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There is an indoor healing garden at the Prairie Heart Institute at St. John’s Hospital.
By Erica Cusumano | STAFF
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Healing gardens provide environments where hope can be renewed
By Kathleen Ostrander

The premise behind healing gardens at medical facilities is that there is nothing more hopeful than nature. Hope is what those trying to heal, those battling a frightening illness, those undergoing days and days of treatment, seek.

Hope is for family members. Hope has a beginning, but it should not have an end. There is always hope in nature because of budding and blooming in spring, summer and fall. The seasons and the changes in nature will always be there, will always be something to look forward to.

In some climates, healing gardens stay green, in others, as in the Midwest, vegetation and trees are used that either have some sort of winter interest or stay green.

The idea, say garden architects and advocates, is to promote healing and reduce stress with the comforts of nature. Physicians heal the body; the gardens heal the heart and soul.

"In terms of healing, a garden and the ability for patients to have that opportunity to step away from what is going on in their head and relax is so important," said Dr. K. Thomas Robbins, director of the SIU Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

The newest healing garden in Springfield is the one at the SimmonsCooper Institute.

But Springfield Clinic has two, Prairie Heart Institute at St. John's Hospital has one and St. John's Children's Hospital will have one by spring.

The Gordon R. Thomas and Evelyn Brandt Thomas Garden of Hope at the SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine was constructed in memory of the late Gordon Thomas, co-owner of Brandt Consolidated and a retiree from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Evelyn Brandt Thomas, his widow, donated money to build the garden, which is on the northeast side of the institute's building at 315 W. Carpenter St.

"The garden was in the original plans," said Pam Speer, associate provost at SIU School of Medicine. "But Evelyn Thomas wanted to do something in memory of her husband, and that led to the garden."

Speer said Thomas and her husband, who were married for 53 years, had a farm in Mount Sterling called Rocky Branch. The Garden of Hope has the elements of Rocky Branch.

"It's beautiful there," Speer said. "There is this beautiful stream, and it's very pastoral."

So water, which is considered an important element in a healing garden, was even more important for the garden at SimmonsCooper.

"You know when you hear water, how it can comfort you for meditation. It's a peaceful thing as you sit out there and look at the garden," said Evelyn Thomas at the dedication of the garden in July.

Robbins said the placement of the garden at the facility was important. It is visible from the first floor of the institute, where the chemotherapy suites are located. It contains prairie plants, ferns and redbud trees, glacial boulders, a small waterfall and a running stream.

Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey, dean and provost at SIU School of Medicine, said at the dedication that the garden shows that SimmonsCooper can provide help for the body and the mind and spirit.

The gardens at Springfield Clinic are also visible from the infusion area. They are on both sides of the entrance on the east campus.

"They are peaceful, and you can view it from the infusion chairs," said Carolyn Otten, chief operating officer of Springfield Clinic. "There is color year-round, and the urn fountains are specially fired and made for low upkeep, but to provide water interest. In the winter, we turn the water off and put greens and white lights on.

"The glass is reflective so the people sitting in the infusion area aren't on display, but they can sit and watch the garden," she added.

Dr. Diana Willadsen of the clinic's oncology department had a big hand in the development of the gardens.

"These are a lot less scary than all that chrome and white that you see in oncology departments," she said.

"This is more serene, and it gives something for people to focus on."

Willadsen decided on some of the plants and she has hopes to sneak in a couple of more.

"It's a nice micro-climate out there. There is a reasonable amount of sun, and it's protected she said. We tried very hard to get something that would be interesting during all of the seasons. The dogwood stems are just babies now, but they will provide red and green against the snow. We made sure the flowers wouldn't be too strongly scented.

"We picked some pretty tough plants so the upkeep would be fairly care free. We tried to get some that were interesting to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds."

The garden at Prairie Heart Institute at St. John's Hospital is inside and is used frequently by staff as well as patients and their families, according to Linda Murphy, director of the Center for Living at Prairie Heart.

It contains religious as well as spiritual elements. In the center is a huge artificial tree that reaches up to a special ceiling designed to mimic the sky. The foliage on the tree is changed to mirror the seasons.

There is a prayer table, a labyrinth, a small Zen garden, and a back-lighted stained glass window. The backlighting is designed to simulate outdoor light, Murphy said. The window was in the original hospital, was lost and then was recovered at an antique store, she said.

There are sculptures and stones designed to help meditation and the whole area is set up to hold to the principles of Feng Shui, which encourages mental harmony to help with physical well-being. The glass at the front entrance is waved to appear as if it is water and there is a wall of running water on the opposite side of the entrance.

"Staff comes in on their lunch break and seeks out the silence," Murphy said. "It is built on the model of holistic health. It is an important part of healing. It helps patients and it helps patients' families to have somewhere to go and recharge."

Healing gardens at children's facilities should be whimsical and playful with offerings to allow the spirit to take flight even if the body has to stay at the treatment facility. Construction of the Children's Healing Garden on the fifth floor of the St. John's Children's Hospital in the Carol Jo Vecchie Women and Children's Center is expected to be completed in the spring with the garden opening in the summer of 2009.

Green View of Springfield has developed an interactive landscape plan for the garden. At the center is a large fountain that features a huge granite ring that appears to be floating on the water.

"As a key focal point of our design, the fountain will serve as a motivator to help caregivers get children outside where they will be able to interact with it and the other garden elements," said David Pence, landscape design-build manager for Green View.

Special features will include remote-control boats, a log cabin, drawing board, sand and water table, periscope wind mill, telescopes, trees, flowers, cascading plants, a pergola, waterfall, potting bench, water wheel and sculptures. Children who can't go outside will still be able to use the remote control boats from the hall and playroom. There is a special area for kite flying.

"The goal is to create a space alive with color, sound and texture, which will provide an area for patients, parents and caregivers to relax and help relieve stress. It will be a tranquil place with year-round interest," Pence added.

The Children's Healing Garden was made possible through donations and funds raised from Toast of the Town, a series of theme-based parties hosted by individuals on behalf of St. John's and contributions from hospital employees. 


Story published Friday, December 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 7 )

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