Restorative Properties of Nature and Nature Art

Examples of Use/Application of Nature and Nature Art

Use/Application Considerations




Restorative Properties


  • “A growing body of evidence suggests that humans are hard-wired not just to enjoy a pleasant view of nature, but to actually exploit it, much like a drug, to relax and refresh after a stressful experience. . . [S]imply viewing a garden or another natural vista can quickly reduce blood pressure and pulse rate and can even increase brain activity that controls mood-lifting feelings.”1
  • In a controlled experiment involving 112 young adults who carried out stressful activities, “[S]itting in a room with tree views promoted more rapid decline in diastolic blood pressure than sitting in a viewless room. Subsequently walking in a nature reserve initially fostered blood pressure change that indicated greater stress reduction than afforded by walking in urban surroundings.”2
  • “[P]atients recovering from gallbladder surgery had more favorable postoperative courses if their windows overlooked a small stand of trees rather than a brick wall.  Compared to patients with the wall view, those with the natural window view had shorter postoperative hospital stays, elicited far fewer negative comments ('patient is upset') in nurses’ notes, tended to have lower scores for minor postsurgical complications such as persistent headache or nausea, and needed fewer doses of narcotic pain drugs.”3
  • Subjects exposed to stress in a computer laboratory recovered more quickly when the room was decorated with plants than they did when the room was undecorated or decorated with attractive art objects.4

Nature Art

  • In research on patient anxiety in a dental fears clinic, patients felt less stressed when a large mural depicting a natural scene was hung on a wall of the waiting room, in contrast to when the wall was blank.5
  • Patients recovering from open-heart surgery who were exposed to pictures of nature with water experienced less postoperative anxiety than patients exposed to other types of pictures. Patients exposed to abstract pictures had higher anxiety than patients without any picture at all. Also, four days after surgery, patients who had been exposed to any type of visual stimulation were able to complete a visual-perceptual functioning test faster than patients exposed to no art.6

Examples of Use/Application of Nature and Nature Art


“Healing gardens” are increasingly incorporated into the design of medical and other facilities because they are understood to have restorative effects.7

Horticultural activities have been shown to have restorative effects. For more information, visit the following websites (links are provided under “Websites” at the bottom of this page): American Horticultural Therapy Association, Gardening for Good, Horticultural Therapy Institute, and Plants at Work.

“Green roofs” are sometimes used.8

Nature Art

The Art Research Institute produces and markets vivid nature images that serve the founders’ purpose of a creating “a unique interior architecture focused specifically on the upliftment and transformation of the clinical treatment environment with nature imagery.” Interior settings look like windows (“INDOWS,” in the vendor’s term).9 As one healthcare design book described it, “In the [Stanford University Medical Clinic] Cardiac Transplant ICU, [an] electronic window simulates a constantly changing view of the outdoors. The installation offers a patient visual stimulation in a room that often cannot be placed on an outside wall.”10

Among the nature art used by hospitals are the Smithsonian’s “Healing Gardens” exhibition of quilts, which travels among hospitals11; and a “Healing Grotto” water sculpture complete with a soft waterfall in Texas.12 

Use/Application Considerations

A thorough and helpful discussion of whys and hows of therapeutic-garden design appears in a paper by Roger Ulrich, “Health Benefits of Gardens in Hospitals,” presented at the conference, Plants for People



Atkinson, M.S. Restorative Spaces of Women Under Stress (Master’s Thesis, University of Washington School of Landscape Architecture, 1999).

Cooper Marcus, C. and M. Barnes. Gardens in Healthcare Facilities (Center for Healthcare Design, 1995)

Gerlach-Spriggs, N., R.E. Kauffman, and S.B. Warner. Restorative Gardens: The Healing Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998)

Kavasch, E.B. The Medicine Wheel Garden: Creating Sacred Space for Healing, Celebration, and Tranquility (New York: Doubleday, 2002 )

Marcus, C.C. and M. Barnes, eds. Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999)

Murray, Elizabeth. Cultivating Sacred Ground: Gardening for the Soul (Pomegranate, 1997)

Nebbe, L.L. Nature as a Guide: Nature in Counseling, Therapy, and Education (New York: Educational Media, 1995)

Squire, D. The Healing Garden: Natural Healing for the Mind, Body, and Soul (London:Vega, 2003)

Wilson, E.O.. Biophilia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986)

Wilson, E.O. and S.R. Kellert, eds. The Biophilia Hypothesis (New York: Shearwater Books, 1993)


Allison, P., M. Barnes, J. Burnett, et. Al. “The Anatomy of A Healing Garden” Journal of Healthcare Design 10 (1998): 101-112


Thompson, W. “A Question of Healing” Landscape Architecture (April, 1998): 68-93


Tiernan, J. “Healing Through Nature: Hospitals Cultivate Medical, Financial Interest in On-Site Gardens” Modern Healthcare (31)(2)(2001): 34-35


Ulrich, R. “Health Benefits of Gardens in Hospitals”

____. “Healing Gardens Nurture the Spirit While Patients Get Treatment”



American Horticultural Therapy Association

American Society of Landscape Architects

The Center for Health Design

Gardening for Good

Horticultural Therapy Institute

Plants at Work

Therapeutic Landscapes Database



[1] M. Waldholz. “Flower Power: How Gardens Improve Your Mental Health.” Wall Street Journal (August 26, 2003), D1

[2] T. Hartig, G.W. Evans, et al. “Tracking Restoration in Natural and Urban Field Settings.” Journal of Environmental Psychology (June 2003): 109-123

[3] R.S. Ulrich. “How Design Impacts Wellness.” Healthcare Forum Journal (September-October, 1992)

[4] V.I. Lohr, C.H. Pearson-Mims, and G.K. Goodwin. “Interior Plants May Improve Worker Productivity and Reduce Stress in a Windowless Environment.” Journal of Environmental Horticulture 14(2), 1996: 97-100

[5] Ulrich, Roger S. “How Design Impacts Wellness.” Healthcare Forum Journal (September-October, 1992)

[6] Ulrich, R. S., Lundén, O., and J. L. Eltinge. “Effects Of Exposure To Nature And Abstract Pictures On Patients Recovering From Heart Surgery.” Paper presented at the Thirty-Third Meetings of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Rottach-Egern, Germany. Abstract published in Psychophysiology, 30 (Supplement 1, 1993): 7

[7] See, for example, J.W. Narney, M.S. Whitehouse, et al. “Patients, Staff and Families Find Comfort in Healing Garden.”; “Tilemaking and Healing Garden at UCSF/Mount Zion.”; FRIENDS Garden at University of Michigan Hospital:  For a lengthy list of locations of “healing landscapes,” see

[10] Miller, R. L. and E. S. Swensson. New Directions in Hospital and Healthcare Facility Design  (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 159 [accompanying photo]

Home | Restorative Elements | Activities | Art |  Exercise/Movement | Journaling | Music | Nature and Nature Art | Relaxation | Sound | Architectural Elements | Design Considerations | About This Project | About Us | Contact Us

This site designed by jSierra Enterprises


This site is funded in part by a generous grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation