Healing Garden

Garden of Hope and Courage

Thanks to Amy Lane at the Garden of Hope and Courage for submitting this garden for the Therapeutic Landscapes Database Gardens page. This healing garden in Naples, FL is located on the Downtown Naples Hospital Campus, and was built in honor of Jan Emfield, who died after a long battle with breast cancer. “By blending water, plants, sculpture and the natural topography of the earth into a therapeutic retreat, the garden will offer patients a chance to reduce their negative emotions and stress. Its purpose is to inspire hope and courage; two necessary ingredients in the fight against cancer and all illness.”

Winter Landscapes: Planting for Winter Interest

The view from my office window during an ice storm in February
(trees are Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’)

It’s finally March, which means winter is almost over, and spring is almost here. In some parts of the country and world, this means a lot. But before winter comes to a close and we forget about it until next year, some thoughts on designing outdoor spaces that hold your or your clients’ interest, even on the darkest, coldest days.

1. Use plant material that offers winter interest.
a. Evergreens such as pines, junipers, holly, bamboo, and ivy, to name just a few, offer glimpses of much-needed green at this time of year.

b. Berries that linger throughout the winter give us something colorful for us to look at (two of my favorites are winterberry holly (
Ilex verticillata) and hawthorne (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’), and also provide much-needed food for birds and other wildlife. Some fruit, such as rosehips from Rosa species, can be harvested by us, too, for medicinal purposes (rosehips contain a huge amount of Vitamin C; note that care should be taken when harvesting any plant for medicinal purposes – research how to do it before just plucking and eating!)
c. Bark on trees can sometimes be even more beautiful than foliage. London plane trees and
sycamores, Stewartias, alligator junipers, and several types of dogwood shrubs are just a few examples.
d. Attract wildlife. Even if the plant itself doesn’t look like much at this time of year, if it’s providing food or shelter for wildlife, then we have plenty to watch through the window from the warmth of inside. Of course, there are other ways to attract wildlife as well (see the previous couple posts) such as adding bird feeders, baths (you can even get heated ones), and houses. Even if your “
garden” is a fire escape or a window ledge, you can install a bird feeder.
e. Plant early bloomers. Remember that witch hazel I mentioned on 1/21 (http://tldb.blogspot.com/2008/01/backyard-sanctuary.html)? She bloomed about two weeks ago, and is still going strong:

Spice bush (Lindera benzoin) is another early spring bloomer, and of course bulbs such as snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils are delightful harbingers of warmer and brighter days to come. There are a number of good books out there now on planting for the seasons, as well as for texture, bark, berries, etc. I’ve listed a few on the Therapeutic Landscapes Database Plants page; if you buy these or any books from Amazon.com by clicking on the Amazon Associates logo in the left-hand column, a percentage of the sale goes to support the Therapeutic Landscapes Resource Center.

More Resources for Wildlife Habitat

In case you’re all fired up and want to learn more about creating wildlife habitat, here are a few more good links:

Backyard Wildlife Habitat: www.backyardwildlifehabitat.info/
Wildlife Habitat Council: www.wildlifehc.org/
Natural Resources Conservation Service: www.nrcs.usda.gov/Feature/backyard/wildhab.html
The Butterfly Site: www.thebutterflysite.com/
The Butterfly Website: http://butterflywebsite.com/

And just so you have everything together, here are the other key links I mentioned a couple entries back:
National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Habitat Certification: www.nwf.org/backyard/
National Wildlife Federation’s “The Green Hour”: www.greenhour.org/
The Children & Nature Network (started by Richard Louv): http://www.cnaturenet.org/

You’ll find a few more links on the Therapeutic Landscapes Database; look on the Plants, Related, and Links pages.

Many thanks to R, L, and O for the image!

Peace in Winter

“Whatever peace I know rests in the natural world, in feeling myself a part of it, even in a small way.”
– May Sarton

Backyard Sanctuary Tip: Create a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat

An important element of a healing garden is
wildlife. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, authors of The Experience of Nature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), have studied environments that elicit “soft fascination,” which “occurs when there is interest in the surroundings sufficient to hold one’s attention while allowing room for reflection.” (You can view the abstract for “The Monastery as a Restorative Environment” on the InformeDesign website, at www.informedesign.umn.edu/Rs_detail.aspx?rsId=2191).

Supporting and observing wildlife invites soft fascination, which can reduce stress and restore cognitive function. Songbirds and hummingbirds to watch and listen to; butterflies to observe as they float on the breeze and glide from flower to flower; honeybees and bumble bees to nurture as they buzz around gathering pollen. Not to mention all of the smaller creatures like ladybugs, praying mantises, and earthworms that keep our gardens healthy. The Therapeutic Landscapes Database lists a few good references on their Plants and Links pages for creating wildlife habitat, but the National Wildlife Federation website is also a great place to start.

In fact, The NWF has a certification program for creating wildlife habitats; they’ll even give you this cool sign to post in your garden once you’ve completed the four basic steps of providing food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Go to www.nwf.org/backyard for more information.

Last October when I was in Chicago, I drove to Evanston (a suburb adjacent to Chicago) to see the house my mother grew up in. I was delighted to see that its current owners are avid gardeners who have one of those NWF signs. Below are a few images from the house. Note their clever solution to a blank, windowless wall!

A Healing Garden Should be Healthy for the Planet, Too

Arugula grown from Seeds of Change organic seeds; swiss chard and other herbs and vegetables bought as seedlings from a nearby certified organic farm.

This may be forehead-smackingly obvious to many of you, but I’m going to say it anyway:
In my opinion, a healing garden should be good for the earth as well as for us. What does this mean, exactly? Here are some thoughts, and I welcome additional suggestions from my readers:

1. Go organic, or at the very least, don’t go toxic with your “raw materials” (soil, compost, plant material) and how you treat them (e.g., companion planting or permaculture instead of ChemLawn). It’s better for us, it’s better for the birds and other wonderful creatures we’re trying to attract, and it’s better for the earth. There are lots of good websites, companies, and organizations out there with information about acquiring and growing plants without the use of pesticides and herbicides. Sometimes it takes a little more work, or you might have to deal with some unsightly holes in your leaves. I wasn’t wild about the look of netting on my strawberries last year, but I sure was wild about the taste and knowing that they were 100% chemical free.

And is my own garden 100% organic? Honestly, no. That Hamemelis I mentioned on 1/21/08? I seriously doubt that it was born and raised without chemicals. But now that it’s in my garden, it’s in a pesticide-free zone.
2. Save water. Especially in drought-riddled areas like New Mexico, where I lived before I moved to soggy New York, it’s just downright irresponsible to plant things that need a lot of water to grow. Or to install a fountain that doesn’t recycle its water or that sprays huge jets that evaporate before the water lands back in the pond. And even in New York, I strive to plant things that, once they’re established, can manage fine on their own.
3. Reduce waste. Create a brush pile and/or compost pile for leaves and other garden debris and for kitchen scraps (no meat, nothing cooked). Brush piles make excellent wildlife habitats; compost piles make the best plant food around, and it’s free! And you’re keeping that much more waste out of the landfill, thus reducing your overall “footprint.” Everybody wins.
For hardscaping and planters, use natural materials such as stone and wood that won’t fall apart after a couple of years, or that can be recycled.
4. Use materials that don’t negatively impact the earth. Those pvc picket fences may be cheap and cute, but they are toxic to make, they can’t be recycled, and they can cause serious problems if they catch on fire, creating carcinogens that get into our groundwater supply. Imagine the ironies of a healing garden for cancer patients surrounded by a pvc fence. The mind boggles.

And again, am I the perfect “zero carbon footprint” example? No. The stone and soil used to create my raised vegetable garden, in the photo above, did not come from the site, they were trucked in from somewhere else. As with almost anything in life, designing a healing garden is about balance. Maybe you’re a small non-profit that relies on donations from a big box nursery for your plant material; maybe the house you bought already had a pvc fence when you moved in; maybe you don’t have the space or the time for a compost pile. We all have to make choices about what we can and can’t do. The important thing, in my opinion, is to at the very least be aware of your impact on the earth, and to strive to reduce your negative impact and to increase your positive impact in whatever ways are possible and feasible to you.

Grassroots Healing Garden: The Serenity Garden at Transitional Housing, Inc.

Before construction, on left, and after on right

Thanks to Robert Rensel for providing the images and text for this blog entry. For more images, go to the THI website: www.transitionalhousinginc.org/.

Transitional Housing, Inc. is a 62-unit facility in Cleveland, OH that provides temporary housing for women who have been homeless. Its mission is to provide a safe living environment while the women can work on and overcome the challenges that led to their homelessness.

The Men’s Garden Club of Greater Cleveland has about 70 members that share an interest in gardening. The Club provides scholarships to students entering a horticulture-related field and undertakes volunteer projects to beautify and improve our community.

The Serenity Garden

After observing that Transitional Housing’s units had no air conditioning and just asphalt for a back yard (see image below), the Men’s Garden Club proposed the installation of a therapeutic green space early in 2006. The boards of both organizations approved the project and funding was secured from the 1525 Foundation and Neighborhood Connections. Garden Club members worked with the women residents to develop a garden design that would meet their needs. The green industry was very receptive to lending a helping hand. Kurtz Brothers provided substantial in-kind support by removing a section of asphalt and providing soil, pavers and retaining wall blocks. Klyn and Willoway Nurseries provided preferential pricing on plant material and the Plastic Lumber Company discounted the benches made out of recycled material.

The design was finished in the spring of 2006. Plants were selected based on their soothing fragrances, appearances and textures. The sound of trickling water in the fountain adds to the serenity of the garden. The layout preserves a beautiful view of the city skyline. The hardscape was completed in the fall and the woody plants went in before year end. Perennials were planted in April and planter boxes and annuals are slated for June. A mural for the wall behind the fountain is being designed by the residents.

This is a terrific collaboration between a local garden club and a social service agency. Garden club members have an on-going commitment to work with the residents to maintain the garden. Women who are working to rebuild their lives now have a respite area in which they can find peace and healing. The quote going up on the dedication plaque says it all:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
~Dorothy Frances Gurney

The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden

The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden is an educational non-profit, providing a community of support for women with breast cancer. The center is located on 8 acres of beautiful gardens, developed over 30 years by Virginia Thurston, a significant gardener and long-time leader in the Massachusetts Garden Club Federation. They are currently undergoing an expansion to their physical space and looking forward to the new center opening in June 2008. They are established leaders in complementary medicine and psychosocial support for cancer care. Please visit their website, www.healinggarden.net for more information and images.

Backyard Sanctuary

It’s 23 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the warmest it’s been all day, and this is the view from my office window here in Beacon, NY. Now, to some of you this may look rather bleak – the last windswept vestiges of last week’s snowfall, the winter sunlight just barely lighting up that north side of the garden, and a puny tree with no leaves, only bare branches. Well, let me tell you, that tree is a witch hazel,
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ and every time I look at her, a smile creeps across my face. You see, “Jelena,” as I like to call her, holds great promise: The promise of spring, and soon. I learned to appreciate witch hazels in Providence, RI on wintry walks to and from work, and have wanted one (at least one!) in my own garden ever since. I knew when I planted Jelena that long before anything else was even thinking about emerging from dormancy, this intrepid tree would begin to bloom, pushing forth bright red (or yellow or orange, depending on the variety) fingers of delightfully scented blossoms from soft, velvety buds. And today I checked and sure enough, inside of those tight fists of buds are bright red spots promising blossoms in a month, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Spring in February/March in New York, not too shabby. My camera’s “macro” feature is nonexistent, but you get the idea:

Your Healing Garden

There are so many ways to make your outdoor space–be it hundreds of acres, a city lot, a fire escape, or a window box–into more than just a place for the occasional backyard party or weeding/raking session. Being in and connected with nature has myriad benefits, with stress reduction being at the top of the list. This is a new series on this new blog, aimed more at the home gardener than the academic or the seasoned designer, with the goal of inspiring people to start treating their immediate outdoor environments as places that can facilitate health and well-being. I’ll touch on important design considerations; reasons for creating a backyard sanctuary; my favorite books, articles, and links on the subject; as well as examples and anecdotes.
More again soon.