An interview with Jo Aquilina of Therapeutic Gardensimg_9450

At Outdoor Designer Store, we love bringing you the latest news and views from around the outdoor design community. We often talk about the benefits of a well-conceived outdoor design, and today we’re exploring the benefits that outdoor spaces can bring to individuals with special needs.

Joanne Aquilina, founder of Therapeutic Gardens, believes that inclusive and accessible therapeutic spaces are the right of every Australian. She sees gardens as a necessary and profound part of her passion to create health and wellbeing for individuals and communities. That’s why she’s on a mission to ensure every Australian has access to a therapeutic garden.

We recently had a chat with the gracious Joanne to shed some light on this important topic. While not new, therapeutic gardens are still quite an untapped and niche market, so we’re excited to report back on this interesting subset of outdoor design.

Read on to learn more about therapeutic gardens and why you might be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

So what exactly is the difference between a therapeutic garden and a standard garden?

According to Joanne, the key differences come down to inclusivity and accessibility. “

A therapeutic garden is an outdoor garden space that has been specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden as well as their caregivers, family members and friends,” says Joanne.

Her company, Therapeutic Gardens, brings a complex and holistic approach to gardens that is relatively new to the outdoor design space. “We want to grow an information hub and a community of liked minded experts who want to work in collaboration to make a difference in people’s lives.”



Why therapeutic gardens?

One of the main reasons Joanne got started on this journey was because of her children. As a mother of four kids, all with various medical conditions, Joanne was looking for information on how to take a holistic approach to their treatment and care.

Through her experience, she has seen her children, and many others, flourish as a result of the mental and physical benefits provided by gardens designed to meet their specific needs. She became fascinated with horticultural therapy research and also discovered how important it was in treating a wide range of disabilities. For example, Jo found that according to Lifestyle factors and risk of dementia: Dubbo Study of the eldery, “outdoor daily gardening is the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, reducing incidences by 36%.”

She says this is especially important in Australia where it’s the second leading cause of death. “If we can get more mature or even more individuals into the garden or closer to nature then that can be one of the biggest preventatives,” says Joanne.

After watching her children benefit from gardens designed to meet their specific needs, and the finding a plethora of research that confirms how important outdoor spaces are for people with various disabilities, Jo decided it was time to try and share her experience.

“I want to create a revolution of sorts and be part of the change that sees modern medicine take a holistic approach,” exclaims Joanne.

Therapeutic Gardens

Planning a therapeutic outdoor space

By bringing together various experts in their fields, consulting firms like Therapeutic Gardens take a holistic approach to building these environments and their ongoing care. The list of experts ranges from landscape designers, architects and contractors to special educators and a range of allied health professionals.

Joanne notes that they only refer and work with LNA Master Landscapers Association, AILDM Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers and AILA Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, Cultivate NSW (Horticultural Therapists), AIH Australian Institute of Horticulture members to ensure that they have the right skill sets and are the right fit for each specific project. Together, they all work hand in hand to create purpose built gardens and develop horticultural therapy programs for patients in hospitals, medical institutions, special needs childcare facilities, schools and aged-care residences, as well as public spaces and parks.

Other key parts of the planning process include ensuring there’s a budget for the ongoing maintenance of the space and making sure that the build doesn’t interfere with any of the facility’s daily activities.


Something for everyone

While therapeutic gardens are especially beneficial for those with various medical conditions, they are also a wonderful and healthy resource for everyone.  According to Joanne, “time and again, scientific evidence has shown that even small amounts of contact with nature contributes to, and improves, the mental and physical wellbeing of individuals. This is true not only for those suffering from specific medical conditions, but also for everyone in society, from children to the elderly.”

It’s part of what makes outdoor design so satisfying and increasingly more important as the world truly needs more outdoor spaces for everyone to enjoy.


Want to know more?

For those interested in getting involved in the creation of therapeutic gardens, Joanne and her team at Therapeutic Gardens have put together a host of information to help educate anyone interested on this important topic. Head on over to http://therapeuticgardens.com.au/ for more information.

Words By: Amanda White for Outdoor Designer Store
Images: Copyright of Therapeutic Gardens

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