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Healing Gardens

'Next time you?re feeling under the weather, down in the dumps or stressed out, don?t reach for a packet of pills ? grab your garden fork instead,' says Botany Professor, Nox Makunga

By Gugulethu Mkhabela | October 18, 2019 | Gardens

The plan is to sip on some (really good) wine, wear your pretty flower crown (preferably made with flowers from your garden), have friends and family over, and live your best life this Garden Day, (20 October). This needs to be a regular thing, (not referring to the drinking of wine, but hey, do you) because spending  time in the garden has undisputed health advantages.

Professor Nox Makunga is a plant scientist working in the Department of Botany and Zoology, at Stellenbosch University. Her research focuses on medicinal plants in an attempt to uncover new pharmacological activities, and potentially new uses that may lead to commercialised products.

Prof Nox tells us more about the benefits of gardens, how to to start a healing garden, and her favourite thing to do in the garden.

How do gardens benefit us?

Apart from their aesthetic beauty, gardens have many healing properties linked to psycho-spiritual healing. They may provide us with food and medicine, and an inter-connectedness to nature and the world around us, to our very self. Benefits are psychological, social, emotional and physical.  When one works the garden, this can be meditative but also physical labour can provide good exercise that benefits both the cardio and muscular system; and even, works the brain. A medicinal garden in some households is a first line of primary healthcare. 

What do we need to create or design a healing garden?

The idea of designing a space that will be of benefit to the body, mind and spirit is central to the design of a healing garden. A healing garden should be a space that offers an intrinsic biological connection to nature, allow for both the physical and psychological health and well-being. Research has shown that such a space should have an inviting entrance(s) for the visitor or garden keeper and include elements of water (essential for its psychological, spiritual and physical effects)—creative use of colour and lighting to invoke emotion, comfort, and a sense of awe and splendour. The integration of art and other features from nature such as rocks, wood, wind, sound to enhance the mood and atmosphere are important in creating the spirit of the garden.

A healing garden is not necessarily one that is full of medicinal plants but being surrounded by plants in general has healing powers and is excellent for our psyche. A healing garden needs to stimulate all of our senses to invoke full health benefits.

And does this apply to indoor gardens for those in flats and apartments?

YES, absolutely! Being surrounded by greenery indoors helps with anxiety and stress. The colour green provides us with a sense of calm.

Many indoor plants are known to be very effective in purifying the air and conditioning rooms. Having plants indoors can even boost life expectancy, increase attention span, assist with better and deeper sleep and boost creativity.

What is your favourite thing to do in the garden?

I prefer plants to take their natural forms and grow similarly to what they would in nature and so when in the garden I like to enjoy a psycho-spiritual connection. I love reading, feeling, smelling plants and thinking about life in general; meditating or ejoying a meal in the garden. Just enjoying the inner sanctuary that a garden can offer, gives me the greatest pleasure. I love to have all of my senses stimulated and so I will walk around feeling plants, smelling plants and just feasting my eyes and just being in absolute awe of how clever plants are in terms of adapting to their sessile lifestyles.

What is your favourite plant and why?

I am very fickle when it comes to my firm favourites and it really is difficult for me to choose. Generally, I favour indigenous species as they are easier to maintain and are less needy when it comes to the requirement of water. I think my choices are also influenced by changing seasons as in the Cape for instance, you have species that actually flower in winter and so one could easily incorporate these in the garden to bring colour with the flowers during the winter months.  

Next time you’re feeling under the weather, down in the dumps or stressed out, don’t reach for a packet of pills – grab your garden fork instead, says Professor Nox Makunga.

Feature Image: Supplied