospital patients and visitors who go outdoors seeking comfort favor tree-lined views and fountains and flowers over those of plain paved areas.

    “Spending time interacting with nature in a well-designed garden won’t cure your cancer or heal a badly burned leg,” one landscape architecture professor told Scientific American. “But there is good evidence it can reduce your levels of pain and stress—and, by doing that, boost your immune system in ways that allow your own body and other treatments to help you heal.”

    Hospital Gardens Growing in Popularity

    The link between gardens and stress relief, and between stress relief and healing, make green spaces a natural fit for hospital settings. It’s an idea that far predates modern medicine – but one that wasn’t always en vogue with modern architects.

    The concept of the healing garden goes as far back as early monasteries, which often featured central courtyards filled with medicinal herbs and other plants. In the 19th century, founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale furthered the concept of the hospital garden by urging doctors to expose their patients to as much outdoor scenery and fresh air as possible.

    “People say the effect is only on the mind,” she once wrote of her patients’ reactions to outdoor gardens. “It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too.”

    Gardens fell out of favor among hospital designers for part of the 20th century as community leaders tried to cut costs and increase space for amenities like parking and specialty units. That trend, though, has reversed in recent years, and the concept of the hospital garden has once again found fertile soil in the minds of modern hospital architects.

    Most new hospitals feature some type of nature-inspired courtyard or garden, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Center for Health Design now identifies access to nature as a major contributor to patient and staff happiness.

    Our goal here at Splash over the past 30 years has been simple: Help people relax and reconnect with nature. We can’t wait to continue fulfilling this mission at the new UPMC Pinnacle hospital, as well as in backyards throughout the region.

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