Permaculture and Garden Therapy


Here are some reasons why Permaculture may be the best environment for garden therapy;

Lets identify some of the mechanisms at work in a garden therapy and for each factor relate to the value addition of Permaculture.

Microorganism and biochemical interactions

Garden role in microorganisms preservation

Some put forward the beneficial biological exchanges happening between the human body and a natural environment which could be envisioned as an extension of allelopathy with complex molecular interactions (hormones, sound and mechanic vibrations, microbiome interactions, light, etc.) For example it has been demonstrated that children separated from dirt contact or using antibacterial hygiene products may develop immunodeficiency.

An example of interaction with human body is the biochemical impact on serotonin and dopamine levels.

The Permaculture value addition in microorganisms settlement

In this domain Permaculture ensures the necessary ecosystem biodiversity triggering a large spectrum of beneficial interactions. The biodiversity that Permaculture advocate goes beyond the simple fact of diversifying domestic plants settled in Zones 0 to 4 but as well in the necessity of including a nature (untouched) reserve (zone 5) within the farm limits where natural local biodiversity can express its full potential.

Physical contact with nature

Gardening is one of the rare direct physical contact we may have with nature. In a virtual world nourished exclusively by images and sounds it allows a more complete interaction with natural elements using touch and smell which are primal senses and create a very direct link with our environment. Gardening helps creating a feeling of ownership and inclusion through these senses related to matter and chemistry.

Permaculture by using usually simple and non intrusive tools gives the possibility to develop this direct contact.

Psychological interaction in the garden

The garden effect on human psychology

We know intellectually that human is part of nature, made from the same atomic and molecular constituents and that nature nourishes our capability to exist and thrive. However we may have lost some instincts about the extends of such a fundamental sharing, specifically between the flora and fauna kingdoms, here are some reminders;

The flora kingdom has many  particularities which may influence human psyche;

  1. Vegetation is slow to grow. The shift in speed scale between vegetation and human create a soothing feeling. Naturally and most of the time a danger may occur in an ecosystem triggered by an animal  and rarely from vegetation unless if having an inconsistent behavior (e.g. running into stinging plants). Vegetation is instinctively considered as non dangerous or  neutral.
  2. Vegetation is powerful. Many have experienced the imposing presence of giant trees or the large scale regeneration of vegetation when impeded. You remove invasive plants in an alley and get surprised to see a new invasion of adventive vegetation when passing by there one month later. Where vegetation loose speed capability it gains power by its massive structure and capability to colonize empty spaces.(This and the previous factors are at the source of ecological problems we face now days; indifference for nature since it belongs to another realm than human society and its inherent capability to regenerate, both factors creating detachment and lack of responsibility taking toward this realm.)
  3. Generous provision of nutrients. Here nature may be symbolized as the nutrient provider, the “mother of all, producing a symbolic milk for all creatures”.
  4. Nature and vegetation particularly is rich in its shapes and colors and represent a door on alterity.

Considering these 4 factors it becomes easy to see a relationship between a garden and a psychotherapist providing with an analytical process;

  • Both support a parental transfer by giving an image of power (force, stability and omnipresence) and protection (motionless therefore non real time intrusive, environmental services and food generation)
  • Both intend to control this transfer by showing a certain neutrality, providing only with “feedback” and being essentially the “third party” who provides with autonomy in fine.
  • Both create a context of self exploration and navigation where we may find deep roots; the natural ones (spiritual acceptation of being part of an environment) and nutritive one (food is the main flow attached to our root system; our stomach). Alterity generated by vegetation diversity stimulates as well a creative bound which heal the ego from narcissism.

The specificity of Permaculture within garden effects on human psychology

Here are the points where Permaculture may be essential in garden therapy in the perspective of psychology.

In most other techniques of gardening than Permaculture there is a total control of the garden, the architecture follows human artificial structures (lines, squares, human eyes perspectives, …) , the biodiversity is quasi totally controlled and non desired plants removed, annual plants replace perennials removing stability and resilience and creating the need for continue human labor, etc.

Permaculture proposes another approach where the beneficial psychological factors can apply fully. Some of the constituents of this approach are the following;

The third party factor

Nature is considered a living entity in Permaculture which can be orientated, supported, nourished but never entirely controlled as its autonomy is a pledge of prosperity and deep learning. Permaculture provides a garden its full capacity as acting like a third party which is essential in psychotherapy. A garden may become then a human mirror of either harmony or pathology, the garden not only provides with feedback but teaches lesson about natural integration in our environment. By becoming a somehow independent third party the garden gain the capability to stop patient transfer and nourish the patient with a feedback the patient can use for its own resilience.

The integrative capability

The gardener by paying attention to the garden needs acts as a parent and in case of Permaculture by stepping back from the “total” control provide its child with the autonomy and power the child will be able to pay back once grown into adult stage. Parent who are able to raise their child in a way that they find force and harmony create a context where collaboration becomes more important than competition , a context where the parents are appeased and get the feeling that they have fulfilled most of their role as a social entity. This phenomenon add to the feeling of human integration through positive contribution into a social network.

Abundance and recompense

By working with nature and not against nature Permaculture create synergy therefore more abundance. The product of such a process nourish then the identity of the gardener who sees his effort highly rewarded, especially in its tentative to find its own independence through the respect of the third party (the garden) independence. Collaboration and adaptive intelligence has made humanity the most efficient organism on earth and it is a deep part of its nature. Permaculture by easing this human trait helps the reconstruct process necessary in every therapy based on deconstructing artificial inherited lethal biases.


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