A Positive Distraction

“This dedicated space fosters restoration, and promotes healing from the devastating loss of a baby,” says Lisa Hill, MSN, RNC, an Edward Hospital labor-and-delivery instructor.

“To me, there is validity to the theory that a healing garden can be an integral part of a patient’s healing process.”

Hidden Benefit For Nursing Staff

Along with hospital administrators, Roehll has seen an unexpected benefit from hospital healing gardens. Primarily designed for patients and their families, nurses and other hospital staff have discovered the tranquility that a healing garden can offer. In warmer weather, many bring a bag lunch to the garden to relax.

This is only logical, Roehll contends. Nurses are tremendously stressed, and a hospital garden offers a quiet resolve from the daily routine. Like firefighters and police, nurses work on rotating shifts, which are known to disrupt sleep and eating patterns, and are factors in stress.

But the real benefit to hospital administrators is a reduction in nursing-staff turnover, which translates into higher operating costs to properly train new staff. If visits to a healing garden can reduce turnover, then it’s a “win-win” for all.

Labyrinth And Enabling Gardens Also Special

Of all of Roehll’s hospital garden designs, one stands out as the most unusual and picturesque. At Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Ill., he designed a garden around a large labyrinth, an ancient pattern familiar to nearly all world religions. The pattern has been found on pottery, coins and tablets up to 4,000 years old.

Borrowing from the famous Chartes Cathedral labyrinth in France, Roehll designed a similar labyrinth garden for Marianjoy. Designed within a sunken, circular plaza, the 1,520 square-foot garden has been a delight to the hospital’s Franciscan sisters. Before, they would unroll a labyrinth-patterned mat indoors each day as part of a tradition of walking and reflection. This was everything they wanted in a garden … and more.

According to Roehll, symbolism is threaded throughout the Marianjoy garden. Like the 800-year-old cathedral labyrinth, this one uses “sacred geometry” to dictate the number of plantings, site furniture, and hardscape elements. Part mystical, part sacred geometry, Roehll explains, the numbers 3, 4, 7, and 12 are used to base all design decisions. The Chartres design is a classical, 11-circuit labyrinth (11 concentric circles), with the twelfth being in the center of the labyrinth.

“Visitors enter the labyrinth facing east with a view of an unordered landscape,” he says, noting the randomness of the elements. “As they exit west, the view is of three ordered trees, which reflects their spiritual journey.”

At the same time, Roehll also shaped plans for another type of garden on Marianjoy’s 65-acre property. This one was an “enabling garden” for patient rehabilitation.

Unlike his other garden designs, which are more passive in nature, this garden offered a practical and interactive approach for patients. The use of small stairs and different walking surfaces with varying slopes, ramps, and handrails, “enable” patients to regain physical skills at their own pace.

A planting area off to the side, for instance, invites them to fill planters with soil to regain hand strength and dexterity. An interactive water feature provides both visual interest and a soothing background sound.

Achieving local notoriety for its work, Hitchcock Design Group was approached by a local high school to design a garden as a tribute to a series of tragic student deaths over a short time period. The idea of an “honor garden” began to emerge.

Located in a quiet courtyard, today the garden offers students at Naperville Central High School a sense of remembrance and tranquility for their fallen colleagues.

The Elements That Make Up A Garden

Whether you call it a “healing garden,” “memory garden,” “enabling garden,” or “honor garden,” the common denominator in each is lush plantings, Roehll says. This element provides visitors with a sense of access to nature and water.

An understanding of Midwest flowers and blooming cycles, the Purdue University graduate adds, also helps.

Gardens such as these should offer a healthy mix of spaces, patterns, and textures, says Roehll, who also serves on the Chicago Botanic Garden faculty committee.

“The key is to create a sense of mystery and discovery,” he says.

An ideal garden offers a balance of social-to-private areas, and sunny-to-shady areas. Paving materials, like decorative bricks, pathways, and stepping stones, can be helpful for rehabilitation. To invite socialization, Roehll likes to have benches and chairs face each other.

“While a plant may have a beautiful bloom for one month of the year,” he explains, “you should consider what it does the other 11 months.”

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