Interacting with plants is a powerful method for re-awakening and stimulating our senses, through fragrance, colour, texture, taste, and sound, says horticulture therapist Elizabeth Messer Diehl.
This is something I've been watching as my son grows and interacts with our home garden. At first, he was interested only in digging in the soil, perhaps feeling the plants' leaves, or bending over to smell a flower.
By about 18 months, he also began to make connections between the zucchinis, pumpkins, and snap peas growing in our garden and the food he ate. He would climb into the raised bed to pick the few end-of-season peas, which he would then bring to me or my husband (or grandma) for help with eating. And this past summer, the first thing he'd offer to visiting playmates was a bite of dill. Actually, I'm pretty sure that every plant in my garden had a bite or two taken out of it!
But now for more on the research...
The power of scent
Landscape designer C. Colston Burrell suggests that scent is perhaps the most powerful aspect in a garden. While fragrances’ effects on human beings are not fully understood, they are known to have psychological, physiological, and neurological benefits, and even to change hormone production and brain chemistry (recall my previous post about getting high in the forest!). In fact, this is the premise behind aromatherapy as part of alternative or complimentary medicine practices.
Some scientists believe that the capacity of fragrances to affect us derives from the way that our nasal passage is directly connected to our brain’s centre for emotions and memory. Even at undetectable levels, odours have been found to influence the central nervous system.
In their research on cut flower arrangements and lavender fragrance, for example, Liu, Kim and Mattson found that sight and smell played important roles in reducing stress and producing positive emotional responses in college students.
In addition, Elizabeth Messer Diehl reflects on the power of particular scents to “stimulate bodily organs to release neurochemicals that help eliminate pain, induce sleep, and create a sense of well-being” (p. 170). Remember, too, my post about how healing gardens are helping victim of torture and their caregivers.
The bottom line
The ways that a garden can completely engage our human experience has physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits.
As we embrace this experience in the garden, it becomes possible to connect even more deeply to our surrounding -- thus further enhancing and bringing forth the healing properties of nature in our lives.
Burrell, C. Colston. (2000). Plants with power: The good scents and benefits of using plants. Landscape Architecture, 90(1), 18-19.
Liu, Mingwang, Kim, Eunhee, and Mattson, Richard. (2003). Physiological and emotional influences of cut flower arrangements and lavender fragrance on university students. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, 14, 18-27.
Messer Diehl, Elizabeth R. (2009). Gardens that heal. In L. Buzzell and C. Chalquist (Eds). Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind (pp. 166-173). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.