Health & Medicine

Whether for peace or healing, gardens provide respite

Cutting flowers is a popular therapeutic activity for patients at Cardinal Hill Hospital because it hones small motor skills.
Cutting flowers is a popular therapeutic activity for patients at Cardinal Hill Hospital because it hones small motor skills.

From prison vegetable plots to a monastery's woodland paths, gardens appear in many guises but share common purposes: fostering wellness, relaxation and spiritual inspiration.

Spending time in a garden can help make it easier to cope with everyday stress, lift spirits and strengthen bodies. Here are some local gardens that provide respite.


There is an indoor world under glass at Michler's Gardens and Greenhouses (, 417 East Maxwell Street. You'll find orchids in bloom, a living green wall, and bonsai trees that thrive year-round. A visit is perfect for a quick, inspirational pick-me-up.


At University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, the new pavilion that opened in May includes works of art that reflect the state's natural beauty. It also offers access to a glass-walled interior courtyard and an upper level terrace balcony with sky views. Dr. Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president for health affairs, says that naturalistic space, designed by the landscape architecture firm of Towers|Golde ( of New Haven, Conn., represents "quiet Kentucky woods." Stop by this tranquil spot and enjoy its beauty. Go to


Jeff Duggins of Nicholasville's H2O Designs ( notices how people are drawn to the colorful fish in the store's display ponds. "The koi are so tame that it seems they're talking to you," he says. Sounds of splashing water and visions of vibrant, lush foliage round out the relaxing effect that Duggins describes on his Web site as "a little piece of paradise that you can visit any time you want."


For a Lexington Cancer Foundation event at Keeneland last year, landscape architect Bill Henkel of Henkel Denmark ( designed a healing garden. The garden was rooted in principles that he gleaned while becoming certified through a healing-garden design program at the Chicago Botanic Garden ( The garden was only temporary, but the healing garden design program continues, and the topic is one of growing interest. A healing garden "gives people an opportunity to restore and renew, and provides an environment where you can clear your mind while feeling private and safe," Henkel says.


Inmates at the Women's Satellite Prison Camp at the Federal Medical Center on Leestown Road maintain three acres of flower and vegetable gardens, which in 2011 produced more than 17,000 pounds of food for God's Pantry and other charities. Volunteer program coordinator Stan Glass already is planning for this year and hopes churches, garden clubs and individuals will contribute money, seeds, transplants, manure, potting soil and other supplies. A small tiller also is needed. To help, email


Sculptured monuments, cherished memories and serene landscaping make visiting a cemetery a bittersweet experience. The passing of seasons brings home an awareness of the transience of life, and the predictability of renewal and decay. It's no wonder that cemeteries have become horticultural havens. Spending a few hours in Lexington Cemetery can bring peace. Find a self-guided tree-tour fact sheet at


Trappist monks mark canonical hours from vigil to compline, or final service, in prayerful contemplation at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, where magnificent trees dot the monastery's simple and unpretentious landscape. One, an enormous golden fan-leaved gingko planted by former Abbot Edmond Obrecht, collected during travels in Asia a century ago, is described by Brother Luke Armour as "an eye-popping wonder." He says that retreat visitors' experiences are personalized and can incorporate sitting with the monks in prayer as well as walking in quiet reflection through hundreds of acres of secluded Kentucky woodland terrain. It's a breath of fresh spiritual air. Go to


Overlooking the rose gardens at The Arboretum at 500 Alumni Drive, a memorial sculpture and a sheltered seating area allow us to remember those involved in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in August 2006. This healing garden not only is uplifting for people, but it serves to bring together a community by setting aloft a shared vision of hope, symbolized by birds in flight over rolling, landscaped fields. Go to


Establishing healthy eating and exercise habits ties in directly with school garden programs. Cassidy Elementary parent and garden advocate Casey Hinds writes in an email: "Kids need to be taught to develop healthy habits, and research shows school interventions aimed at nutrition and physical activity pay off. School gardens for experiential learning are invaluable because it takes multiple tries for kids to accept healthy foods. At a Cassidy Elementary garden tasting, one student declared cucumber tasted like summer. School gardens are good starts to healing Kentucky's childhood obesity epidemic." Go to


"If we are going to heal ourselves, we should not be destructive to nature," says landscape designer Beate Popkin of Living Gardens ( A model for environmental stewardship, the garden that Popkin installed at St. Michael Episcopal Church on Bellefonte Drive has transformed an unsightly runoff-water detention basin into an miniature Eden by using native plants including little bluestem, prairie dropseed, goldenrod and aster. "Nature moves on," Popkin says, "and in body and spirit, so should we."


An innovative therapeutic garden program at Cardinal Hill Healthcare System offers opportunities for patients recovering from physical injuries to enjoy nature-related recuperation. Betsy Adler and other Fayette County master gardener volunteers collaborate with physical therapists and the rehabilitation hospital's recreational director to develop in-ground and raised-bed plots next to the Versailles Road hospital. "One of the most popular things is cutting flowers, which requires small motor activity in using clippers," Adler says. A bonus: The cut flowers move indoors to decorate patients' rooms. Go to


Apartment complexes such as Spring House on the Park on Belleau Wood Drive and senior-oriented communities including Richmond Place on Rio Dosa Drive have added garden plots to their amenities. Residents have access to raised beds, where they can cultivate horticultural delights while sharing green-thumb therapy, advice and support.