Reimagining the Home Landscape

How therapy gardens can inspire our “forever home” landscapes
Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin/Denver Botanic Gardens

When homeowner Sally Lillie had spinal cord surgery in 2021, she set two important goals for her recovery.

“I wanted to be able to walk three miles per day and to garden again,” Lillie shared.

For many people, gardens are a big part of what makes their house a home. And studies show that immersing ourselves in nature is good for us. Plants have the power to lower our heart rate and blood pressure, which improve our mood and memory. We sleep better. We feel happier. We feel connected to the greater rhythm of the world.

But Lillie quickly discovered that her yard was not set up to help her achieve her goal of nurturing a pretty garden.

After surgery, Lillie couldn’t get outside for six weeks because every entrance to her home had stairs. A year after surgery, she still finds stairs challenging to navigate. Her gardens are down on the ground, surrounded by turf, making them difficult to access. And don’t even get her started on accessing the hose!

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating a “forever home” landscape, there are ways to rethink our yards, so people in different stages of life can easily experience nature and enjoy their homes for more years.

Raise your plants up

When things are on the ground, we often overlook them, observed Emmanuel Didier, principal and creative director of Didier Design Studio, the landscape architects behind the sensory gardens at Denver Art Museum and Denver Botanic Gardens.

“If you put jewels on the ground, people would think they didn’t matter,” Didier mused.

“By raising and displaying things, you add value and meaning to them. Elevating things can be a catalyst for having people notice and perceive them in a different way.”

In home landscapes, raising plants up makes them easier to touch and explore. Suddenly, your homeowner is eye level with the ladybug on the leaf, the fresh scent of herbs or the swaying seedheads of ornamental grasses.

RELATED: Putting Colorado Back in Our Landscapes

Just as important, you’re making your homes inclusive–whether a homeowner is visually impaired, is weary from illness and is unable to bend, or has limited mobility.

So, what are ways to elevate plants, so people can experience their outdoor space anew?

  • Plant tall flowers up front and along pathways, rather than short plants.
  • Embrace raised garden beds. Think in options–different heights for children, adults who are sitting and adults who are standing. Ideally, the beds are narrow, so they’re easy to reach across. (Four feet is a common width.)
  • Create green walls, such as plant pockets with drip irrigation.
  • Get creative with climbing vines. Gazing at a fence is not inspiring! But vines and foliage can transform vertical surfaces into sensory experiences.
  • Use planters in meaningful places. Bigger planters tend to be better for our Colorado winters. (Plant roots are less likely to freeze with more soil volume.)

Erin Lovely, a horticultural therapist at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, said patients who return to their homes after care often want to grow food. In traditional landscapes, veggie beds are tucked away in back corners, and they typically aren’t easy to get to!

Raise those beds up and bring them forward, she suggested. Make them prominent features that are accessible from patios or pathways.


Raised planter box
Vertical gardens and raised beds can make home landscapes inviting and easier to maintain. Photo: Ann Kendall

Ann Kendall

Ann Kendall, Western garden writer and Certified Colorado Gardener, Plant Select.

Ann Kendall has 5 posts and counting. See all posts by Ann Kendall

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