Groups harness healing power of gardens

Groups harness healing power of gardens

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Gardens can offer a soothing balm to anyone willing to accept it. In fact, many hospitals, therapy practices and a wide variety of retreat centers recognize and utilize the power of plants to comfort, calm and de-stress.

Last spring, the Pacific Northwest was cold and chilly, but a palpable warmth and spirit of healing pervaded muddy sites, as volunteers dug, toiled and installed — often in pelting rain — the foundations of two remarkable landscapes in the Seattle area.

The Seattle Children's PlayGarden is Liz Bullard's dream come true. The speech and language pathologist noted a consistent lack of fun and play in the lives of families with special-needs kids. She wanted to develop an environment where children of all abilities had full access to the great outdoors with room to safely explore, learn and create.

Since opening a year ago, the PlayGarden has become a botanical wonderland buzzing with activity, and bursting with color as kids and their families explore the newly planted gardens and romp on the rubber coated, bouncy climbing mount. Giant topiary bears and dinosaurs, a butterfly garden and accessible play equipment complement newly completed facilities housing therapy space, a child-friendly family kitchen and activity area, as well as a stylish coop home to a flock of contented chickens.

Meanwhile, not too many miles from the raucous good times at the PlayGarden, a quieter, peaceful, more soothing and contemplative healing garden is taking root. The Fisher House, on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs' Puget Sound campus, is a private, comfortable, homelike lodging facility for families of veterans being treated at the nearby VA hospital.

The Healing Garden is a result of the collaborative efforts of a landscape architecture design/build class at the University of Washington, and an advisory committee made up of Fisher House staff, guests and a small group of landscape design professionals, including myself.

Community support, generous in-kind donations and the tireless effort of the design students brought the garden to life over the course of a few short weeks in 2009. The result is the transformation of the formerly sedate, and somewhat commercial space into an embracing, sensory landscape enlivened with herbs and fragrant flowers.

Covered shelters offer privacy and retreat as well as communal gathering space for yoga classes or just quiet family time. Evocative images of peace and patriotism are subtle reminders honoring the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families.

Mother Nature comforts with a subtle, soothing touch or gooses us with brilliant color and the laughter of children, thanks to the passion and work of visionary dreamers.

Lorene Edwards Forkner is a Northwest-based freelance writer, food enthusiast and garden designer. Visit to read about her thoughts on life, work, home and garden.

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