Our thanks to our friends at the American Botanical Council for sharing their garden with us.
And right now we're going to be talking about one of my favorite topics: gardening and spirituality.
I'm joined by Brian Ott, who's a landscape designer here in town.
Now Brian you've been responsible for creating healing gardens in hospitals and I know this whole topic is really important to you, so we really appreciate you being on the program.
Happy to be here.
– There is a healing quality to gardens and you actually have professionally used that information to create healing spaces, haven't you? -Absolutely, yeah.
– Tell me a little bit about them.
The idea that we connect to nature, I think, is something that's an innate in us as humans, and, you know, for many years I think we started to maybe lose our way a little bit as far as the power of nature and the power of the garden and what it can do for us, and so over the past 20 years I think there's really been a rebirth and understanding that connecting the nature to being outside, access to natural light and natural air really create a lot of health value for us.
– And it's really wonderful to be a part of a kind of a regeneration of these ideas.
And so it's a lot of fun.
– Well, fun indeed, and also, for many people, profoundly important in their lives.
You reference just the health benefits of seeing beautiful scenes, being out in the air, being taken out of ourselves and experiencing something in nature, and actually we were just talking about this.
There's hard data behind this now, really, isn't there?- Absolutely, there's been research probably now going on 30 to 40 years that really starts to study, not only in just healthcare settings, but in, you know, whether it's childhood obesity or attention deficit disorder, the idea that we can walk in nature, the idea that we can explore the natural air and natural light.
They've had profound recognition that they do – children who access natural spaces gain as much value as some of the medication that we're prescribing for children who have ADHD or ADD.
And so it really does start to show you that, you know, prescribing outdoors is a sense of medicine.
And it is important.
Right, and you know it's only been in the last couple of generations that people think about this.
Mankind has been around for hundreds of thousands of years.
Most of the time we lived outdoors and huddled at night around a campfire.
It's only been in recent years, really, that we've kind of divorced ourself from that kind of thing.
Really, profoundly in the last hundred years.
– You know, and so we evolved in co-relationship with our surroundings and now we've blocked it out.
We're looking at screens, you know?- And I think some of the health statistics around it shows what happens when we do that, when we do detach from it, because we start to see obesity rates go up, we start to see heart failure, different things that we're really being challenged with that, as you mentioned, we didn't have as many of those challenges when we were either hunters and gatherers or in an agrarian society that we're finding in this technology-based world that we're living in.
– And you know, the thing that – when people ask me about this topic, the first thing that comes to mind for me is, "gardens provide us with a profound – some sense of connection to something that is eternal and beyond us.
– And so we are able to put our hands, literally, into the universe in a way when we we're working with the soil and working with plants.
Absolutely, it's very holistic, and you know it also kind of mirrors that of life.
The seasons in the garden — You're right – – The change that we see from spring to summer to fall, and it allows us to really connect, you know, kind of internally to that, and it provides a lot of spirituality for us.
And there's some overt things that you can do to kind of build in those sensitive connections for yourself.
I always urge people, if they're going to create a garden space, to make it really personal, to put some element in there that really speaks to what they love most in nature and what they would need most from nature.
You know, it's interesting as a landscape architect we often have to think about how we impose our creativity as designers to a site.
But when I started working on healing gardens and healing environments, it really taught me to be more empathetic as a designer because it really does take that – you have to walk in somebody's shoes to understand what they're going through, whether it's a crisis or whether it's just kind of maneuvering through the daily chaos that we can sometimes find ourselves in.
What does it feel like, and what does the garden do for you? So even small intimate spaces can have a lot of value to allow us to really kind of reconnect and kind of explore a little bit.
– I used to teach a class on how to design a spiritual garden, and I'd asked people at the beginning of class to think back to their childhood and what were the places that were most special to them, the places they loved to go when they were little kids.
And it was really interesting.
With women, it was usually a hiding place, a cove-like space, a little sanctuary, and ninety percent of time for the guys, it was a tree fort.
– Yep, yep, lots of tree forts, and for me it was in a creek about two blocks from where I grew up.
– You know, but those are archetypal places of a promontory that you can look out and scan the landscape or some place intimate where you can feel sheltered.
– Absolutely, absolutely.
I think that's what the garden does for us.
It provides shelter for us, it provides an escape, and a lot of comfort can be found there, and it's a great place to, as we said, detach a little bit, you know, and be able to let the mind explore and that's – you know, can't be understated how much that the brain – our mind needs to rest.
– It absolutely needs it.
You know, I had created a garden some years ago and it became my morning habit, every morning, I gotta do what I called my "second cup of coffee walk" – Yeah.
– Every morning I'd to go out into the garden and I would walk around a bit, but I would always find a place to sit, and I had multiple sitting areas where you could be secluded, or you could see the whole thing or, and I'd sit out there, and amazing things happened as a result.
The birds and the wildlife coming up to explore you.
You know, and having that interaction was really amazing.
– It automatically helps declutter the mind and prepares you for the day.
– Right, which we need in these times.
I think, you know, people would say we live in the information age.
I say, "No, we live in the age of distraction.
" And this is the opposite of that.
It builds our capacity for attention.
– Absolutely, you know one of the other things that we found in healthcare settings is the main visitors to the garden aren't necessarily the patients.
You know, it's really there for family and in a lot of instances, in fact fifty percent, it's staff.
So when you think about it, it's a place that allows them to kind of recharge, reconnect so that they can deliver a higher level of healthcare.
And so those are really important parts of the puzzle when we think about overall community health and spiritual health.
– You know, when you're saying that, it reminds me of the story – a very famous museum was designed, I won't say where, but it won all sorts of architecture awards, but the whole building was covered with this heavy copper scrim, blocking the interior light.
It won architecture awards, but the employees working in that Museum needed to be given the light breaks during the course of a day where they had permission to walk outside because they needed its psychologically.
– It's easy to sometimes forget those things or at least it has been in the past, I do think that we're living in an age right now that the empirical, you know, knowledge about connection to nature, connection to natural light and natural air are becoming so important that I think that's going to really drive a lot of design in the near future.
– Real quickly, has there been some book or garden itself that has been particularly inspirational to you in regards to this? – You know, of course Richard Louv's "Last Child In the Woods" is one of those books that really brings it all together.
And again, it's a very holistic approach of where we used to be and how we grew up but how we need to make sure that we still teach others, and so that book has been, you know, very I think instrumental as I think about the profession.
Any natural place, I think, is really kind of a spiritual place to me so there's lots of them.
But I think just being in nature is such an important piece to it.
– Well Rich Louv says, "Let your kids go outdoors", I think we need to let ourselves go outdoors, and we can find healing as a result.
Brian, it has been a real pleasure.
– Thank you for having me.
– Yeah, this is a great topic.
Thank you for your work on it.
– Coming up next is Daphne.