How to - The Healthy Gardener

Gardens that heal

Mary Lynn O'Shea
Photography by
Donna Clow

A little garden therapy goes a long way

In spring 2002, Julie created a garden for her mother, who had recently moved into Peel Manor. “I wanted to establish a sense of normality, something beautiful for her to look at.”

She went on to convince three other residents to do the same. With varying degrees of family involvement (from initial planting to ongoing maintenance), myriad gardens now bring life and beauty to the courtyard. And since this first effort, gardens have sprung up throughout the facility's grounds.

Julie noticed that “people start talking with others they don't know, now that they have the garden in common.”

Donna Clow, supervisor of activations and community service, has observed other benefits as well: “Our residents love to get their hands in the dirt,” she says, “and they like to see the end results.” Peel Manor day-program participants have even entered their vegetables and flower arrangements in the Brampton Fall Fair, and have won first place several times.

The vision of psychologist Dr. Leonard George in 1999, who wanted to create a peaceful, comfort­ing place to talk, led to the creation of the healing rooftop garden at Vancouver General Hospital, where patients, staff and families associated with the B.C. Professional Firefighters Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit and the neighbouring Trauma Special Care Unit find solace.

Coincidentally, renowned landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander was a patient in the unit and lent her expertise to the final drawings for the garden, which were based on designs submitted by University of British Columbia landscape architecture students. To meet the $100,000 budget, funds were raised through special events and corporate and private donations in conjunction with the Vancouver Hospitals Foundation.

Since the rooftop garden opened in 2002, it has “grown tremendously,” says Lois Budd, patient services manager. “We've added tables and chairs, a larger cascading fountain and a sound system.”

Lois notes that patients are encouraged to work in the garden weeding and watering, as well as to just sit and enjoy it. Volunteers do most of the planting and maintenance.

“Not only does the garden soothe and heal you when you're outside,” says Lois, “it's also very therapeutic for the patients who are stuck in bed and yet see the garden out their windows. Many have told me what a wonderful distraction it is and how it's so calming.”

Read more in How to and The Healthy Gardener

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