The Healing Power of the Bloedel Conservatory

Feeling blue or dealing with post-holiday stress? Spending time at the Bloedel Conservatory could be the perfect remedy! Regardless of our age or culture, humans are hard-wired to benefit from the healing power of nature. Studies show that 95% of people changed from feeling anxious and depressed to feeling more calm and balanced after spending time in green spaces. Gardens provide psychological, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits to humans. With winter weather upon us, a visit to the Bloedel Conservatory is like a mini-trip to the tropics that can provide a lift for your spirits!

So what are important features of a healing garden?

A growing body of research shows the importance and benefits of nature and green spaces for health – specifically in the area of stress reduction. “Passive recreation” is just as beneficial as actively working in a garden. The term “healing garden” refers to features in a green space that consistently help us recover from stress and have other positive influences on the body. Immediate benefits associated with shifting to a calm state are decreases in blood pressure and lowering of stress hormone levels in the body. These are things that impact our moods and foster a sense of tranquility, serenity and peacefulness, which in turn have a direct positive influence on our immune, digestive and brain functions.

Engaging the Senses

A healing garden will engage the senses and the Bloedel Conservatory does just that. The most obvious of these is using our sense of sight – but smell, touch and sound are all present. When you first walk into any garden, stop for a moment, shut your eyes and just listen. What do you hear? Wind rustling the leaves, birds singing, or perhaps running water? The sound of gently moving water has an inherent calming effect on our systems and we feel a natural affinity to it. It adds dimension and harmony to our surroundings. The sound of moving water is very relaxing and it has been found to enhance concentration. Stop on the hanging bridge at Bloedel for a few moments and listen to the waterfall. Take a deep breath. This in itself will help tension fade away. This is why practices like yoga, tai chi and meditation focus on breath awareness. As you start to walk through the Conservatory, don’t be afraid to touch the leaves and bark on trees. What does it feel like? Smooth, rough, textured? Maybe there is a flower nearby to smell? Be present in the moment and let any tension start to unwind.


‘Stop and smell the flowers’. In a study at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Dr. Haviland-Jones has found that nature provides us with a simple way to improve emotional health – which is as simple as enjoying flowers! “The presence of flowers triggers happy emotions, heightens feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behaviour in a positive manner far beyond what was previously believed.” They found that flowers – any flowers – have an immediate impact on happiness and a long-term positive effect on moods. Fragrances can evoke cheerful, exciting, and active images that change mood states by suppressing feelings of depression. In a nature setting, people may experience plant scents consciously or unconsciously. The Conservatory always has a selection of orchids and other gorgeous blooms on display.

Lush vegetation

Researcher Roger Ulrich has found that viewing vegetation as opposed to urban scenes, changes our brain waves from beta waves to a slower alpha wave that are associated with being “wakefully relaxed”. Being in “beta” is considered the norm for most people while in their everyday busy waking state. Alpha waves, however, are associated with states of mental and physical relaxation. Our brains drop into “alpha” during the first levels of meditation. Gazing at blues and greens in nature can lower blood pressure, heart rate and make you feel more relaxed. Interestingly, this positively impacts our gut microbiome so our immune and digestive systems benefit too!

Large trees

‘Forest bathing’ or “shinrin-yoku” is a term originating in Japan that refers to a type of ‘forest therapy’ or meditation. Forest bathing, backed by physiological tests in Japan confirm positive therapeutic effects of this activity on stress hormones, brain wave activity, pulse and blood pressure. Studies in Tokyo show participants have increased immune function, decreased stress hormone levels, and release of anti-cancer proteins after spending as little as 20 minutes in the forest. There is no shortage of large trees at Bloedel. In fact, a number of these were the first to be planted in the dome in 1969 and now reach over 60 feet in height. The Benjamin and India Figs, the Dragon trees, and Brazilian Jelly Palm are just a few of the stunning trees you will see and walk among.

Non-threatening wildlife

With over 150 free-flying birds and the antics of exotic parrots and macaws (not to mention the colourful Japanese Koi lazily swimming in the pond), one of them will surely bring a smile! Wildlife distracts us from stress and negative thoughts about issues in our lives, even if only temporarily. Laughter has great benefits for health! Say “Hello” to the parrots and maybe they will give you a “high-five”! So many things at the Bloedel Conservatory can lift your spirits and chase away the winter blues! Come for a visit to start the New Year and whenever you need to brighten your day!

Post by Vicky Earle

The Jewel Atop Vancouver: 50 Years at the Bloedel Conservatory, a beautiful 64-page full colour commemorative book on the Conservatory is available for purchase at: