By Angelica Csaftari, Audrey Patterson and Milena Shembri
Throughout history, gardens have been used to aid with healing. When we began planning ways to improve the garden located on the 3rd floor of the Houses of Providence, we all agreed on one concept – we wanted a garden that would bring health to our residents, harmonize their lives and help return balance in nature. Our research pointed us to the classic Zen garden.
A Zen meditation garden is a Japanese rock garden where natural elements, like rock and sand, are combined to form a tranquil and symbolic setting designed to make people feel better, safe, less stressed and more comfortable. Research shows that viewing natural elements fosters stress recovery by evoking positive feelings, reducing negative emotions, effectively holding attention/interest and blocking or reducing stressful thoughts.
A big part of the particular appeal of a Zen garden is its enigmatic character. So much of the Zen garden is dependent on what the creator puts into it and how it is conceptually used. The setup is very simple – just some rocks and sand. It’s all a question of how the creator uses his/her imagination, and when it comes to a Zen garden, a little can go a long way.
When we designed the Zen garden for the Houses’ 3rd floor patio, we considered factors such as functionality, low costs, maintenance, simplicity and variety. These two final considerations take on special meaning in contemplating environments.
On our patio, we had already installed a sensory herb garden designed to appeal to all five senses; we also planted traditional flower beds. However, this existing space was not living up to its full potential, sitting vacant. So, we began designing a spectacular Zen space that followed basic Zen guidelines, which included having:
To create the space, we used plywood, nails, glue, liner for building the box; fine beach sand; two different colours and textures of pebbles; water features; and a mirrored ‘yard globe’ (a.k.a. a gazing ball).
Our residents and family members fully supported the project. Designed for residents of all ages and abilities, we encourage them to actively participate in outdoor programs and whenever they want to be in a serene place. The Houses’ 3rd floor activation staff have already initiated some residents in using the space to relax and stay focused. Residents are encouraged to level out sand and draw lines with a rake. We have noticed that the slower and more methodically our residents do this activity, the more relaxed they become. For mental stimulation, residents are guided to arrange the stones in different designs, piles or separations using simple criteria like colour or size. Some of our residents have said they feel a connection between Zen gardening and their internal peacefulness. From our observations, our Zen garden is undeniably restorative.
The whole purpose behind the Zen concept is relaxation. Stress-free moments are extremely important for our residents’ health and well-being. We have to keep in mind that everyone has limitations, so we need to take time to recognize ours, set boundaries and reserve a few minutes to go “play in the sandbox.”
About the writers…
Angelica Csaftari, Audrey Patterson and Milena Shembri are Activation Assistants in the Houses of Providence.