Children’s Gardens

“A Running, Hollering, Skipping, Playing Place,” guest blog post by Addie Hahn

Topiary at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden, Portland, OR Photo by Max Sokol

In the following interview, Teresia Hazen answers questions by Addie Hahn, a writer who is also working towards her Child Life credential, about the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden, which won the American Horticultural Therapy Association Therapeutic Garden Award in 2000. Below are excerpts from the interview, and images of the garden by Max Sokol. To read the full interview, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Network website.

Teresia Hazen, M.Ed., HTR, QMPH is the Coordinator of Therapeutic Gardens and Horticultural Therapy for Legacy Health System in Oregon.

“A Running, Hollering, Skipping, Playing Place: A Conversation with Teresia Hazen on the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden.”

AH: Could you briefly describe the design process that led to the creation of the Emanuel Children’s Hospital garden?

TH: We did our design work in 1996. Then it was a three-stage process to develop all this, between 1997-99. Two major elements we wanted to address in this garden for kids and their siblings were a therapeutic focus and a restorative focus, or unstructured, independent time. To develop our list of therapeutic requirements, we needed to involve the clinicians. And in these meetings, we needed to hear about the dreams, the aspirations and the clinical goals of each team. We had Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Child Life, Spiritual Care, Managers, Horticultural Therapists and our Landscape Architect. All of those people had very specific goals and needs for the garden setting.

The second reason we have the garden is to provide a restorative setting for every patient, visitor and employee 24-7. So we had to be thinking about some of the elements that were needed for that. One of those turned into the 3-5 niche spots, or bump-out areas where a small group can gather to socialize, provide emotional support or grieve together.

Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden, Portland, OR Photo by Max Sokol

Benches provide a place for privacy and social support. Photo by Max Sokol

AH: What are a few of the ways the garden is used clinically now?

TH: Physical Therapists needed walking rails for adults and for children, as well as some inclines, because you have to learn to walk in settings like this first if you’re going to go back out in to community settings.

Speech and Language Therapists needed items that would lead and encourage children around the garden. So, having a curved pathway encourages them now to go, “What’s around that corner?” A dragonfly sculpture in a tree might be something to watch for and “tell us when you see it.” The dragonfly starts the communication task.

We needed places where kids could maneuver—inclines, declines and a variety of surfaces that they need to manage while working on mobility skills. Kids ride their trikes and scooters for therapy, and we even have a Seguay now that kids with vestibular disorders ride to work toward meeting their treatment goals.

Yellow Brick Road, Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

The "yellow brick road" pathway winds through the garden. Photo by Max Sokol

AH: What do you suggest for hospitals that may not have the funds to hire a Horticultural Therapist, or where staff may at first be resistant to the idea of bringing a professional on board? Are there ways a Child Life Therapist or other staff member could slowly introduce staff to the idea?

TH: Any therapist can add nature-based activities. They could say, “We’re going to integrate nature into our programming.” Anyone can do that. Integrate what you can manage. Consider a 12’ X 12 niche. Do only what you can maintain, and maintain with quality year-round. Therapeutic gardens need to be four season environments.

AH: Can you talk about what you believe is behind the growing interest in incorporating ‘healing gardens’ or smaller-scale, natural elements into hospitals and other healthcare environments?

TH: Programs everywhere are looking for cost-effective ways to help client therapeutic programs do their work most efficiently and effectively.  We’re all working leaner these days–a reflection of the economic setting. These gardens provide choices for all therapeutic programs to help patients connect in whatever ways they need to to aid rehabilitation and recovery and discharge as soon as possible. These gardens are a coping resource and if well designed, can assist patients in their treatment and recovery.

We can also provide that kind of care and honoring even to families that have a baby or a child who is in hospice. The clinical team has assisted parents in supporting the child’s death in the garden. Two nurses will come with the parents. Parents initiate this request and they want their child to experience the fresh air or the sunshine before they die.  Nature is a place of spirituality for many family groups.

Clematis and roses at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

Clematis and roses at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden. Photo by Max Sokol

Addie Hahn is a freelance writer who is also working on obtaining her Child Life certification. She lives in West Linn, Oregon and can be reached at

Max Sokol is a freelance photographer based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at

Many thanks to Addie, Max, and Teresia for this excellent post! To read the full interview, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s References page.

Comfort, Tranquility, and Fun! Guest Book Entries from Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden

Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital Garden, Portland, OR

Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital Garden (photo by Max Sokol)

The Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden in Portland, OR, now in its fourteenth year, serves a wide variety of children and includes a neonatal intensive care unit, a cancer and blood disorders program, mental health, neurology, and orthopedics programs, and an eating disorders clinic, among others. The garden is recognized by professionals as an excellent example of a hospital healing garden, and its visitors seem to agree. Here are some recent entries from the garden’s guest book. Stay tuned for a great guest blog post by Addie Hahn on this garden and its horticultural therapist, Teresia Hazen.

Entries from the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital Garden Guest Book

After being in my daughter’s room for 4 days I needed some fresh air and tranquility to let my emotions out. What a comfort this garden is. Our daughter enjoyed it the first day we arrived and wants to come out here again soon.

The garden is my favorite place to visit in this hospital. My children love this place too, so friendly and peaceful a place that we can have some quiet time away from our patient room. Thank you so much for the wonderful gardening and decorations. This is the place where we can breathe better!

I am from Mongolia. I like this garden. My friend stayed in this hospital 8 days. Today I take him outside. He is very happy to be here. I hope everybody enjoys this garden.

The garden has “loved” us through our son’s surgery and has really made a difference. Thank you.

I am staying with my baby brother. I love the garden. It helps him sleep. It is very peaceful and the plants are amazing. My baby brother’s favorite plant is the monkey puzzle tree.

We are here today on a garden visit. While here for 2 weeks last month, we found peace and tranquility. Our son loved being wheeled in his “chariot” all hours of the day and night through the garden. Every visit we saw something new. We are so very grateful for these moments and memories.

I came to see my new cousin Kegara. She is tiny and cute. Thank you for this pretty garden. It’s lots of fun!!!

Next Month! National Children & Youth Garden Symposium

The Vitality of Gardens: Energizing the Learning Environment

That’s the theme for The American Horticultural Society‘s (18th!) annual National Children & Youth Garden Symposium, to be held July 22-24, 2010, in Pasadena, CA.

“The restoration we seek in gardens is more essential than ever, but gardens are also sources of healthy food, environmental protection and personal fulfillment. The garden can be an incubator for fostering engaged citizens. For children and youth, a garden can be a science lab, art studio, kitchen, gathering place, theater of the imagination, a special place to explore the world.

Come learn how to create and use gardens to provide dynamic environments for experimentation, social engagement, self-expression, and connection to the natural world. Hear from youth, the adults in their lives, and national experts about the vital role of gardens in the lives of today’s youth.”

Visit the AHS website for more details about tours, speakers, education sessions, and more.

Now online! Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs

Since Richard Louv began his No Child Left Inside campaign, we have seen a wonderful groundswell around the importance of children experiencing the natural world. And at the same time, sadly, we continue to see an alarming rise in children with autism and other related disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism now affects 1 in every 110 American children. This new number is a staggering 57% increase from 2002-2006. Clearly, we need more research on prevention and treatment options, but we also need more ways to help those children (and their families) on the “autism spectrum” who are coping on a daily basis.

One way that we can help is by designing environments that support children on the spectrum, including outdoor play and learning spaces. That’s why Tara Vincenta – Principal at Artemis Landscape Architects and creator of the SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment –  and I were thrilled when KaBOOM! approached us about doing an online training on this very subject. We’ve had a great time collaborating and are happy to announce that the training is now available on the KaBOOM! website, and will soon be up on the SOL Environment and Therapeutic Landscapes Network websites as well.

The free online training is called “Prescription for Play: Nature-based Play and Learning for Autistic and Special Needs Children.” Here’s the description:

Join landscape architects Naomi Sachs, Director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network and Tara Vincenta, creator of SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment as they explore research and design considerations for creating outdoor, nature-based play and learning environments for autistic and special needs children. Many of the challenges faced by autistic children are shared with a broader community of special needs children, including motor, neuromuscular, cognitive, sensory and communication issues, and visual and auditory impairment. Sachs and Vincenta will share ideas for creating outdoor spaces that allow children to play at their own comfort level, overcoming common challenges in a safe, FUN, nature-based environment that is equally engaging for any child.

Go to KaBOOM’s Hot Topics in Play page to access the training, and if ours is not the first training, just scroll down until you see it. You’ll find other great topics there as well, and once you join KaBOOM (free, of course), you can access any and all. KaBOOM! is a wonderful non-profit organization whose mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities, and whose vision is “a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.”

You can also download a pdf of the supplemental materials – a list resources in print and online about this topic – from the KaBOOM website, and we’ll have those on our respective websites soon, too.

Many, many thanks to KaBOOM! (and especially to Kiva) for this wonderful opportunity, and to you, dear reader, for spreading the word (yes, that’s a hint).

New Research Summary on Outdoor Play Spaces at Childcare Centers

Image of Buffalo PS90 courtesy Joy Kuebler

If you’re relatively new to this blog, then you may not yet have heard me rave (in a positive way) about InformeDesign. This is one of the best resources for evidence-based design (EBD), and it’s still free, and you can sign up to have new research summaries emailed to you.

One summary this week that seems particularly appropriate to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is of an article by Susan Harrington, “Perspectives from the Ground: Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Outdoor Play Spaces at Child Care Centers.”

Previous studies have indicated that outdoor play spaces have the potential to support physical, emotional, and social growth in children, and the author chose to focus on Canadian outdoor splay spaces, from the point of view of Early Childhood Educators (ECEs).

The finding that most interested me was that outdoor play spaces with plants got more positive comments than those with no or little vegetation. Furthermore, ECEs working at centers with vegetation tended to make more positive comments about seasonal change (fall color, plant cycles, etc.) than those in centers with no vegetation, where comments regarding seasonal change were more negative (hot asphalt and slides, wet equipment, etc.). Cue all landscape architects, designers, and plant-lovers whispering “yes!” in victorious unison.

And for those of you who are especially interested in children’s play environments, I’ll also call your attention to a recent blog post by Shawna Coronado on creating gardens for children: “Fantasizing About Spring: A Garden Built for a Child.” Lots more information on the TLN’s Get Out and Play! page as well.

Full citation: Harrington, Susan (2008). “Perspectives from the Ground: Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Outdoor Play Spaces at Child Care Centers.” Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 64-87.

The image above is of Buffalo (NY) Public School 90 Early Childhood Science Center Magnet, designed by Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect. It was featured last month on Playscapes, a great blog about playground design.

Design Inspiration from the Huntington Children’s Garden

Sorry about the formatting on this post – didn’t quite make it over well from our old blog post address.

This year, the American Horticultural Therapy Association‘s annual conference took place in Pasadena, and we were so fortunate to have the Huntington Library and Botanical Garden as our host and conference setting. Designers of children’s gardens for healthcare could take a few (or more) pages out of the Huntington Garden’s children’s garden. I’m going to keep the verbage to a minimum with this post and simply provide you with images from my recent visit to this inspiring place of discovery, learning, and play.

Huntington Children's Garden. Photo by Naomi SachsThis door, and the footprints leading up to it, say “this place is for kids!”

A child-sized “green house”…
window boxes and all…  

Green animals! Many of the plants in the garden are what I call “Dr. Seuss plants” – trees and shrubs that are strange and fun. Also lots of plants, such as lamb’s ears and Artemisa Powis Castle, to touch and smell for sensory exploration.

Myriad fountains. Upon seeing some leaves in one fountain (see the short video below), a youngster (probably about ten years old), exclaimed, “Look at the leaves are swirling around in the fountain! That’s so COOL!”

This sculpture might look a bit imposing for a children’s garden, until you see – or I should say hear – it in action.









Comfortable, shady places for parents and grandparents to relax. Beautiful combinations of plants for even the most sophisticated plant-lover.  

But most important, plants designed for young people to run, explore, and play under, over, and through.

Morton Arboretum’s New Children’s Garden

Image courtesy of

The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL (25 miles west of Chicago) has just opened a new Children’s Garden, and it’s getting rave reviews, including this one by Leslie McGuire for, “The Best Backyard in the World.”

Designed by Herb Schaal of EDAW Fort Collins, the four-acre garden is intended to “spark children’s curiosity about the natural world” in a safe place that “combines different experiences that challenge physical, cognitive, and emotional development in delightful ways while teaching all about natural systems.”

McGuire goes into depth with descriptions of the various areas of the garden, including Backyard Discovery Gardens, Tree Finder Grove, Kid’s Tree Walk, Adventure Woods, and the Central Plaza. It’s a good read, with lots of pictures to spark the imagination.

Children’s gardens in arboreta, botanical gardens, and other parks are often so creative. Unlike your average playground with a bunch of plastic equipment on some rubber surface, these children’s gardens are all about making discovery and learning full of fun, wonder, and delight. I just visited the one at the Huntington Gardens and was so impressed. I’ll be blogging about that soon. I only wish that that same imagination could be employed more often in children’s gardens in healthcare facilities. Why is it not? Do we lack the budget? Are we scared about litigation? Are we creating generic “healing gardens” that are designed as contemplative spaces instead of as places where kids can run around, play, be distracted, and blow off steam? What do you think, dear reader? Also, if you have a favorite children’s garden, in a healthcare facility or not, please share by leaving a comment; we’ll add it to our growing list on the (new improved!) Therapeutic Landscapes Network website.

Image courtesy of

First Children’s Outdoor Environments Newsletter

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”
– Joseph Chilton Pierce

The ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) has published its first newsletter, and it’s an indicator of many more good things to come from this group, formed last year by Jena Ponti (the Chair), Robin Moore*, and others. To link to the newsletter, click HERE.

Encouraging children and teens to play outside, to interact with nature, is so important. Our future – and more importantly, their future – depends on it. I’ve blogged about Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, his organization the Children & Nature Network, and his work on passing “No Child Left Inside” Legislation (sign the petition HERE!).

If you’re interested in this topic, here are some other really good organizations, websites, and blogs to get you started (have other suggestions? Leave comment and we’ll add it to this list).

Robin Moore’s Natural Learning Initiative
The National Institute for Play
The Green Hour
The Grass Stain Guru
The Child & Nature Alliance
Playscapes: A Blog About Playground Design

What’s Out There

Our ASLA conference is coming up in a little over a week, and several education sessions focus on children’s outdoor environments and play. See this blog post to learn more about those.

*Robin C. Moore is also the author of my favorite book about plants for children’s gardens, titled – aptly – Plants for Play. In addition to an extensive list of ideas about what to plant, he also provides a good list of what not to plant – plants that are potentially harmful. Good to know!

Thanks, Aryeh, for the picture!

Edible Gardens are Healing Gardens

Image courtesy of Anne Dailey

I can’t believe summer’s almost over. It flew by this year. Depending on where you are in this country, or in the world, your growing season is coming to a close (or just beginning, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere – lucky you!). Here in the Hudson Valley, we’ve got a couple of months left before a hard frost hits, with end-of-the-summer treats like corn, tomatoes (though many fewer this year due to the
blight), peppers, and melons. In my own tiny raised bed garden, I’ve got tomatoes, chard, arugula, and lots of herbs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about edible gardens as healing landscapes. After all, food is life. What could be more nurturing than good, healthy food? And not just nutritionally, though most of us know by now that the closer our food source is, the more nutrients (and flavor) it has to offer. On top of all that, there is something nurturing to the spirit about growing and eating your own food. Whether you have a few pots of herbs and tomatoes on the deck or fire escape, or an acre of land to tend, or a plot in a community garden or CSA (community-supported agriculture), an edible garden is a healing garden for body and soul.

Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and even Martha Stewart, to name just a few, are some of the more well-known advocates of eating locally, slowly, and sustainably. The locavore/backyard (and front yard!) farmer/victory garden movement has exploded, and lots of individuals, families, schools, communities, the New York Botanical Garden – heck, even the first family – are getting in on the grow-and-eat-your-own action. And there’s a plethora of information out there. On twitter alone, I’m following over two dozen people and organizations devoted to small-scale/local farming and agriculture and edible gardens. Not sure when to plant radishes? Debating about sowing a cover crop? Thinking of saving seeds from your heirloom squash? Just google it. A great example low-tech analog and high-tech digital living happily ever after.

And what a great learning experience for children, to know not only what real zucchini or blueberries or carrots taste like, but how they grow (vine, bush, in the ground below those frilly green tops).

Image courtesy of Allison Vallin and A Tasteful Garden

This New York TimesOne in 8 Million” piece on Buster English in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood really touched me, and hits on several of the ideas in this post.

To really get the most out of your edible garden as healing garden, here are some suggestions:

1. Grow organic: Avoid pesticides and herbicides. After all, a big part of growing your own food is creating a healthier alternative for you, your family and friends, and your neighbors. The people and the soil and the creatures who live in and around it will thank you.

2. Start small: If you’ve never “farmed” before, don’t take on too much at once. Plant what (or maybe even less than) you think you’ll need or that you have time to tend. Nothing puts a damper on your enjoyment of a garden like feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or inept. You can always do more next year.

3. Grow stuff you really like, or that you can’t get enough of locally (for example, even if I wanted to buy sorrel, it just isn’t available around here; and the first thing I’d plant if I had more space would be a fig tree); or that’s expensive to buy at the store/market (another example: I don’t grow potatoes or onions because I can get them cheap. Arugula, on the other hand…).

4. Teach the children: Put your kids to work! Or better yet, set aside a part of the garden that’s just for them. Radishes, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, peas, and many herbs are easy to grow, even from seed. Here’s an article on the “top ten” kid-friendly veggies (and fruit) and another on the ones that might be a bit more of a challenge. What magic, to put a tiny radish seed into the ground, to water and care for it, to see a tiny shoot emerge, to tend it some more, and then pull it out of the ground and savor its bright pink, spicy peppery crispness. And what joy to be a part of that discovery and delight.

5. Include your elders. Maybe it’s your parents, or your grandparents, or other relatives, or the elderly couple that lives down the street. Maybe it’s residents of a nearby senior center. Many people from earlier generations grew up farming, or at least tending a kitchen garden, and they have knowledge and stories to share. In return, you can share some of your bounty with them. If I had my druthers, intergenerational gardening would be the next big thing.

6. And speaking of which: Share! If for no other reason than to impress your neighbors with your farming acumen, give some of your harvest away. What a truly generous gift.

7. And last but not least: Enjoy. Every time I bite into one of my home-grown tomatoes, I’m blown away not just by the taste; I also feel a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. Such beauty, such flavor, such nourishment. To me, that’s about as healing as it gets.

Image courtesy of Claire Brown and Plant Passion

New ASLA Professional Practice Network: Children’s Outdoor Environments

Here’s another sign that people are recognizing the importance of outdoor environments for kids: The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recently approved a new Professional Practice Network (PPN) on Children’s Outdoor Environments. The Healthcare and Therapeutic Design and other PPNs have touched on this subject, but it’s high time it had its own PPN, so kudos to Jena Ponti, this year’s chair, for making it happen. Here’s her guest blog post about the new ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN:

“Landscape architects play a critical role in advocating and designing a variety of places for children to play, learn, and develop a relationship with the natural environment to carry with them into adulthood and citizenship.  The movement to (re)connect children with nature has been steadily growing and gaining momentum.  

In a time when children, on average, spend 45 hours a week “plugged in” and less than 30 minutes a week in outdoor unstructured play, our profession has no option but to act.

One exciting step forward is the recent passing of the No Child Left Inside Act H.R. 3036 and S. 1981.  This Act symbolizes recognition on a federal level of the movement to uplift ecological literacy in schools through enhanced environmental education curriculum.  The NCLI Act requires K-12 school systems to strengthen environmental education curriculums, provide teacher training, and provide federal grant money for schools to pay for environmental education.  This Act will provide $100 million a year to support this work in participating school systems.”

For more information on the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN please contact Jena Ponti, RLA at or click HERE. 

Many thanks to Jena for this guest post, and to A.S. for the photo of his lovely daughter.