How to - The Healthy Gardener

Gardens that heal

Mary Lynn O'Shea
Photography by
Donna Clow

A little garden therapy goes a long way

While therapy gardens can take as many forms as the plants within them, the end results are the same-healing spaces that bring comfort and peace to those who use them.

The Healing Garden at the Cancer Treatment Centre at the Cape Breton Regional Health Care Complex in Sydney, Nova Scotia, is just such a place. A 186-square-metre enclosure adjacent to the hospital's receiving department, it provides a quiet sanctuary for patients, staff and visitors alike with its abundance of perennials and annuals, vine-covered arbours and fountain.

In 1997, a committee of professional women from various health organizations hit upon the idea of creating a therapeutic garden where cancer patients could find emotional and spiritual support.

The garden was designed by landscape designer Christene LeVatte of Highland Landscapes for Lifestyle in Sydney. A series of fundraisers was held to cover the $50,000 cost of the project, and the Healing Garden opened in September 1998.

For the past seven years, Friends of the Healing Garden volunteers have looked after maintenance, working in teams that take turns planting, weeding and watering.

“We don't do any fundraising,” says team co-ordinator Deborah Crittenden, noting that volunteers often use their own money to buy supplies such as fertilizer. She also points out that Christene has donated mulch, annuals, soil and tools as part of her ongoing involvement.

In Montreal, the hortitherapy garden at Hôpital Rivières-des-Prairies is the result of both patients and staff coming together. Initially, funds were raised through corporate donations in association with the Hospital Foundation, but financial support for the Horticulture Centre is now largely generated from the work of the psychiatric patients involved with the program, who assist with the operation of the centre's two greenhouses (growing annuals for plant sales) and outdoor garden. The calming environment helps the participants' concentration and alleviates stress. The centre also runs a small store; its sales help cover expenses as well.

But even those who may only be able to contribute minimally to physical tasks still find joy in having their own patch of earth. For instance, at Peel Manor Long-term Care Facility (for the elderly) in Brampton, Ontario, an inner courtyard has become an “adopt-a-garden” family project, largely through the efforts of Julie Krahule, a Master Gardener-in-training pursuing studies in horticultural therapy.

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