In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
March, 2004
Regional Report

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The bright color in this garden can always make you feel better.

Plants Really Do Make Us Feel Better

I recently spent some time in the hospital recovering from surgery, and my friends and family immediately surrounded me with flowers. Although it's not always easy to put yourself in a good frame of mind when you don't feel well, the growing things made an enormous difference.

Having plants and flowers around me, as well as having a window in which I could see trees outdoors, really made a difference in my recovery. Waking to see and smell a vase of bright yellow carnations and long-stemmed roses made the sterility of the hospital room easier to deal with. It made such a difference to me that I decided to do a little investigating to see what studies have looked at this phenomenon.

Research on Plants and Health
The information I found supports my own feelings. Exposure to plants has been shown to reduce the amount of time spent in a hospital after surgery as well as reduce patients' requests for pain killers. In a study at the Sloan-Kettering Institute, breast cancer surgery patients gathered their strength faster, increased their ability to focus attention, and reduced their depression, merely by walking regularly in a garden.

In areas other than medicine, research shows that working with and handling plants lowers blood pressure, eases the feelings of stress, and generally makes us feel better. Not only are we enriched by the beauty, growing a healthy houseplant gives us a sense of control over our lives, and a sense of reward as the plant thrives.

These results are so positive that plant care is now used in all types of physical therapy. Growing plants, whether vegetables for the table or flowers for their beauty, appeals to almost everyone and can bring a moment of peace or a few minutes of joy to an otherwise cheerless life. Time and time again, research shows that merely being exposed to plants calms us and produces a positive energy, making us more efficient and less frantic.

Horticulture Therapy
Members of the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) use plant growing as a fundamental part of their therapy plans. They develop horticulture programs for the elderly and disabled in nursing homes and for surgery and chemotherapy patients in hospitals, and gardening plans for the residents of group homes and prisons.

AHTA relies on the fact that plants appeal to everyone's senses, even when those senses are somewhat diminished. The smells of foliage, soil, moisture, and fragrant flowers can make us feel peaceful and serene or evoke memories. AHTA members also make frequent use of textural and brightly colored plants in their therapy. Touching plants calms us, whether it is performing the tasks of softly wiping the leaves, pinching out the tips of a wayward vine, or merely stroking the soft fuzzy leaves of a panda plant.

The research is a nice backup to something I've always felt -- plants make us happy. The soft greens add beauty to our lives, and the smell and feel of greenery about us help soften some of the more harsh elements of everyday life.


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