Book Review: Open Spaces Sacred Places

The Therapeutic Landscapes Resource Center takes a broad view of therapeutic landscapes, or what we call Landscapes for Health.™ According to our definition, any outdoor space that fosters health and wellness is a Landscape for Health. While we tend to focus more on healthcare design, we see great value in other spaces that put people in contact with nature: Community gardens, sensory gardens, public parks, nature preserves, gardens in prisons, and even indoor gardens and atria. It’s not often that you find a book that covers this breadth of examples, and that’s because there aren’t many organizations out there devoted to supporting this breadth of Landscapes for Health.

Enter the TKF Foundation (, founded in 1996 by Tom and Kitty Stoner. TKF’s mission is “to provide the opportunity for a deeper human experience by supporting the creation of public greenspace that offers a temporary place of sanctuary, encourages reflection, provides solace, and engenders peace.” The T and K stand for Tom and Kitty, and the F stands for “Firesouls,™” leaders and individuals “who have the spark of hope and energy to find a way…to foster the creation of places that can become sacred and embedded in nature.” TKF has worked hand in hand with these Firesouls, often in ongoing relationships that go far beyond just donating funds, to build these open spaces and sacred places (see for more on this).

In the past twelve years, TKF has funded more than 120 projects in and around the Maryland/Washington D.C. area, where the Stoners are based. Twelve of these projects are lovingly described, in words, photographs, and drawings, in the new book Open Spaces, Sacred Places (2008), written by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp. These include nature preserves, vacant lots transformed into community gardens, an arboretum, gardens in healthcare facilities, a prison garden, and even a tree-planting project. 

In each of the gardens, a bench made from recycled pickle barrel wood (originally designed by Chuck Foster and Paul Willey and now created by the inmates at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, MD) offers a place for people to sit, reflect, and connect to nature and each other. A yellow journal and pencil are tucked into a built-in pocket beneath each bench, and Open Spaces Sacred Places is filled with journal entries from people of all ages and walks of life who have been touched by the place they are visiting. Here are three examples: “I give thanks to whatever spirits whispered in my ear today and gently led me through the gate of this very special garden. I will try to carry its energy in my heart and consciousness when I am outside the walls,” and “My daddy moved his finger today,” and “Places like this make me feel like everything will be OK.”

Tom Stoner’s inscription in my review copy of Open Spaces Sacred Places was “Be inspired!” And I truly am, every time I look at the book and think about TKF’s amazing work. But we can learn a lot from this book, too, and I’m sure I’ll refer to it again and again. For anyone who has waged the uphill battle of getting something built, especially something that involves the collaborative process with designers and community members and administrators and red tape and bureaucracy, these stories provide something of a road-map, hope, and yes, inspiration.

You can learn more about Open Spaces Sacred Places at this site:, where you can also buy the book. And for those of you who missed the earlier blog posting about TKF, click HERE for a nice article by Anne Raver of The New York Times about the organization.