Oliver Sacks: Nature is a Therapy More Powerful Than Medication

We’ve missed Oliver Sacks since his passing, sad that we would not be seeing any more of his brilliant thinking.  So we were so happy to discover a new book of his essays, collected in Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales.  Here’s an excerpt from a beauty published in the New York Times recently as The Healing Power of Gardens:

As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.

Noble/ The Garden Conservancy

He describes patients with various disabling neurological disorders such as Alzeimer’s and Parkinson’s able to navigate far better when in a garden….

I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication….

…Clearly, nature calls to something very deep in us. Biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition. Hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage and tend nature, is also deeply instilled in us. The role that nature plays in health and healing becomes even more critical for people working long days in windowless offices, for those living in city neighborhoods without access to green spaces, for children in city schools or for those in institutional settings such as nursing homes. The effects of nature’s qualities on health are not only spiritual and emotional but physical and neurological. I have no doubt that they reflect deep changes in the brain’s physiology, and perhaps even its structure.

Sally Schneider

Daily walks in the park across the way have changed our lives, offering a simple way to soften worry, stress, agitation of all kinds….But Sacks’ experiences  — described in detail in the essay — makes us realize that we could take the healing effects farther.  We only have to be present, and that is a practice.


Start anywhere.



Kenneth Lars for The New Yorker


Cartoon via the New Yorker’s Instragram 

3 Responses to Oliver Sacks: Nature is a Therapy More Powerful Than Medication

  1. Jan 06.03.2019 at 8:58am #

    I would like to read read more about Sack’s theories. As someone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s the only place I feel my true self is in the garden or when visiting other gardens. Nature has a calming sense of zen that takes over the body. Experiencing the sights, senses, sounds and textures is very cleansing to the soul and to the mind. It is a feast to be experienced.

  2. Olga @ MangoTomato 06.03.2019 at 3:26pm #

    This is so true. A walk around my neighborhood and seeing all the beautifully tended gardens always helps my mood! (As is a condo filled with plants and flowers.)

  3. Sally Schneider 06.03.2019 at 7:23pm #

    I don’t know how much he published about this. But he cites a number of examples in the article. In one case, tremors stopping alltogether while in a garden. That says so much about nature’s effect on our nervous systems.

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