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  • Jennifer Jewell


Photo of a therapeutic landscape designed by the Fockele Garden Company on the cover of Therapeutic Landscapes, by Clare Copper Marcus and Naomi A. Sachs. Wiley Press 2014.



This week on Cultivating Place, a "Best of CP" conversation with Clare Cooper Marcus on evidence based therapeutic gardens. In this pretty epic flu season, the topic seemed timely to me!

The healing power of gardens and nature is well known to almost anyone who gardens and has been recorded by gardeners, landscape designers and medical practitioners as far back as antiquity. But it is an element of cultural awareness and health care that seems to come and go with time, economic health and cultural values. As gardeners and outdoor advocates, I think we have a special understanding – intuitively – of how healing, calming, grounding and centering our garden, open space and trail time can be. And research is being done all the time around the globe to support and more specifically understand how and why this true. We talked about this at length earlier this year when we spoke with Florence Williams, with of "The Nature Fix".

Clare Cooper Marcus is a leader in the field of evidence based research, education and design of what are alternatively known as Healing Gardens and Therapeutic Landscapes. A longtime researcher into the relationship between people and their environs, including their homes and gardens, Clare Cooper Marcus is a retired professor in architecture and landscape architecture at UC Berkeley.

"While the evidence for the importance of access to nature is there - and growing - the actual provision of appropriate outdoor space in healthcare facilities is often less adequate, with limited 'green nature,' unmet needs for privacy and 'getting away,' even poor provision of the most basic needs, such as ease of access, comfortable seating, safe walking surfaces, protection from the sun, and so on."

Her unique research in one of her earlier books, "House as a Mirror of Self"- incorporates accounts of people's intimate relationships with house and home, was featured on the Oprah show, and won the Book of the Year Award from the Detroit Free Press.

Clare Cooper Marcus has spent much of her professional and academic career researching, analyzing and educating and the important relationships between human health and wellbeing and their physical environments – both inside and out. But she does not know the value of this work through the objective lens of academia alone – from her experiences being evacuated from London during World War II to her living with cancer and finding personal healing in the land she chose for her recuperation, Clare has experienced the power of place personally. After retirement and a bout with life-threatening illness, she went to live alone on a remote island in the Scottish Hebrides where she explored the landscape, reflected on her wartime childhood, read, thought about dreams - and wrote. The result was the book "Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place - A Memoir" (2010).

After early retirement in the mid-90s, she also co-authored/edited "Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations" (with Marni Barnes), reflecting a deep interest in the links between nature and healing, and the importance of incorporating gardens into healthcare facilities. Cooper Marcus is also a consultant, researcher, lecturer and the author, with Naomi Sachs, of "Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces " (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2013).


I love when we revisit these Best of conversations. Now that Cultivating Place is two full years old and we’re headed full steam into our third year of production, I sometimes lose sight of the progress we’ve made. And ALL the great conversations we’ve had.

I love going back and seeing one that triggers a great memory – like: oh right! Remember when Clare Cooper Marcus describing being in her cancer recovery and being asked by her counselor to go out and find earth to lie down on. To fully place her body on the earth and to soak in its healing energy.

This is one of those moments in an interview when my body tingles and I think – that’s it, being able to share that exact expression is why I'm here doing this. And I’d be surprised if we don’t all have moments where we’ve needed to soak up the healing energy of our gardens or nature.

When my own mother was in her final stages of cancer, almost 20 years ago now, she was in her South Carolina garden with my father, and I was in my Seattle, WA garden almost the entire continent away. I was lucky enough to be able to fly to see her for almost a week each month and my sisters and I were all with her at the end.

But when we were separated, both during those last hard months and then after her death – I would sometimes be so worn down with sadness and loss in that long, long winter that I would just lie on the couch.... and stare..... out of a big picture window in our tiny Ballard bungalow. I would stare for what felt like hours at the waving leaves of the canopy of a large tree across the city street. The waving green leaves held me at this time like nothing else could have.

Maybe you know what I mean? Maybe this triggers a story for you? If you’d like to share one - send us a voice memo:, or make a comment on Cultivating Place on instagram or facebook – we'd love to listen to what comes up for you.

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