If you or a loved one is hospitalized in the near future, chances are good you'll find some kind of garden on-site.
The popularity of gardens at health care facilities has exploded in recent years, in response to research showing a link between nature and healing, including relief from symptoms, stress reduction and improvement in overall sense of well-being and hopefulness.
Humans are "hard-wired" to find nature engrossing and soothing, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing.
"All those things we know as gardeners, but now there's empirical research to back it up," said Jean Larson, a horticultural therapist who teaches at the center and heads the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's Therapeutic Horticulture and Recreation Services.
Access to nature is a key factor in reducing patient and staff stress and leads to better outcomes, according to the Center for Health Design. The Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospitals even recommends that "patients and visitors should have opportunities to connect with nature through outside spaces, plants, indoor atriums and views from windows."
The terms "healing garden" and "therapeutic garden" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they mean different things in the horticultural world, according to Larson.
"All gardens are essentially healing gardens," she said, but the term "healing garden" generally refers to gardens in health care settings.
And there are a lot of them being installed these days because many hospitals were built during the 1960s and are now being renovated, she said. Just about every new or newly renovated health care facility now includes some type of garden or natural element.
Healing gardens at hospitals and other health care facilities are beneficial for patients, families and staff alike, while therapeutic gardens are more specific, designed to help a particular population with a particular health challenge, such as increasing range of motion, delivering a measurable outcome, Larson said. "The design has to be thoughtful and intentional."