Mountain Laurel and Russel Wright

Native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) at Manitoga today

I’m lucky enough to live in the lower Hudson Valley, home – among many other wonderful things – of the Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison, NY. When Wright found the property in 1942, it was a former quarry that had been marred by a century of quarrying and lumbering. He made it his home, and began to “heal” the damaged landscape where he lived and worked. He named the place “Manitoga,” which means Place of the Great Spirit in Algonquin. “Over the next three decades, until his death in 1976, he carefully redesigned and re-sculpted Manitoga’s 75 acres using native plants, his training as a theater designer and sculptor, and his innovative design ideas. Though the landscape appears natural, it is actually a careful design of native trees, rocks, ferns, mosses, and wild flowers.”* (He also built a beautiful house and studio there, and made some pretty cool dishware as well).

My favorite examples of healing gardens are those where the designers have done their part to heal the site, and in so doing, have created a place that restores and rejuvenates us, as well.

It’s a beautiful site throughout the year, and when the native mountain laurel is in bloom, it’s simply stunning. Wright once said, “When in full bloom, the mountain laurel reminds me of fields of strawberry ice cream.” Yum. But of course this wouldn’t be the TLDBlog without a caveat, so here goes: Mountain laurel may be beautiful, but it’s also quite toxic! Not for planting in gardens for children, the developmentally disabled, and people with dementia. You can read more about what plants use with caution on the Therapeutic Landscapes Database Plants page.

Beech sapling emerging from quarry stone