History of Gardens in Hospital: A Comprehensive History

In the bustling world of modern healthcare, where advanced technologies and cutting-edge treatments dominate the landscape, it is easy to overlook the profound impact that nature can have on the healing process. Hospital gardens, once a staple of medical institutions throughout history, are making a remarkable resurgence in recent times. As research continues to uncover the therapeutic benefits of green spaces, these gardens are not only rekindling a historical tradition but also transforming patient care and reducing healthcare costs. 

In this article, we will delve into the rich history of gardens in hospitals, explore the significance of green spaces in various settings, and shed light on the data that supports their resurgence and positive effects on patient well-being and recovery.

A Historical Journey

The concept of healing gardens dates back to ancient civilizations, where the connection between nature and well-being was deeply ingrained. In medieval monasteries, for instance, gardens were cultivated for both nourishment and solace, fostering an environment conducive to physical and spiritual healing. By the 18th century, hospital gardens had become integral components of European medical institutions, providing patients with fresh air, sunlight, and a serene atmosphere to aid them in their recovery.

These gardens were more than just patches of greenery; they were designed with meticulous attention to detail, incorporating elements of symbolism and functionality. The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey in London, established in the 12th century, featured medicinal plants carefully selected for their therapeutic properties. Similarly, the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris boasted ornate gardens with fountains and sculptures, providing patients with a tranquil space for contemplation and rejuvenation.

However, as healthcare evolved and urbanization intensified, the focus on nature within medical settings gradually waned. The mid-20th century witnessed a shift towards sterile and clinical environments, leaving little room for green spaces.

For example, I was hospitalized for about 3 months during COVID. This was an incredibly difficult time for me, as I had ZERO access to fresh air or green space. I wanted nothing more than to ground my feet in the lush grass outside the hospital, but instead, I was forced to exist in a 30-yard hallway illuminated by fluorescent lights. It is my belief that if I had had access to natural light, the outdoor breeze, or the plants surrounding me, I would have been able to recover and regain my health incredibly faster. 

Fortunately, the recognition of the psychological and physiological benefits of nature has led to a revival of interest in hospital gardens, ushering in a new era of holistic healthcare.

Green Spaces and Well-Being

The resurgence of hospital gardens aligns with a broader movement that recognizes the importance of green spaces in various settings, including workplaces and educational institutions. Research consistently shows that exposure to nature can reduce stress, improve mood, enhance cognitive function, boost creativity, and promote overall well-being. In workplaces and schools, incorporating greenery and outdoor spaces has been linked to increased productivity, solo thinking, and a greater sense of satisfaction among employees and students.

Biophilia, a term coined by biologist E.O. Wilson, describes the inherent human tendency to seek connections with nature. This concept underscores the deep-rooted relationship between humans and the natural world, which has a profound impact on mental and physical health. Hospital gardens serve as therapeutic sanctuaries that cater to this innate desire for nature, offering patients an escape from the clinical environment and fostering a sense of hope and positivity. There is a new term getting a lot of attention today, Urgent Biophilia. Urgent Biophilia describes the conscious desire of humans to seek interactions with nature during periods of stress. In Greening the Red Zone, the socio-ecologist Keith Tidball illustrates how “people would engage in the simple act of gardening to ease trauma and aid in the process of mental health recovery.” In 2021, K. Tidball proposed the concept of Urgent Biophilia to describe nature’s role in human resilience.

Hospital Gardens as Catalysts for Healing

The reintegration of gardens into hospital settings capitalizes on the remarkable benefits that nature offers to patients. In recent years, numerous studies have illuminated the positive impact of hospital gardens on patient outcomes. These green spaces create an environment that encourages relaxation, a distraction from pain, and a sense of normalcy amidst medical interventions.

Moreover, hospital gardens facilitate a sense of connection with the outside world, which is often limited for patients during their hospital stay. This connection to nature has been shown to alleviate anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and even expedite the recovery process. Patients who have access to gardens report decreased levels of stress and a higher overall satisfaction with their care, which ultimately contributes to better clinical outcomes.

A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that hospital gardens have a measurable impact on patients’ stress levels and overall health. Patients who spent time in these green spaces experienced reduced levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – and reported enhanced feelings of comfort and relaxation. Another study in the Journal of Cardiology demonstrated that heart surgery patients who had access to a garden during their recovery had shorter hospital stays and required fewer pain medications compared to their counterparts without garden access.

Green Spaces in Different Settings

The significance of green spaces extends beyond hospital environments. Workplaces and educational institutions are increasingly recognizing the importance of incorporating nature into their designs. In workplaces where stress and burnout are pervasive, introducing greenery and outdoor spaces can provide employees with opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology indicates that the presence of indoor plants can lead to improved air quality, enhanced cognitive function, and reduced stress levels among workers.

Similarly, schools that integrate green spaces into their campuses offer students a more conducive learning environment. A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the United States revealed that students attending schools with abundant daylight and access to nature showed higher academic performance and improved well-being. The incorporation of gardens and outdoor learning areas encourages physical activity, stimulates creativity, and instills an early appreciation for nature.

Data Driving Change

The resurgence of hospital gardens is not solely a matter of sentimentality; it is backed by compelling data that underscores their tangible benefits for not only patients but also the healthcare systems themselves. Recent studies have indicated that patients with access to gardens require shorter hospital stays compared to those without such access. This reduction in hospitalization time translates to significant cost savings for health insurance providers and medical institutions alike.

In the United Kingdom, a study led by the University of Exeter Medical School analyzed the impact of hospital gardens on patients’ recovery times. The researchers found that patients with views of green spaces experienced shorter postoperative recovery periods and required fewer pain medications. Additionally, a report published by the National Recreation and Park Association in the United States highlighted the economic benefits of green spaces, revealing that every dollar invested in parks and recreational facilities led to significant healthcare savings.

Furthermore, hospital gardens contribute to a more efficient healthcare system by reducing the strain on resources and minimizing the risk of hospital-acquired infections. Patients who spend time in gardens are more likely to experience a smooth recovery process, leading to reduced readmission rates and improved overall health outcomes.

In conclusion, the resurgence of hospital gardens marks a poignant shift towards a more holistic and patient-centered approach to healthcare. These green oases, deeply rooted in history, are redefining the healing process by harnessing the therapeutic power of nature. As research continues to underscore the myriad benefits of hospital gardens, their role in expediting patient care, reducing hospital stays, and curbing healthcare costs becomes increasingly apparent. The integration of nature into medical environments not only reflects a return to time-honored traditions but also offers a beacon of hope for a healthier and more harmonious future in the realm of healthcare.

In the grand tapestry of medical care, hospital gardens are emerging as vibrant threads that weave together the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of healing. As society reawakens to the significance of nature’s embrace, hospital gardens stand as testaments to the enduring wisdom that the natural world holds. Just as ancient people recognized the sanctity of healing gardens, we are now beginning to witness their triumphant resurgence, enriching lives, hastening recovery, and cultivating a future where green spaces thrive as partners in the journey to well-being.