The French association Jardins et Santé (Gardens and Health) last month organized its fourth conference on gardens in healthcare settings. As the French Minister of Ecology had just declared on national radio a few days earlier, these gardens are becoming more common and bring benefits to participants. This official nudge brought joy to the 170 participants at the conference held on November 17 and 18 in Paris. As an aside, Rebecca Haller was a featured speaker at the previous edition of this conference in 2012.
“The purpose of this symposium is to establish a dialogue between healthcare professionals and professionals in the fields of landscaping and the environment,” says Anne Chahine, the president of the association. For the past 7 years, Jardins et Santé has been raising funds to finance the creation of therapeutic gardens in medico-social settings as well as clinical research in this area. “This year, we opened the debate on the environment to introduce biodiversity in the creation of gardens. What strikes me is that there are more and more landscape professionals attending our conference. Communication between the two field is starting slowly.” However, discussions during some of the round tables still made it clear that misunderstandings still persist between these two worlds that do not speak the same language and do not share the same working methods.
The need for evaluation
Teamwork and evaluation were two key themes that emerged during the presentations and the informal discussions. Bringing in an outside landscape specialist should be done in consultation with all relevant publics with the ultimate goal of providing benefits to the users of the institution (patients or residents, but also staff, families and sometimes the public at large in the case of open gardens). But landscape professionals need to become more knowledgeable about these different populations. They must also take into account in their design how the garden will become sustainable through activities. The theme of evaluation, which has often been mentioned, became a bit more concrete this year. One psychiatric unit at the University Hospital in Nice made a remarkably detailed presentation on its methodology for evaluating the benefits of their garden, adding that it is ready to share its methods with other practitioners. For the practice of horticultural therapy (a term still rarely used in France) to be recognized and embraced by decision makers, conference attendees agreed that it would take serious evaluations of the effects of the garden on patients.
The plenary sessions and round tables gathered more than 40 presenters: landscape architects, psychiatrists, healthcare executives, nurses, but also an historian, an urban planner and a philosopher in an effort to bring theory and a multidisciplinary dimension to the emerging field. One popular speaker was the philosopher Bernard Andrieu who talked about the consciousness of the living body immersed in its environment. There was also talk about the Savanna Effect, the biophilia hypothesis and phyto-resonance as various theories that help understand the profound effects of the garden on humans. Although they might differ on the methods they use in their own healing gardens, participants seemed to share the idea that the garden is a place where the living matter heals through the process of turning patients into caregivers. French speakers can enjoy the recordings of several talks on YouTube.
During the conference, a small group gathered to lay the groundwork for an association that would unite all practitioners. The lack of formal training and of recognition will be the two main subjects on the agenda of this future association.