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Nature based therapy – an ideal role for a botanical garden?

Volume 8 Number 1 - April 2011

Eva-Lena Larson

French:  Thérapie par la nature – un rôle pour un jardin botanique?
Spanish: Terapia basada en la naturaleza – ¿un papel ideal de un jardín botánico?

Stress-related disorders are commonplace these days, symptomatic perhaps of our dislocation from the natural rhythms of life. Gothenburg Botanical Garden’s ‘Green Rehab’ education programme, incorporating a range of gardening activities, exercise, stress management and other strategies, has been well received, as Eva-Lena Larson reports.

Everyone experiences stress now and then and many people around the world are now using gardening or nature walks as a means of relaxation. New research shows that nature helps us to reduce stress and to handle depression and anxiety. So how does the Gothenburg Botanical Garden fit into the picture – why is this important or interesting for us?

A botanical garden has many roles. It displays plants from far and near and creates possibilities for research, plant conservation and biodiversity. It offers an arena for public outreach and education on different levels. But a botanical garden is also a refuge for city people. A pleasant, undemanding place where you do not have the responsibility to mow the lawn or pull up weeds.  A place to just relax and recharge.

In the year 2000, the Gothenburg Botanical Garden (GBG) started a new project with the aim of gaining and disseminating knowledge on the connection between nature, gardening, health and lifestyle. During the following six years a collaboration between the garden and the University of Gothenburg took place. It resulted in several popular booklets on the subject and many lectures were held all over Sweden. In 2006, as a result of a regional political decision, GBG was asked to develop a rehabilitation programme for people with stress-related disorders. The Garden was happy to accept this opportunity to put theory into practice and Green Rehab, as the programme was named, opened that same year.

Success of Green Rehab

Today, in early 2011, Green Rehab has been running for almost five years. Initially intended to be a three-year project, in 2009 the region decided that it would become a permanent part of the Garden. A team of five people, consisting of a biologist, a gardener, a psychotherapist, a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist, is working with the patients on a daily basis. Fifty patients a year can attend one of the four present programmes, with a group size of eight. So far, a total of 200 participants have benefited from participating in the programmes.

If you have been on sick leave for a long time, it is not so easy to restart. Our patients have been away from work on average for 3.5 years. Green Rehab may be described as a transit centre, a place between home and work. Here you are given tools to handle the stress in your life, and you can take the first steps towards a new or a resumed career. The Green Rehab team supports participants through the sometimes difficult journey back to an active life. The method is successful – about 75 per cent of the patients return to work and studies after completing the programme.

There is also a programme for people who are at risk of developing stress-related illnesses. If we can prevent them from getting sick in the first place, a lot of pain and trouble will be avoided.  To help these patients, a variety of methods are used. Gardening and walks in the forest close by are highly effective. Other activities include relaxation exercises, body awareness, talking sessions and handicrafts. Unfortunately there is no magic wand at Green Rehab – patients will have to do the work by themselves, but the team will always support them.

Seven stops on the path of health

There is a strong educational element in Green Rehab and therefore it does form part of the educational programme at the Gothenburg Botanical Garden. The key message to everyone is that research results show that stress can be treated using gardens and nature. The first piece of advice is to take good care of yourself, so that you do not develop a stress-related disorder – it is easier to stop the breakdown than to climb back up the ladder after the illness. The Green Rehab programme is manifested in many ways in the public outreach activities of the GBG. In 2010, The Year of Health was celebrated and a small Garden of Health was erected in the entrance area. There is also web-based information and a guide to the new Path of Health can be downloaded to a mobile phone or as a mp3-file. Along this path you pass through seven stops. At each stop a piece of useful information on how nature and health are connected is presented, and you can also take part in a relaxation exercise. There is also a guide to specially selected Peaceful Places in the Garden. (In Sweden a new book has been published about the method used in Green Rehab.)

The GBG was recently host for a conference on the subject. Several well-known researchers, both national and international, presented their work to an enthusiastic audience of over 325 participants. The Green Rehab team members frequently give lectures, both at university level and in public. There is a huge interest since psychosocial illness is increasing through the whole Western world. Gardening and nature are potential remedies – ones we should all consider using.


Gothenburg Botanical Garden, Sweden

  • In total 175 hectares (ca 430 acres), of which most constitutes a nature reserve including the arboretum. The garden proper is about 40 hectares and here you can find 12,000 different species and cultivars.
  • The Rock Garden is famous and has received three stars in the Michelin Guide. Other fascinating parts of the garden are The Rhododendron Valley and The Japanese Glade.
  • The Greenhouses hold about 4,000 of various species and cultivars, including some 1,500 orchids.
  • The educational programme receives 5, 000 schoolchildren every year.
  • The garden is open every day, all year round, from 9 am until sunset.


Pour bon nombre de ses visiteurs, un jardin botanique est un lieu pour se relaxer et se régénérer. Green Rehab est un programme intégré au volet éducatif du Jardin botanique de Göteborg, en Suède. Ce programme, conduit depuis près de cinq ans, est destiné aux patients présentant des troubles liés au stress (épuisement professionnel). Plus de 200 patients y ont participé au cours de ces années. Les supports utilisés sont le jardinage, les sorties nature, la conscientisation du corps et l’art–thérapie, ainsi que la participation à des groupes d’entraide. Le bilan est positif, avec 75% des participants qui reprennent le travail ou les études. Green Rehab propose également des cours sur la gestion du stress.

Le Jardin botanique de Göteborg développe ses nouveaux objectifs liés à la nature, le jardinage, la santé et le mode de vie depuis 10 ans. Les informations à ce sujet sont communiquées aux visiteurs à travers un panel d'activités. Par exemple, un guide intitulé “Le chemin de la santé” a été publié, incluant une sélection de Lieux paisibles dans le jardin. L'année dernière, un petit jardin d’exposition intitulé “Le jardin de la santé” accueillait les visiteurs à l'entrée principale. Une conférence s'est tenue sur ce thème en août 2010.


Una de las funciones de un jardín botánico es el ser un lugar para relajamiento y recarga de energía. El jardín botánico de Gothenburg en Suecia, en este propósito, tiene el programa “rehabilitación verde” [Green Rehab]. Este se ha llevado a cabo por casi cinco años y es orientado a pacientes que sufren de agotamiento por estrés. Durante este tiempo se ha tratado  mas de 200 pacientes. Las herramientas usadas en esta terapia son: jardinería, caminatas, enfoque corporal y actividades de arte, asimismo como la participación en grupos de apoyo. El 75 % de los participantes han regresado exitosamente a su trabajo o estudios. “Rehabilitación verde” contiene también cursos por separado de manejo de estrés.

El jardín botánico de Gothenburg lleva desarrollado este nuevo enfoque en jardinería, salud y estilo de vida por 10 años. La información del mismo se comunica a los visitantes a través de un rango amplio de actividades.  En ellas tenemos la publicación de “camino a la salud” (Path of Health), que es una guía de lugares localizados en el jardín que se les llama ‘lugares de paz’ (Peaceful Places) y una pequeña exposición a la entrada del jardín con el titulo de ‘El jardín de la salud’ (The Garden of Health) a manera bienvenida para los visitantes. En agosto del 2010 se llevo a cabo exitosamente una conferencia con este tema.


Eva-Lena Larsson
Director of Public Activities (including Green Rehab)
Gothenburg Botanical Garden
Carl Skottsbergs gata 22A
413 19 Gothenburg, Sweden