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Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Vision of Gardens of Solace

The Garden of Gethsemane

"The word commemoration suggests the presence of some idea, 
possibly from the past, retained in conscious thought. 
Rather than the idea's being lost in history, 
history itself becomes the vehicle for its remembrance 
when prompted by a stimulus in the present."
(Marc Treib, "Landscape of Loved Ones," 1996)

Treib's connotation of  commemoration depends upon an existing stimulus, or something that arouses activity or energy, to ignite thoughts from the past and rekindle those concepts to reinforce the importance of its history.

Why Memorialize or Commemorate 
With a Garden?

Humans attach meaning to landscape with memory. Gardens are landscapes created by people that employ natural elements as stimuli. Commemorative memorial gardens offer humans places of sanctuary, repose, awareness, and education. The gardens employ certain design devices that trigger or provoke transcendence of daily activity to allow visitors to find respite and peace within the noise and chaos of their largely impersonal society.

These gardens offer sanctuary from stress in their peaceful environments. The flora and other features of the gardens provide sensual stimuli (water, fragrance, etc,) that overcome distracting influences (traffic, voices, etc.). They often feature individual spaces, ideal for refection, within their numerous defined edges of activity.

Gardens: A Brief History and Study

Throughout history gardens have been used to aid in the healing process - from the Japanese Zen Garden  to the Monastic Cloister garden. With the recent interest in complementary and alternative therapies, which emphasizes healing the whole person -- mind, body, and spirit -- rather than simply alleviating symptoms, the interest in garden as healer has been revived. ("Healing Gardens," Regents of the University of Minnesota, SULIS - Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series, 2006)

Research shows the therapeutic benefits of gardens.

Roger Ulrich, a professor and director of the Center for Health Systems 
and Design at Texas A&M University, found that 
"viewing natural scenes or elements fosters stress recovery 
by evoking positive feelings, reducing negative emotions, 
effectively holding attention / interest, and blocking or reducing stressful thoughts." 

"Stress Recovery During Exposure to Natural and Urban Environments,"  
Journal of Environmental Psychology 11, 1991)

When viewing vegetation as opposed to urban scenes, test subjects exhibited lower alpha rates which are associated with being wakefully relaxed. Further research by Ulrich showed surgical patients with views of nature had shorter post-operative stays, fewer negative comments from nurses, took less pain medication and experienced fewer minor post-operative complications than those with a view of a brick wall. Although more research is necessary, results based on research thus far indicate the healing effects of natural elements such as gardens.

"In fact, even before a commemorative garden is completed, 
the act of planning out a physical memorial 
can provide a sense of healing for family and friends involved with the project."

A healing garden can be simple or elaborate. The most important aspects of a memorial garden are that the elements include references to the loved one you've lost (informing visitors as to the significance of the site), and that the garden itself is cultivated from the heart.

Location, Location, Location

The wise old saying of buying real estate certainly applies to creating a memorial garden. Features within the garden, itself, can be modified; however, the garden plot, once chosen, is a constant. One of the first considerations to make concerning the creation of the garden is choosing a proper location.

Choice of a prime location may involve picking a plot appropriate for development of strategies for educational use, garden tours, nature walks and classes in gardening.

The following are important considerations of location:

Location of the garden     

* Sunny or Shady Spot (helps determine type of plants to include)
* Accessibility     
* Exposure to the wind      
* Will the garden be visible or secluded?     
* Can the garden be incorporated into the existing landscape? (form meaningful connections to   built and natural elements)    
* How much time do you want to spend on maintenance?       
* Do you want perennials or seasonal annuals?      
* Could the garden serve as a link to other adjoining areas?  

Other Initial Considerations

* What is your budget?
* How much space will you devote?.
* What features other than plants do you intend to install? (walls, walkways, fountains, bird baths, benches, etc.)

Paved walkways of the Sensory Garden located at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum 
(Photo courtesy of the UMN Landscape Arboretum)

Important Healing Garden Traits

Much of the information below has been taken from the SULIS site. ("Healing Gardens," Regents of the University of Minnesota, SULIS - Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series, 2006)

Find the article and information about related articles and subjects here:

When designing a garden intended for healing, other considerations should be made such as...
  • Creating Functionality -- the garden needs to accommodate the limitations of the users of the space.

  • Establishing the Ability to Maintain -- maintainable both for physical safety and therapeutic benefits. At institutions such as hospitals, it is especially important that the garden be easy to maintain because a poorly maintained garden could make patients lose confidence that they are being well taken care of by hospital staff.

  • Keeping Access Environmentally Sound --  it could be detrimental to the users of the space, especially those who are physically unwell.

  • Establishing Cost Effectiveness -- Often times the funding for healing gardens is raised through donations and other contributions.

  • Providing Visible Aesthetics -- Healing gardens are meant to provide pleasant surroundings to produce restorative effects for its users. The garden will not be successful if it isn't visually pleasing.
  • Featuring Simplicity -- healing gardens should be easy to understand. Many of the people using healing gardens are dealing with stress; therefore, it is important that the space not have too much "going on" to add any additional stress. The aim should be to synthesize an overall design and understanding for the place.

  • Featuring Variety -- though simplistic in nature, design should include a variety of form, texture, seasonal interest, and color to provide sensory stimulation. Not having enough interest can also be stressful to the users of the space.

  • Creating a Balanced Effect -- so whether symmetrical or asymmetrical, the space feels stable as a whole.

  • Creating Emphasis -- by using key, specimen, group, and mass plantings to create emphasis within the space. This provides focal points to help people orient themselves in the garden. An effective garden forefronts and highlights key elements of the site: specimen tree species, built structures and site assets that are instrumental in telling the story of the place

  • Using Sequence or Smooth Transition -- from one area of the landscape to another. This is especially important to create good flow when going from public gathering areas to more private areas for solitude. Good gardens form meaningful connections to people-built and natural elements.

  • Employing Scale -- If the healing garden is located by a high-rise building such as a hospital, use elements such as trees to bring the space down to a human scale.
Other Important Physical Considerations

Provide five-foot minimum width at paths for one-way traffic to accommodate the turning radius of a wheelchair. For two-way wheelchair traffic, provide seven-foot minimum width. See illustration below.

 Example of path width and design. (Illustration by M. Furgeson)
  • Create a change in texture at the edge of a path to help people with low vision to recognize when they are off the path. Raised edges on a path can create a tripping hazard.
  • Path surfaces must be firm, smooth, and provide traction to allow for easy movement of wheelchairs, gurneys and IV poles. Paving with deep grooves can be an obstacle. Concrete is a good choice, but can be expensive. Asphalt absorbs and radiates heat which can be hot in the summer. Decomposed granite is good for people in wheelchairs, but not for those on crutches. Newer rubberized paving materials are firm enough for wheelchairs and also cushion falls.
  • Avoid materials that produce glare. Light concrete can be especially troubling to older people. Use tinted concrete if possible. 
  • Limit grade changes in most highly used outdoor areas. The slope of a walk must not exceed 5% or 1 foot of rise for 20 of feet length. Cross slope must not exceed 2% or 1 foot of rise for 50 feet of length. See illustration below.

Maximum slope and cross slope. Illustration by M. Furgeson.

Spatial Layout
  • Provides a variety of spaces to accommodate different activities and levels of privacy from spaces to allow group activities to spaces that allow solitary contemplation.
  • Creates a planting buffer between people in the garden and any windows looking out onto the garden to avoid a "fish bowl" affect.
  • Provides transition areas between public and private garden spaces as shown in the following figure: 
 Planting bed provides transition between public gathering area at right 
and more intimate seating area at left. (Illustrartion by M. Furgeson)
    • Provides users of the garden options for control of privacy.
    • Keeps intrusive noises to a minimum. When possible, locate the garden away from noisy streets or mechanical elements such as air conditioners. Where undesirable noises can't be avoided, incorporate features to mask the sound such as a water feature or wind chimes.
    • The layout of the garden should be easily "readable" to minimize confusion for those who are not functioning well. Paths should be clearly laid out.
    • Landmarks should be provided to help orient the users of the space. This can be done with elements such as sculpture, a profusion of flowers, or a water feature as shown in the picture above.
    • Offer a variety of sunny and shady areas for people with varying tolerances to light exposure.
    • Offer seating of as many types and forms as possible to provide a choice to those using the garden. Lightweight chairs are desirable in allowing users to move the seating wherever they wish. Plenty of sturdy seating with backs and arms should be provided for those that need support for sitting for long periods of time.
    • Where possible, provide a water feature. Water provides a calming effect on people.
    Plant Selection
    • When selecting plants materials, research which particular species might have special sacred or evocative meanings for the cultural and age groups being served.
    • If possible, use plants that have some medicinal value. Click here for more information on Medicinal Plants. For an example of a garden design using medicinal plants, visit Southern Cross University - Medicinal Plant Garden. 
    • Choose plants that engage all the senses. Use a variety of textures, scents, colors, as well as plants that make pleasant sounds as wind rustles their leaves. Providing seasonal interest allows people to connect with the cycle of nature.
    • Avoid thorny or toxic plants, especially in gardens used by children or people with certain psychological disorders. For more information on poisonous plants, see the Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database. 
    Incorporate elements that will attract wildlife including berry-producing shrubs, birdbaths and bird feeders. Avoid plants that attract large numbers of bees or undesirable insects.
    • Choose insect- and disease-resistant varieties to eliminate pesticide use.
    • Plant higher maintenance plants such as vegetables, herbs and cut flowers in easy-to reach or raised beds. 
    Flowers and vegetables are planted in raised beds to create ease of maintenance and easier access by visitors with limited mobility.

    The aim of these gardens is to aid relaxation and provide a focus for concentration, which will enhance the healing experience.
    • Garden layout should be as simple and uncluttered as possible.
    • Some possible layouts are a circle which represents the cycle of life, a square representing universal order, or symbols such as a Celtic knot which represents a journey.
    • Provide an area of lawn or some type of seating suitable for sitting for long periods of time.
    • Provide a focal point within view of the seating area.
    • Include a water feature where possible. It is the perfect focal point for contemplation.
    • Avoid using clashing colors.
    • Choose cool colors (violet, blue, green) in the plantings. 
    The Garden of Peace

    Here is a look at The Garden of Peace, a memorial to victims of homicide in Boston. Massachusetts.

    Artist Statement: Catherine Melina

    "I spoke to so many parents of murdered children. And I thought of my children, one son, one daughter. And I tried to imagine living through their deaths. And beyond. I tried to imagine them walking out the door for school and never returning, a casual goodbye and then a void, forever.

    "I felt a burning in my chest as if I had tried to swallow a stone, a stone that, if it could be wrenched from my throat, would be visible as a huge orb, ten, twelve feet across. I imagined that it would be so dense that if it were laid on the ground it would sink into the earth, puncturing its skin, causing the earth to bleed.

    "This stream, the visible trace of murder, would gush from around the stone, and flow downhill, first cresting with the impetus of the jetting blood, then slowing to a flat stream, and at last becoming a barely stirring pool of water."  - Catherine Melina, Landscape Designer

    ("The Garden of Peace Memorial," home:

    1. "Tragic Density" Granite Lens

    The surface is the only part visible of the huge stone of sadness and grief buried in the hearts of those who have lost a loved one.

    2. Dry Streambed

    A stream should be full of water, the life-giver; but this stream is dry with only the victims' names to remind us of the lives that were taken.

    3. River Stones

    Stones bear the names, and dates of birth and death for each victim. Each stone is different, as unique as the life of the person whose name it bears. Their numbers, carrying so many names, reflect such enormous loss.

    4. Seat Walls

    A quiet resting place for tranquil contemplation and appreciation of nature. 

    5. Cross Walk
    The point where our paths and those of the victims become one; where we and they meet; a union of pathways and footsteps. 

    6. Stone Walkways

    Crunching beneath our feet, grounding us in the here and now. 

    7. Gathering Space
    A communal space that allows us to look along the streambed, back at the sorrow, and forward to hope. A public place for educational programs and vigils.
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