Friday, January 14, 2011

Gardens Help Healing at Hospitals

In the midst of a cold Maryland winter, it's helpful to visualize spring and blooming gardens at LifeBridge Health facilities.

Building gardens at hospitals is a practice that goes back at least a thousand years in both Eastern and Western medicine. More than just something pretty to look at, this cultivation of plant life produces physiological benefits. Yes, gardens are good for your health.

Studies by Texas A&M architecture professor Roger S. Ulrich, Ph.D., have shown that after viewing nature – even in a garden setting - for as little as three to five minutes, one’s blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension are restored to more optimal levels. In effect, one has been de-stressed. Evidence also demonstrates that patients who have views of gardens or nature from their rooms report less pain.

For employees, gardens often provide a much needed contrast to the stark, sterile, technical hospital environment; plants stimulate the spirit, mind and body in ways the inorganic world cannot. So it’s no wonder that gardens are being incorporated into the landscape at various LifeBridge Health centers.

Earlier this year, right outside of Sinai’s Lowell and Harriet Glazer Atrium, the new Jacqueline H. Hess Memorial Garden was unveiled. Named for a founder of the Sinai Auxiliary and Gift Shop, a gift from George Hess and his sister Diane Pelham Burn established the Hess Garden Fund in 1984. The garden’s flora includes ginkgos, river birches, roses, hydrangeas and nepetas. Diane created the garden’s metal tree sculpture, and Jacqueline’s grandchildren David and Bill Hess made the new sundial. David also crafted the benches.

Northwest Hospital is in the midst of building a garden near its main entrance.

“The creation of the Healing Garden at Northwest is the result of employee feedback,” says Northwest Hospital President Erik Wexler. “Staff have suggested that we have an outdoor area where employees and visitors can go and ‘de-stress’ from the challenges we all face. We seized the opportutunity to construct the garden after the trailers were removed from the front of the hospital.”

In December, the garden’s larger trees and shrubs were planted; additional
plantings are expected in the spring. The entrance walkway to the garden will be paved with bluestone, and heavy benches will allow employees, patients and visitors to relax.

While Sinai and Northwest have what are considered “passive gardens,” through which observers relax and passively enjoy the environment, Levindale has plans to open an “active garden” modeled after Kibbutz Lavi in Israel.

“Levindale’s new garden will open all the senses,” says Betsy Narrow, president
of the Levindale Auxiliary. Lighting, waterfalls and music will combine to create a Zen-like effect. Residents will be encouraged to use all five senses to explore and cultivate the garden.

Even the sense of taste will be covered, as herbs will be planted for residents to enjoy.

“The garden will be built with areas for residents and children to plant together,” Betsy says. Planting beds will be accessible from wheelchair height. Seating areas in the garden will be designed to allow wheelchair-bound residents to pull up and socialize with others.

Levindale’s “sensory garden,” located in a courtyard, will be visable from an interior hallway. That way, residents who don’t care to venture outside can still enjoy the visual aspects of the garden.

Over the years, LifeBridge Health’s new healing gardens will undoubtedly provide for stress reduction and increased well-being for thousands.

-Holly Hosler

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