The soothing sound of bubbling water sets a tranquil mood in the Oregon Burn Center Garden at Legacy Emanuel Hospital.
Birds chirp from branches of cypress and cedar within the brick-walled, 9,000-square-foot courtyard. A light breeze ripples through wooden wind chimes, adding another layer of calming sound.
A patient seated in a wheelchair visits with family in the shade of a canopy, and although I hear their voices from a bench only yards away, the water bubbler effectively muffles the words. A curved border filled with shrubs juts out between us, affording visual privacy while we share the garden's beauty.
For a patient undergoing treatment for burns - a painful journey, both physically and emotionally - getting a taste of the outdoors is a relief.
'We take them outside to look for textures, colors, smells, berries, grounding them to the beauty of nature,' says Kathleen Johnson, an occupational therapist. In a healing garden, waking up the senses of touch, smell, hearing and taste is as important as creating visual excitement.
A stand of pink fuchsias blooms, and purple clematis mingled with roses scramble up an arbor. The fragrance of jasmine, lilies and lavender fills the air. Rosemary grows in a large container with strawberries draping over the edge. That way patients can rub the rosemary to release its fragrance, and pick some strawberries, from a standing position.
Thirty years ago, when I was a social worker at the burn center, it was within the main hospital building, and patients had no access to the outdoors. Rushing home at lunch hour to unwind in my own garden, I wished that the same sweet relief might be available on the hospital's grounds.
In February 2002 the Oregon Burn Center moved to a newly renovated two-story building, and in May 2004 the garden was launched. Now patients and their families and medical staff all have access to a garden's solace.
Some patients' rooms have a garden view. For those who are unconscious, the garden may be the first view they wake up to. As patients progress and resume activities of everyday life, the garden is where they learn to walk again. In nice weather, the Burn Concern Support Group, which helps survivors cope, meets in the garden.
Designing a therapeutic garden takes more than an eye for beauty. Landscape architect Brian Bainsson worked with an interdisciplinary design team of a dozen staff members, facilitated by Legacy's horticultural therapist, Teresia Hazen. Paths are 5 to 6 feet wide, to accommodate gurneys, beds and wheelchairs, with ample room for IV poles and ventilators. Slopes are designed to be very gentle, and surfaces are smooth and flat to prevent tripping.
Seating areas are designed for maximum privacy so that several groups or individuals can enjoy the garden without intruding on one another. Benches and tables with chairs are tucked here and there, with beds and arbors cleverly situated to provide screening. Tall brick walls shelter the garden from wind and afford privacy from traffic and passers-by.
A pergola designed by local artist Ean Eldred beautifies one corner of the garden. The overhead canopy resembles woven tree branches, and a veneer of glossy ceramic tiles dresses up the metal posts. The shaded chairs below invite visitors to sit and enjoy birds splashing in a birdbath and flitting to a nearby feeder.
From the pergola you also can gaze on a circle of refreshing lawn, or take your shoes off and treat your feet. Kids especially love the grass, and families sometimes bring out a blanket to sit on.
Plenty of evergreens give the garden year-round interest. 'Skyrocket' juniper, slender hinoki cypress and 'Skypencil' holly were chosen for their compact sizes. Evergreen winter daphne, 'Yuletide' camellia and California lilac add bursts of seasonal color. Evergreen huckleberry, lingonberry and 'Golden Raindrops' crabapple offer colorful fruit.
A small space screened by arborvitae and closed off by a low gate is for staff members only. This private area is a welcome retreat for moments of renewal in the course of a stressful shift.
Winner of the American Horticultural Therapy Association's 2006 Therapeutic Garden Design Award, the garden is open to the public two days a year, including next Monday.
Oregon Burn Center Open Garden, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 17, and Aug. 7; 3001 N. Gantenbein Ave., Portland, OR 97227. Garden volunteers will greet guests, and guests may bring lunch and enjoy the garden. Plant list available. Call 503-413-6507 or 503-415-5725 for information.