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

Site Furniture with Flair

Outdoor benches need not be ordinary – I’m often searching for one-of-a-kind seats, which seem to be a rarity among a profusion of manufactured site furnishings. Below are a few examples of unique seating opportunities that I’ve encountered on my treks through parks, gardens, and along urban streets.


“Talk tube” benches flank the entrance to Marla Dorrel Park, Cary, NC. These were created by an artist.


One of many “peel-up” benches on the High Line in New York City


A protruding slab of stone in this wall serves nicely as a bench. It’s located at Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA.


Here is a series of curved benches at West Podium Park in Boston. Note that the width of each bench narrows from one end to the other.


Artist-created fish bench in Eastport Park, Boston


Clever melding of bench with building at South Boston Maritime Park

The following photos are of semi-permanent benches and chairs in downtown Belfast, Maine. Each was designed and built by an artist or craftsperson as part of the town’s “Please be Seated” project. They are bolted to the pavement and kept in place for part of one year (June through October). These are some of the 2012 installations.


“Isn’t it Grand” bench


“Birch Perch” bench


“Buoy-oh-Buoy” bench


“Elemental Earth” bench


“Adirondack Red Magnum” chair (made from slats of a wine barrel)


“Catch a Wave” bench


“The Nest” seat

Photos by Alice Webb

Planting Fields: A Historic Arboretum

A grand estate built in 1904 in Oyster Bay, Long Island, Planting Fields is now a public arboretum owned by the State of New York. This spacious site includes a restored mansion with adjacent sweeping lawn areas bounded by large specimen trees; formal gardens and fountains; extensive plant collections; numerous woodland trails; tropical greenhouses; and other structures and spaces of historic value. There were several designers involved in planning this property over the years, including the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm of Brookline, Massachusetts, who oversaw projects from 1918 until 1944. Below are a few images of the property that I took during a visit this summer.


Colorful blooms at the Arboretum Center


Vegetation covers a wall near the Rose and Pool Gardens


The Italian Blue Pool Garden


Perennials at the Pool Garden


Perennials at the Pool Garden


A pleasant, shady trail


Parrotia persica in the Synoptic Garden


The Synoptic Garden includes an extensive plant collection.


Coe Hall (north side)


Coe Hall (south side)


East Lawn near Coe Hall

Photos by Alice Webb

Teardrop Park – Nature in the City

During a recent trip to lower Manhattan in NYC, I had the opportunity to visit Teardrop Park. This little urban oasis in the Battery Park City neighborhood is situated between several high-rise residential buildings. It includes natural play areas in its southern half, and lawns and walkways to the north.

Much of the park was designed to represent a northeast forest environment, with rock outcrops, rolling hills, and lush (mostly native) vegetation. One of its prominent features is a vertical wall of stacked bluestone, arranged to resemble natural rock strata. This design includes water seepage through a section of the wall, forming icicles in winter.

In the middle of the children’s play area, a long slide is anchored into a rocky hillside and terminates in a large sand area. Nearby, there is a small sand play area for pre-school children, in addition to a water play zone for kids of all ages. Children and adults alike can also explore a wetland play path, where I observed a number of birds during my visit.

The sloping lawns to the north of the play areas are pleasant spaces for relaxation, and include several seating areas along the perimeter. There are also some more isolated seating/gathering spots along paths throughout the park. Despite the secluded nature of those areas, I felt very safe while there.

I was at the park on a Tuesday morning, so it was not packed with visitors. I would imagine that it attracts a lot more users during weekends and summer evenings, especially residents of the surrounding high-rises. The park provides many opportunities for imaginative play for kids, and serves as a pleasant environment for all.


Hillside slide with rock steps and overlook


Pre-school sand play area


Water play area


Wildlife in the water play area – the robin and the littlest boy are color-coordinated!


A seating area above the water play zone


Rock wall resembling natural strata


Portal through the rock wall


South (back) side of the rock wall portal


People relaxing in one of the lawn areas


The northern-most lawn area slopes toward the south to take advantage of the sun.


A small nook for imaginative play at one end of the wetland path

Photos by Alice Webb

Tower Hill Botanic Garden


One of my favorite places to visit in New England is a hidden gem in central Massachusetts called Tower Hill Botanic Garden. It consists of a wide variety of beautiful garden areas, including both formal and informally-designed spaces, and ranging from large open sites to shady woodland trails. The visitor/education center is also very impressive, with tropical greenhouses, classrooms, a café, and gift shop.


Gazebo at the garden entrance


Bromeliads frame the gazebo archway


The Entry Garden


Approach to the visitor center


A colorful vertical garden was recently installed near the visitor center entrance.


Café terrace


The Winter Garden


Mist fountain at the entrance to the Systematic Garden


The Systematic Garden


Inviting seating areas are scattered throughout the property.


Outdoor fireplace surrounded by plants near the old farmhouse (administrative offices)


A pleasant, shady spot in the garden


Terraced entrance to the Lawn Garden


The Lawn Garden is surrounded by colorful plantings.


Pergola at the south end of the Lawn Garden


A seating area in the Secret Garden also provides a view to Tower Hill’s heirloom apple orchard to the south.


Heading back to the parking lot through the lovely Entry Garden

For views of Tower Hill (and its tropical greenhouses) during another season, check out Winter Garden Scenes — an earlier post in this blog.

Photos by Alice Webb

Hudson River Park, Chelsea Section

New York’s Hudson River Park has been built in phases, extending for several miles along the west edge of Manhattan. In mid-March I visited the Chelsea section, from Pier 62 to 29th Street.


Entrance area of the Chelsea Cove section of the park – this section includes extensive lawn areas, a concrete skate park, carousel, and walkways.


Picnic area near the entrance to Chelsea Cove


View of Pier 62, including a carousel with a green roof


Seating area on Pier 62 with “floating” lights


A walkway near the skate park (fenced area to the right)


The 11-mile long Hudson River Greenway runs adjacent to the park


Pier 64 features lawns, walkways, and seating


Linear section of the park north of Pier 64


Sculpture at 29th Street

Photos by Alice Webb

The 9/11 Memorial

I visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on a gloomy, gray day in mid-March, but the monochromatic colors of the pavement, buildings, leafless trees, and sky seemed fitting for this solemn and contemplative space. In warmer months, with the greening of the trees and lawn areas, the site is certain to have a somewhat different feel to it – one of renewal amid the remembrances of tragedy.

The 8-acre Memorial Plaza is punctuated by two reflecting pools, each an acre in size, in the locations of the former twin towers. Each pool is framed with dark bronze parapets which are inscribed with the names of the victims. On all four sides of each pool, water continuously falls 30 feet down into recessed areas, and then flows into smaller 30’ x 30’ voids in the center of each pool – in total, a representation of loss and absence.

Once the numerous trees in the plaza grow large enough so their canopies merge, visitors’ views will be directed horizontally, toward the memorial pools and elsewhere on the site. The plaza will then feel more enclosed, with the trees obscuring the distraction of the surrounding tall buildings as people approach the pools.

The Memorial is beautifully poignant, and the abstract minimalist design of the pools works very well in this case. I hope to return during a warmer time of year, to experience the site when the green hues complement the grays.



Names of victims are inscribed in bronze parapets surrounding the pools. This section of the South Pool includes the names of the first responders.


Water flows into a void in the center of each pool. At night, the waterfalls on the sides of the pools are lit from behind.


A portion of the Memorial Plaza with the South Pool in the background


The North Pool


The Memorial Glade is located to the left – a break in the tree canopy for gatherings and special ceremonies


Seating areas in the plaza


Part of the 9/11 Museum can be seen in the background. (The museum continues beneath the plaza.)


The trees, paving, lighting, and seating throughout the site are arranged in a visually-pleasing linear fashion.

Photos by Alice Webb

Pier 6 Playground at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Early in the spring, I visited a creatively-designed playground at the Pier 6 section of Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The day of my visit was unseasonably warm, so the playground was swarming with people. This play area is divided in several zones: an active area for school-age children with slides and climbers; a sand area for younger children with small climbing sculptures, play houses, and other elements; an area featuring numerous swing-sets situated between small hills; a water play area; and a natural vegetated area. I was pleased to see that much of the playground includes lots of plants – great for play, shade, and beauty!


A play structure and stepped seating are included in the school-age children’s zone, which is called Slide Mountain.


This is the longest of several slides located in Slide Mountain.


Play sculptures and wooden seating areas in Sandbox Village


Interactive play piece in Sandbox Village


Kids enjoy wooden play houses and other fun features


One of several swing-sets in Swing Valley


Swing Valley includes grassy hills along the walkways.


Unique water devices in The Water Lab (closed for the winter)


Another view of The Water Lab (closed for winter)


This natural area, which includes several paths and seating areas, is rather isolated from the other play zones. Very few people were visiting it when I was there. Fencing off the vegetated areas from access makes it less inviting to children also.

Photos by Alice Webb

The High Line, Section 2


In mid-March I visited the second phase of New York City’s High Line Park, which opened last year. This ½-mile section is as delightful as the first part, with some of the same themes carried throughout, but also containing some unique and exciting features. My favorite area is the Fly-Over, where the walkway rises to eight feet above the high line surface. From this level, one travels through the canopies of trees planted below, and one can peer down to the view the various plantings on the “forest floor”. The Fly-Over also includes several viewing spurs, including one that overlooks 26th Street.

The photos below will give you a tour of this elevated linear park from the 30th Street terminus to 20th Street, where the first phase of the High Line connects with the second section. Enjoy your walk!


Radial seating flanks the curved, northern end of the High Line, Section 2


The Wild Flower Field along the northern section before spring cut-back


The elevated Fly-Over takes people through the tree canopies


One of several viewing spurs along the Fly-Over


View of the “forest floor” from the Fly-Over


Another “forest floor” view with railroad tracks – a reminder of the High Line’s history


People relax on the 26th Avenue viewing spur. The metal frame is a reference to the billboards that used to be mounted along the High Line – Now it frames the city scene or the people on the spur, depending on one’s vantage point.


A shifting section of walkway, “peel-up” bench, and restored Art Deco railing – recurring elements along the High Line


Stairs lead down to 23rd Street, with the elevated Lawn in the background. From the northern section of the Lawn, one can look down either direction of 23rd Street and see both the Hudson and East Rivers. Metal strips in the pavement refer to the High Line’s former use as a rail line.


Cor-Ten steel planters near the 23rd Street stairs


The Lawn – a rare treat in this dense city environment. When this photo was taken, the Lawn was still closed off for the winter.


Seating steps at the south end of the Lawn, constructed of reclaimed teak


The Chelsea Thicket near the south end of Section 2 – A Winter Hazel is in bloom in the foreground.

Photos by Alice Webb

A Sustainable Campus Quad

During a recent trip to Salem, Massachusetts, I visited a well-designed quadrangle within a new residence hall complex at Salem State University. A linear bioswale runs along one side of a large lawn area, collecting runoff from the complex, and cleaning this water before it enters a tidal marsh adjacent to the development. Stepped stone-filled gabions line the walkway along the swale, and are intermittently capped with wooden bench seating. Wooden ramps bridge the swale from the walkway, providing access to the lawn area. I think the juxtaposition of the linear architectural elements and the free-form planting design of the swale work well. Even in winter (unusually without snow on this visit), the grasses and other plantings provide visual interest.
 

Bioswale with adjacent gabions
 

Wooden bench seating caps portions of the gabions. A green roof sits atop the single-story dining hall (in background).
 

A row of ornamental grasses visually reinforces yet softens the line of this concrete wall, and attractive pavers complement the building colors.
 

Plantings along this building remain colorful in winter.

Photos by Alice Webb