January 23, 2018

Anne Wiesen: The Restorative Garden, Healing by Beauty


The restorative garden can be as simple as a well-situated pot of healthy sage at a window-sill or as sublime as a cathedral forest. It’s how we respond to a garden that makes it restorative. Are there gardens that are universally restorative? Gardens that evoke a healing response in each and every one of us? I believe so.

I’ve learned that the most restorative of gardens are those that embody “nothing less than the entire universe” – to borrow from Luis Barrigan. To me this means, the whole universe of human experience is present: from the basic requirements for our biological survival to the complex processes that reveal the breadth of human emotion, thought and spirit.

The well-situated pot of sage sits in my friend Susanna’s* window. This restorative garden is spare, simple, provocative and beautiful. Just sage, in a large urban front window. It’s there for anyone walking by to appreciate. Susanna’s cultivation and placement of sage gives me pause, draws my gaze, stimulates my thought, and elicits quiet experiences of wellness and marvel. Noticing the darkened soil of the freshly watered plant I feel a curious satisfaction, and completion. Freely circulating air above and around the living sage reminds me to breathe in it’s oxygen and I feel gratitude for my ability to do so. I realize my attention on the garden has shifted my mode of thinking. It’s not that I am momentarily distracted from my busy life. Instead, I have momentarily returned to what is essential for human life: the plant world, all the bio-chemical processes that support it, and the care of a thoughtful steward to transform these processes into nourishment and care. No wonder then, that a single well-cared for plant carries a universe that we experience as beautiful.

Gardens that reveal the nourishing forces of nature re-enforce our experience of beauty and wellness at multiple levels, with myriad benefits. At our simplest, in our common humanity, and consciously or not, we are all evolutionarily prepared to be nourished by a restorative garden.

* Susanna is a restorative artist, therapist and interfaith minister (2010). Her practice, Creating Space, is to reveal nature’s essential potency and beauty and to help us reveal the same in our selves.

Anne Wiesen is an ethnobotanist and garden advocate who runs the NYC based non-profit, Meristem. Meristem provides educational resources for architects, designers, urban planners, and community activists to create restorative gardens that promote ecological, individual and community health.

Order your copy of: Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-being Through Urban Landscapes. Published by the US Forest Service, the volume is multidisciplinary compendium of 19 authors inspired by the Meristem 2007 Forum with a foreword by Dr. Oliver Sacks. No charge.

Meristem, Inc. Information about restorative gardens, including a database of studies supporting nature’s role in human health, and to contact the author.

It has been a pleasure to have Anne Weisen bring her appreciation of nature and her commitment to our having it always present to this blog; thank-you.

Konrad Kaletsch
Universal Design Resource
Universal Design Network at Facebook and LinkedIn