The Magnificence of Healing Gardens

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

– Dorothy Frances Gurney

Mount Carmel Rehabilition and Nursing Center in Manchester, NH opens its Healing Garden on July 14th, 2016.

The healing garden at Mount Carmel replaces an outdated courtyard and offers a centerpiece water feature surrounded by four Japanese lilac trees, providing a shaded canopy. This therapeutic serene spot allows for quiet contemplation, healing and a sense of well-being.

“The Healing Garden is a place where our residents will find comfort,” says Thomas E. Blonski, President and CEO of Catholic Charities New Hampshire. “They are going to be able sit and enjoy a beautiful and peaceful surrounding. It is also going to be completely accessible so all residents will benefit.”

The original Mount Carmel courtyard before the conversion to the healing garden.
The original Mount Carmel courtyard before the conversion to the healing garden.

Studies have shown that engaging with nature lowers blood pressure and increases healing. Engaging in the senses reduces stressors and increases healing as well. Sights, sounds, smells, tactile integration all queue healing sensories. Even ten minutes a day has shown to significantly reduce stress and blood pressure.

Healing gardens encourage seniors to get outside for exercise, sunlight, and fresh air. Additionally it can help patients learn to use a wheelchair on outdoor surfaces, and provides horticultural therapy activities.

“A garden is evidence of faith. It links us with all the misty figures of the past who also planted and were nourished by the fruits of their planting. – Gladys Taber”

Catholic Charities New Hampshire commissioned Rob Hoover, ASLA, to create the healing garden to provide residents with an accessible and serene spot that allows for quiet contemplation, healing and a sense of well-being. Hoover , the principal of HBLA, Inc., a landscape architecture firm based in Portsmouth, specializes in therapeutic gardens for senior living and hospice facilities, and is recognized nationally as an expert in the field.

The first dig at the Mount Carmel Healing Garden's groundbreaking ceremony.
The first dig at the Mount Carmel Healing Garden’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Rob Hoover, has completed close to 100 therapeutic garden projects for senior living facilities, but the one he is currently working on, the Mount Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Manchester, is his latest work.

“When it’s all said and done, there will be a handful of projects I will look back on as truly special, and this will be one of them,” Hoover says.

“This is the last connection with nature that some of the residents will likely ever have,” Hoover says. “Nature is alive; it is life itself. Nature accepts you unconditionally for who you are, just the way you are. It’s the best definition of unconditional love that I know.”

There are three keys every therapeutic garden should have to enhance the quality of life for residents:

  1. Do no harm. For example, too much sunlight can be harmful to residents, particularly as the summer gets hotter. Immediate shade is a key. Also, glare from the sun as it reflects off traditional concrete walkways can actually hurt the eyes. Colored concrete solves that problem.
  2. Provide a safe and secure environment. The proper security fencing, video surveillance, unobstructed views of the garden and even the way the doors open to the garden will help maintain the safety of residents, including those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  3. Design appropriately. The Mount Carmel garden will include doors that make it easy for all residents, including those in wheelchairs, to enter the garden; a gracious ramp from the inside that gradually takes a person down into the garden; raised planters that allow residents to work in the garden as part of a horticultural therapy, and reminiscence therapy – a term Hoover coined to describe using elements consistent with the cultural heritage of the residents, such as a white picket fence, to trigger long-term memory. Aroma therapy, using plants such as old fashioned lilacs; “pet” therapy through the use of carefully selected and located bird feeders and numerous walking options for physical therapy were also incorporated into the plan.

Giving our seniors the gift of nature is one of God’s greatest offerings. CCNH responds with programs that heal, comfort and empower.

“Of all the wonderful things in the wonderful universe of God, nothing seems to me more surprising than the planting of a seed in the blank earth and the result thereof.” – Julie Moir Messervy

If you would like to be a part of this wonderful opportunity please consider donating. Contact Lisa B. Merrill-Burzak, Vice President of Development, at 603-669-3030

Work continues on the Mount Carmel Healing Garden.
Work continues on the Mount Carmel Healing Garden.