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GARDENING: Healing spaces

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Celebrate Mandela Day and honour memories of Madiba. A soothing garden has the power to reduce stress and anxiety, plus restore health to mind, body and spirit

July 18 is Nelson Mandela International Day. There are many ways to honour Madiba as you celebrate Mandela Day.

Donate a tree to a local school, support a community food garden by providing tools, compost, seedlings, seeds and water tanks, or volunteer your time to maintain a local hospice garden.

Depression is a leading cause of concern across the world. During his imprisonment on Robben Island and later in Pollsmoor prison, Mandela found that gardening had a healing effect on his psyche and helped to restore hope.

During his incarceration, the late Nelson Mandela found solace in his small garden. Picture: Kay Montgomery

This year, consider creating a healing garden for Mandela Day. Develop a place of peace and a refuge, a community garden where people can go to heal their sadness, or a corner to refresh your inner-self in your own garden.

Healing gardens are not new. Medieval monastic gardens were among the first healing gardens, where monks grew herbs and medicinal plants in cloistered courtyards to heal the sick in mind and body.

Patients’ beds were placed where they could look out onto these courtyards, as it was believed that being able to view and recuperate in these gardens helped with the healing process.

On Mandela Day, plant Strelitzia reginae “Mandela’s Gold” in your garden as a tribute to the former statesman. Picture: Warren Schmidt

Healing and therapeutic gardens are being incorporated into hospitals, hospices, retirement homes and institutions for the mentally and physically disabled. 

In Notes on Nursing, first published in 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote that visual connections to nature, such as natural scenes through windows, aided patients’ recovery.

Community Healing Gardens

At the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Joburg, there are five internal courtyards which serve different functions.

Some are for active participation by children, while others have been created as peaceful and healing retreats for visiting families. For Alzheimer patients, plants can provide a positive experience that may help improve their quality of life and reduce agitation.

A leaf design dominates a meditation garden at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.
Picture: SALI/Life Landscapes

A garden of vegetables and scented old-fashioned flowers may help recapture some of their passed life and stimulate the senses.

Paths should be continuous and easy to navigate as dead-ends may cause frustration, and entrances and exits should be clearly visible to avoid anxiety. Seating areas are essential. The healing garden at Babylonstoren in the Cape Winelands is a restful space where people can connect with nature. The garden is laid out in the form of the human body and planted with herbs that heal.

Design a restorative garden

Your garden, or part of it, can become a refuge during times when you feel the need to distance yourself from daily worries and refresh and replenish your inner-self. If this garden is entered through a gate or door, this will provide privacy.

The sound of trickling water is soothing and a small fountain will help diminish street noises.

Plant herbs

The earliest healing gardens were filled with herbs. Ancient Egyptians, Indians and Chinese used herbs for medicinal purposes as well as herbs for preserving and flavouring food and drink.

They even used herbs for masking unpleasant odours and for developing dyes. Herbs featured in the writings of early Roman and Greek herbalists, and the Emperor Charlemagne decreed that medicinal plants should be cultivated throughout the land to maintain the health of his troops.

The award-winning Kampo no Niwa garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2019 was inspired by Japanese herbal medicine. Picture: RHS/Sarah Cuttle

Today, the beneficial effects of herbs are being investigated and studied by scientists. Thyme, mint and rosemary help digestion; sage, rosemary and thyme are antioxidants; echinacea, sage, thyme and rosemary boost the immune system.

Mint is good for indigestion; lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) helps relieve stress; breathing in the fragrance of lavender relieves headaches.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can help relieve stress. Brew a tea with the fresh leaves and add a little honey. Picture: Lukas Otto

Chamomile tea is soothing; echinacea helps with the immune system; and parsley is a rich source of vitamin K and vitamin C.

Beneficial South African herbs such as buchu (Agathosma betulina) are distilled into oils that have anti-inflammatory properties, while the star flower (Hypoxis hemerocallidea) has immune-boosting properties.

The black pelargonium (Pelargonium sidoides) is a herbal remedy thought to be effective in the treatment of acute respiratory infections. It is important to know the botanical name of herbs before use.

Some herbs interact with medication. Always consult a medical practitioner before using any herb.

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