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Nov 192008

A correlation between the natural world and human health is not surprising. Malkin says, “Research has shown that where there are green areas for patients, they do better. They spend less time in the hospital. It helps their spirits. It is a very positive experience to have green.”

Rob Adams, the roof’s landscape architect, has said his firm focused on the patient experience, grouping teak benches around perennials such as paperbark maple from Central Asia, Japanese maples and blueberry.

“We used some native plants,” says Adams, “but we decided it was more ecologically sound to use plants that would survive, not ones that need replacement or lots of fertilizer. Rooftop and urban conditions are not native for any plant species. We selected the best plants for the environment.”

The garden’s soil depth runs from 8 inches beneath the lawn; 15 to 24 inches beneath the shrubs and about 36 to 38 inches beneath the bigger trees. A roof like this, says Adams, is at least four times more efficient as insulation than a traditional roof. In addition, the garden attracts a range of birds and butterflies.

Craig Halvorson, founder of the design firm, told the New England Real Estate Journal recently, that the idea was to create a space that would let people feel connected to life outside the hospital.

Its sweeping views of the city, the Charles River and Cambridge can be seen from many of the chairs and benches scattered throughout the greenery. An enclosed glass pavilion with comfy chairs and lush plants leads into the garden, which uses hard scape materials such as granite and copper. On inclement days, patients and visitors can enjoy the views without braving the elements. Located above the traffic, sirens, and ongoing construction of downtown Boston, there’s surprisingly little noise. The quiet of the garden is partly by design, says Adams.

“We didn’t want folks to get up to the edge so we planted heavily. We wanted to ‘manipulate’ one’s ability to perceive reality. There would be plenty of time for dump trucks and sounds of the city once those patients were done with their treatment.”

For those coming to the garden with concerns about radiation and chemotherapy, the serenity of the healing garden is a welcome respite.

The garden oversight committee, composed of doctors, nurses, social workers, cancer patients and a chaplain, worked with the designers regarding the needs of cancer patients. For instance, because chemotherapy can raise a patient’s sensitivity to smells and bright sunlight, no fragrant flowers were used and shade trees were planted to protect patients from too much sun exposure. And because chemotherapy can leave a metallic taste in a patient’s mouth, Adams says they used very little metal in the project.

The garden’s enormous flower pots are made of cast concrete. A whimsical sculpture, “Greetings from Planet Wok” by David Phillips invokes a smile with its depiction of an alien creature with a stethoscope around its neck, emerging from a wok-shaped spaceship to greet a kangaroo, bird and snake.

The reaction and feedback from patients and their families has been overwhelming. A guest book with visitor comments expresses the gratitude they have for the green space at a time when they are going through the emotional upheavals of cancer treatment.

Thanks for the tranquility and the beautiful green plants that exude life and hope…When I felt most like pitying myself, I felt renewed…A wonderful sanctuary as I am tossed about on a sea of sadness and hope. An oasis of calm, beauty and strength in a busy and sometimes troubled world.

In the July 2008 issue of The Oncologist, a study was published about the guest book, titled “Holistic Oncology: A Healing Garden Guest Book.” A testimony to the soothing influence of the garden, the book is hard to read with dry eyes. In fact, the concept has been so popular, says Adams, that about 20 to 30 books have already been filled.

By incorporating the earth into daily living, the earth in turn can provide life, and in the case of a healing garden, perhaps hope as well.

(Photo credits: Massachusetts General; Harriet Blake)

Copyright © 2008 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media