Healing in Nature
By Landscape Designer Betsy-Sue Clarke
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn
As a tree is planted we imagine the canopy in ten years time, shading and cooling, giving wildlife shelter amongst its leaves, a thick solid trunk of permanence stretching to the sky. The world may change around it but the tree keeps stretching, growing solid with the love and care it is given. It is an investment of love, of belief in tomorrow. The reward is protection, inspiration, hope and beauty as nature yet again overcomes all the obstacles in its way.
Nature is wonderful at helping us feel safe. Under the canopy of our tree with dense shrubs in a hug around us, tucked away from the passing traffic, we can learn to let go of buried feelings and find some peace inside. As the tears flow, the fog of pain lifts and we can see the beauty surrounding us differently. It begins to inspire with the wonder of colour, of scent, of determination to bloom despite all that would hold it back. When traumatic events have caused such pain and fear that someone has withdrawn from those around them, this is the kind of womb like cave that can help them heal. Without the inspiration of nature’s resilience and beauty, it can be tempting to stay in the pain. This garden for Gaza is so important for healing.
As the focus begins to shift from the raw emotional pain, feeling more safe now, we can look a little further ahead but still in the safety of a retreat space. Plants that give us a sense of time passing with cycles of change help us notice if we are standing still too long. Fear can keep us stuck when we really need to let go and move forward. There’s a need to begin building many positive memories; with the cascade eventually overwhelming the negative memories we can live more in the positive than the negative. Flowers are so important in these retreat spaces, where scent and beauty recur reliably, feeding upliftment over and over again. Seats are tucked into voluminous exuberance, plants that move and bend with the wind show the way to move with change. Still protected by the canopy of trees, there is a feeling of safety but no longer withdrawn.
With a determination to heal and grow, we look for a longer view, a higher view point and protection when we need it. The height will only be conquered by climbing and like life, the path is littered with obstacles requiring effort to overcome. It’s never a straight path because life is like that. At the top the sense of achievement is reason enough to celebrate. Feeling safe enough now to be out in the open and sharing hopes and dreams, the garden here must be supportive, resilient, flexible and like a community – each plant working together with others to create the picture. We don’t want competition. It’s the opposite to community. A feeling of protection is offered through the airy canopy of a tree that dances in the wind, flowering regardless of the elements. Like the sun coming up each day it shines and gives just as we must.
These elements of healing environments are woven through the design for the Gaza garden, as important for children as adults. As we worked together designing, Andrew, David and I felt the upliftment, searched for more safety and protection, wove in more freedom and soaked it all in beauty. We want a garden where people can soar.
Betsy-Sue Clarke is a landscape designer with her own business Dirtscape Dreaming located in Melbourne Australia. Wendy was a member of the design team that developed the concept design for the project in Gaza.