University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Garden Design to Reduce Stress                           OH 82
Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor

It's no surprise that in these times of uncertainty in the world, more work, and less time it seems for personal and family pleasures, that a new trend of home garden design to provide stress relief has begun to emerge in Europe.  In the Netherlands it has been termed "geo-sense" gardening, with the emphasis mainly on proper use of colors.

The trend of designing home gardens with specific, relaxing qualities in mind may be a new trend, but it has much deeper roots as seen in the ancient gardens of Egypt, Persia, and China.  The wealthy merchants or nobility of these ancient civilizations went to great lengths and expense to bring nature into their own "urban" environments. Later, this could be seen in European parks, at palaces, and country estates in England.

The importance of nature to humans, their mental health, and ability to focus, can be seen in the famous parks of Olmsted, such as Central Park in New York City.  It can be seen in the writings of the famous Henry Thoreau.  This need of humans for nature has been written of more recently by scientists, is part of the field of environmental psychology, is believed by some to be genetically based, and has been termed "biophilia."

Horticulture Therapy is a relatively recent field of study that primarily focuses on the effects of the process of gardening on rehabilitation, providing both a sense of control and a distraction from worries, pain, and stresses. One of the first studies in this field, and more recent ones, have shown that merely viewing or experiencing natural or pleasing landscapes can be beneficial.

Gardens to reduce stress may include zen principles such as simplicity (Kanso), austerity (koko), or naturalness (Shizen).  While zen gardens have come to refer to raked gardens of sand, these stress-reducing gardens are much different.  They are often similar to any other woodland or flower garden, only emphasizing certain design principles or colors.

Gardens designed for serenity, to help reduce stress just by viewing and experiencing them, may incorporate one or more of the following ideas:

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Prepared  1/05