Healing Spaces and Places by Maya Mathur

Like most, I’ve always enjoyed receiving flowers. My first boyfriend used to pluck hibiscus and plumeria from the neighborhood hedges and place them behind my ear, causing seventeen year old me to swoon. When we broke up, I continued to buy myself flowers as a sweet gesture— tangible proof that I could make myself feel loved in this archaic sort of way.  Through this, I figured out which color of tulips I liked and how much I disliked roses— and  how boring flowers could get when I knew nothing about them other than which season they  thrived in.  

When the first lockdown ended, I was desperate to get out of my house and away from my store-bought bouquet that had overstayed its welcome by about a week— and a newly purchased succulent that was infested with gnats. I had gotten used to my room being a source of comfort during the worst bad brain days, but it had begun to feel closed-in and suffocating. I had desperately missed art museums, but I had never realized just how much I missed being  immersed in nature; how much I missed botanical gardens themselves.  

Botanical gardens are ethereal— lush greenery juxtaposing against the cluttered backdrop of the city. An escape from reality; almost as if you were opening a book and getting lost within  its pages— a world far away from your own. The solace I find in reading is almost equivalent to  the solace I’ve found when walking through a botanical garden, a form of horticulture therapy.  Full of shrubs from various parts of the world, flowers native to Hawai’i and herbs galore, these  gardens are full of culture and history and it’s easy to lose yourself within the winding dirt paths  when you’ve been deprived for so long.  

Spaces like these are integral to nurture our mind and spirit. Whether it be a desire to learn more about native plants and their uses, the increased production of white cells in our immune system that comes from walking through nature or a moment of reflection, botanical gardens are healing spaces that allow us to escape the routine of everyday life. Yet, while it’s easy to say this as someone who is comfortable in these spaces, sometimes they can seem almost  exclusive to those who aren’t as familiar. Like most exhibition spaces, people often feel  intimidated by the unknown— tending to hold the belief that if they have no intrinsic knowledge, then there’s no point in going. It’s definitely something that institutions like botanical gardens and museums need to work on. No one should feel excluded from spaces that are meant to heal and teach due to a lack of taught knowledge— these spaces are open for everyone, especially those who barely know anything about plants. The healing nature of botanical gardens is literal. The original intended use of botanical gardens were pharmaceutical and served the community’s health needs. They were often attached to castles and monasteries and were viewed with high reverence— which may play into the modern idea that botanical gardens are not for everyone. And while it couldn’t be further from the fact, there are systems in place that have allowed for this for as long as these spaces have been around.  

The colorful blooms in contrast with a plethora of green, fresh air filled with sometimes  conflicting smells and an atmosphere laden with tranquility, botanical gardens can be healing  spaces that allow you an escape from everyday monotony for just a few hours— and maybe,  after those hours, you’ll see the world with fresh eyes. 

Maya Mather is an Indian, Chinese and Italian-American freelance writer and editor based in Honolulu. When she’s not writing, she’s constantly on the search for a new book or can be found taking photos of her beautiful friends. Her other hobbies include reading the New Yorker in bed, attempting to paint bread and cheese and watching foreign films.

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