On a breezy morning in Singapore, I walk along a circular pathway into the new therapeutic garden in HortPark, a 22-acre park in the city-state’s southwestern corner. Water dribbles in a fountain. Wind chimes tinkle. The sweet smells of gardenia and ylang ylang attract butterflies from the nearby butterfly garden, and the aromas of screw pine and basil evoke the Southeast Asian kitchen. The shaded benches and gazebos here provide a respite from the hyper-urban city.
Copious evidence has shown that urban green spaces have a net positive effect on people’s health. Access to green spaces can improve mood, and ease anxiety, stress, and depression. Green spaces also have a long history as specific therapeutic modalities. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticulture has been used as therapy since ancient times; the use of horticulture to calm the senses dates as far back as 2000 BCE in Mesopotamia. In the United States, the practice became widespread and acceptable in the 1940s and 1950s, when these therapies were used as part of the rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans. Now, the landscapes—which often include a variety of plants with interesting form, texture, and color to provide sensory stimulation and firm, smooth path surfaces easy for wheelchairs to navigate—have been installed in hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement communities.