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Hospitals garden is latest stop for visitor studying natures health benefits
Australian scholar on worldwide fellowship tour studying plants' therapeutic benefits
Anne’s Garden at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville was one of many gardens Steven Wells, a visitor from Australia, has toured over the past five weeks. Wells came to visit NGMC as a part of a Churchill Trust Fellowship, which allowed him to travel for seven weeks to see gardens in different climates around the world. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The truth of grandma’s sayings about the benefits of gardening and nature was a subject for conversation Thursday in Anne’s Garden at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Mark Fockele, owner of the Fockele Garden Co., talked with Steven Wells, a visitor from Australia, about the therapeutic benefits to health of gardens.

Fockele touted the benefits of garden as “one of those home truths that we all know to be true, but we can’t prove them.”

However, he added, research in the past decade has demonstrated benefits in reducing medicine needed by patients and in shortening the length of hospital stays.

Wells came to visit NGMC and its gardens as part of a Churchill Trust Fellowship. The fellowship allowed him to travel for seven weeks to see gardens in “a different spectrum of climates” and with different species of plants. He had been to Singapore, the United Kingdom and Boston before arriving in Gainesville.

He will go to Portland and San Francisco to visit other gardens before returning to Australia.

Wells explained the fellowship allows Australians to travel overseas to study any field or career in which they are interested and “bring that knowledge back.” He said he would produce a paper for the website of the Churchill Trust and would make presentations about his trip to interested groups.

He has the unusual background of being a nurse and a horticulturist. He said he was planning a career change and “came across horticultural therapy,” which seemed to fit with his nursing background.

Wells said he “has been able to confirm some aspects (of gardens) that are universal” on his trip. He noted that designing, fundraising, developing and maintaining gardens have the same basic outlines, and he said maintaining gardens is a perpetual question.

Learning “how we can make this last” is a constant need for therapeutic gardens, he said.

“We all know that gardens have health benefits on our lives,” Fockele said.

He used the contrasts of having a “view of nature out your window as opposed to a view of a parking lot out your window” as an example.

Wells noted the tranquility and serenity of gardens often help patients and family members with stress.

Wells said recent research has demonstrated that gardens can help patients recover sooner, reducing hospital stays and costs.

“That’s a viable option,” he said.

He cited the quantitative and qualitative benefits from gardens and said, “there is an increasing awareness of qualitative benefits.”

Those gardens have psychological benefits that have become more evident in recent years, he said.

Anne’s Garden was opened in 2009. Fockele said it took about two years to design and build it.