Healing gardens have become an almost mandatory part of today’s modern healthcare environment. This environment provides patients—as well as their family and friends—with a peaceful respite during their treatment and care.

As a result of the popularity of healing gardens, some professional landscape design companies are actively providing new and innovative ways for hospitals and healthcare practices to add new dimensions to their outdoor healing spaces. One of these new nuances is the edible healing garden.

Edible gardens are providing modern healthcare facilities with the next iteration of the age old “healing garden.” By mixing in herbs, fruits, and vegetables with the typical plant pallet found in a standard healing garden, a healthcare environment has the opportunity to take their healing gardens to an entirely new level with an added dimension.

An edible healing garden provides an abundance of new textures, vibrant colors, and enhanced smells (not to mention tastes) within their confines of the healing garden.

The power of edible healing gardens dates back to the Monastic Era, when the potential healing power of herbs was a mainstay in the healthcare system. Traditional Monastic Cloister Gardens were built in the courtyards of monasteries. These gardens included both indoor and outdoor spaces for the monks to use while reflecting on their spirituality.

The use of indoor and outdoor spaces was intended to protect one from the elements of weather but to also allow one to find their own space for reflection. Cloister gardens were planted with herbs that were thought to have healing qualities. Since then, the healing power of herbs has been a key ingredient to alternative therapies that encourage the healing of the whole person in mind, body, and spirit.

And while modern healthcare facilities are designed to utilize the most advanced technology in modern medicine, few deny that providing a serene outdoor space can contribute to the healing process. Edible gardens provide another way to emphasize these important outdoor spaces.

The flowers and plants that are grown in an edible garden are far more sensory-oriented than the flowers and plants that make up a typical healing garden. A classic healing garden is more soothing and soft, while it can be said that an edible healing garden “spices things up” a bit.

The plant palette that would be used for edible gardens would consist more of annuals than that of the perennial variety. Any number of plants could be used, and among my personal favorites is nasturtiums, the flowers are both edible and beautiful. Any number of basil plants work well—I like the combination of the traditional basil, chocolate basil, and Thai basil. The leaf shapes are all similar on these three plants, but the leaf colors and veins consist of a wide range of colors that add both color and texture, as well as scent to the garden.

I also like rosemary for its silvery colors. I love to use rosemary as a border or edible hedge— when you brush up against it, it gives off a wonderful scent that can be transferred to your clothing for continual enjoyment. Lavender is enjoyable for both its sent and flower. Any number of squashes works well due to their blossoms, which are edible, and the wonderful vegetable they produce. I love to sprinkle tomato plants, from the common beefsteak to the many heirloom varieties, into the garden for the same reason I love basil so much— the range of colors create such harmony with the other plants.

Because so many of these plants can be considered annuals in many parts of the country, this allows us to constantly change out what we use in our edible gardens, creating a new feeling every year, if we so choose. Any kind of plant that you use for your healing garden has the ability to create a powerful meaning in the garden, whether it reminds one of a lost loved one or someone who might need additional encouragement at the moment.

When you expand your plant palette to edibles in your healing garden, you are adding another dimension and layer to a traditional healing garden, and new ways for patients to enjoy an outdoor space.

Over the past decade, we have seen a shift in modern medicine and a resurgence of western or alternative therapies that are more commonly practiced in our everyday lives. Due to the revival of these practices, we have seen renewed interest in healing gardens. Today, the next evolution is toward edible gardens.

Like a healing garden, the theory of creating an edible healing garden is to create a space that makes people feel safe, less stressed, and more comfortable to move forward in their journey to recovery. These are some things to think about when considering an edible healing garden. The space should:

•             Be simple and well balanced;

•             Have a meandering pathway that allows spaces to be created for both private and public reflection;

•             Have a sense of repetitiveness, as this can help trigger pleasant memories;

•             Have statuary that can hold one’s interest;

•             Have the ability to create a personal snapshot;

•             Have indoor and outdoor spaces;

•             Have a variety of textures within the space; and

•             Be easily accessible. 

As modern healthcare facilities continue to find new ways to help in the treatment and care of patients, the centuries-old practice of healing gardens is once again proving their value in patient care. As in the past, edible healing gardens are bringing new aspects to the healing process, and permitting modern landscape experts to work closely with healthcare providers to design, build, and maintain these gardens.

This shows how specialized the landscape industry has become. It is a collaborative combination between the healthcare and green industry that is proving to be immensely valuable to the modern healthcare system and the patients it serves.


Stacy Parcell is Lead Designer for CoCal Landscape. She can be reached at sparcell@cocal.com.