Rooftop Retreat: A Hospital’s Healing Garden


The Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital
 
In recent years, outdoor garden spaces at hospitals have become more common, and are often included with the construction of new health care facilities. They are usually referred to as therapeutic or healing gardens. Studies have shown that access to nature in hospital settings can reduce pain and relieve stress, which in turn enhances the immune system and speeds healing. Patients aren’t the only ones to benefit; their families and heath care staff can attain relaxation in these spaces as well.

In October I had the pleasure of visiting the Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (in St. Louis, Missouri). The staff horticultural therapist kindly gave me a tour of this delightful space. Built in the late 1990s, this 8,000-square-foot rooftop garden is dominated by a lush array of greenery, mostly in raised planters, and also seasonally in movable pots. An abundance of plant materials is important in any type of outdoor healing setting. This space also includes winding paths; stepping stones through a shallow pool; fountains; interesting and fanciful art pieces; a goldfish pond; various resting spots; movable furniture; and telescopes for viewing a large park near the hospital grounds. Furthermore, the garden is lit for nighttime access and viewing.

This garden isn’t just for passive enjoyment, however. Horticultural therapy sessions are facilitated in this space, where patients engage in gardening and associated activities. These sessions have many social, psychological, physical, and cognitive benefits. In addition, programs involving crafts, puppet shows, music, and storytelling brighten the spirits of the children.


This beautiful scene in the garden is in springtime, viewed from the entrance. A rolling sphere fountain can be seen in the foreground. Blooming Redbud trees are situated in front of a circle of columns topped with translucent leaf-shaped panels, symbolizing nature.


This miniature garden appeals to all ages.


Stepping stones cross a wading pool…


…and continue between two raised planters.


The garden’s goldfish pond


A restful nook with playful windows overlooking Forest Park


A custom-made planter with kid- and adult- level kaleidoscopes


In the foreground is one of several fountains in the garden (turned off for the season). Long-range telescopes, in the background, allow visitors to view Forest Park.


A wonderfully whimsical art piece

First four photos by Gary Wangler, Horticultural Therapist, St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Remaining photos by Alice Webb, blog author

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3 thoughts on “Rooftop Retreat: A Hospital’s Healing Garden

  1. Amy

    Alice, Thanks for sharing photos of this lovely garden. What a welcoming and restorative place for patients, visitors, and staff to find respite, energy, and tranquility! I’m glad more hospitals are seeing the value of such places.

  2. What a wonderful rooftop garden! All hospitals should have beautiful rooftop gardens for patients, relatives, friends, and care givers to go to whenever they can. Thanks for sharing this with the eyes of others.

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