The Advent of Garden Therapy
By Laurie Charpentier, CEC
Our ancient ancestors knew that the body, mind and spirit were interconnected. They relied on nature, especially herbs and other plants, as well as prayer and connecting to intention, the power of the mind, to heal the sick. As we approached the advent of modern Western medicine, doctors began to dissect the body – literally and figuratively. No longer was the focus on the body, mind, spirit connection. Instead, doctors specialized. One doctor focused on psychiatry, another on the immune system, another on dentistry, another still on neurology, and on and on, until no one was looking at the whole person anymore. And the soul? That was relegated to the concern of religious leaders.
In recent history, the tide began to turn, ever so slightly. Chiropractic medicine and Acupuncture, once considered "outer fringe", eventually mainstreamed into allopathic medicine. This trend continues today with the practice of Reiki, therapeutic massage and Reflexology becoming more widely accepted and used in what’s been termed “integrative medicine” models. Another therapy that has emerged is Horticultural Therapy - the use of plants and gardening activities to help individuals reach certain therapeutic goals. It has enjoyed widespread use and attention in clinical settings such as nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitative centers as well as prisons, youth centers and group homes for the intellectually and emotionally challenged. Its applications are far-reaching, from physical and vocational rehabilitation to socialization, cognition improvement and mood stabilization.
The path I chose to follow (well, it really chose me), led me to develop “Garden Therapy” which is based on the principals of Horticultural Therapy, but transplants (pun intended) those principals from a clinical setting to a more accessible setting (like your backyard) for everyone’s benefit. The ancients knew this secret. They knew about the every day benefits of using herbs in cooking and healing. They knew just being in and around gardens can literally lower blood pressure, alleviate depression and decrease physical pain. They knew it was the perfect place to connect with spirit. If you’ve ever plucked basil from its stem and held it to your nose or rubbed a tomato vine and then inhaled its earthy aroma on your hands, you know the secret I’m referring to. It’s the secret of enjoying Heaven on Earth. It means celebrating the miracles of everyday life and of finding the Divine in the smallest seed or grain of sand. More importantly, it is the act of recognizing your Self in that aspect of the Divine – in that smallest seed and in that grain of sand. It is the ability to see the tree inside the acorn – the potential held inside of you.
The cornerstone of Garden Therapy is intention. Anyone who has ever taken one of my classes knows this by heart because I drill it into them. Intention, intention, intention! What do you hope to get out of your garden space? Do you want to make it a Sacred Garden? A Healing Garden? A Memorial Garden? What sets those different types of gardens apart? Sure, you may choose specific plants because you’re interested in traditional plant meanings and their symbolism, etc., but mostly it will be the intention you bring to your garden, and thus, the intention you bring to your own journey.
Some of you may be thinking, “But I have whatever the complete opposite of a Green Thumb is – I can’t keep anything alive!” It’s OK, you can still benefit from Garden Therapy. It’s not just about gardening, per se. It’s also about making yourself whole, through various means. Garden Therapy is a tool that’s used to help clients express their current condition and their ideal condition. It helps them to recognize their potential and how to cultivate it. It helps them to pave a path from one place to the other. This path may include gardening, writing, releasing ceremonies, journaling or dialoging and any other number of creative therapeutic measures. Garden Therapy gets people in touch with their true self – their whole, defragmented, Divine Self. Garden Therapy seeks to identify and grow the acorn of potential in ALL of us.