Research and Design Guidelines
There have been several explanations on the restorative benefits of nature by scientists. Three widely accepted theories are:
The term biophilia was first coined by social psychologist Erich Fromm and defined as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive”. The biophilia hypothesis states that people have an innate emotional affiliation to nature and other living beings and hence, derive benefits from contact with nature.
Attention Restoration Theory
A person has several states of attention including directed attention and effortless attention. Directed attention requires effort and is used when concentrating on specific tasks, such as working on the computer. This requires voluntary effort and prolonged usage will lead to directed attention fatigue, resulting in ineffectiveness and human error.
According to the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), restoration of directed attention fatigue can be derived from the use of effortless attention when a person is in a natural environment. Based on ART, gardens provide an opportunity for people to rest since they do not have to exercise directed attention. They do not have to consciously exert effort to pay attention to their surroundings and this is termed as “effortless” attention. As this state of attention is effortless, it provides an opportunity for us to rest from a state of directed attention.
Stress Reduction Theory
The stress reduction theory states that contact with nature has been shown to reduce stress. People who are sick or caring for the sick tend to experience stress. Hence, green spaces have beneficial effects on patients and care givers through the reduction of stress.
Parks has collaborated with the National University Health System Department of Psychological Medicine on a research programme to explore further into therapeutic horticulture research topics.
Recently, the team investigated the effects of therapeutic horticulture on the mental health of the elderly. Participants of the therapeutic horticulture intervention had an overall improvement in psychological well-being. In particular, their “positive relations with others” score improved significantly. This aspect of psychological well-being is important in ensuring good mental health among older people. Similarly, the results from the assessment of biological markers are also positive, suggesting that therapeutic horticulture may reduce inflammatory disorders and depression, and protect neuronal functions in the elderly. The results from the research are being translated into the design of therapeutic gardens.
Find out more about the research paper which has been published.
Design Features of Therapeutic Gardens
The design features of a therapeutic garden include the use of plants to evoke the senses, ignite memories and bring about mental well-being; and universal design for accessibility and other user centric amenities.
The gardens offer physical and emotional comfort, providing choices of both serene restorative spaces with an immersive ambience amidst nature, as well as invigorating active spaces with facilities for therapeutic horticulture programmes. Plants that elicit a calming effect are selected for the restorative spaces, whilst those in the active spaces come in warm bright colours to energise the users.
Find out more about the design guidelines for therapeutic gardens.