A role for gardens in health care

Graduate believes nature can heal

Nature offers a potent healing force for those who need it, says Jingjing Sun, who graduates this month with a master of landscape architecture degree.

For her thesis project, Sun produced a therapeutic garden design for BC Children’s and Women’s Hospital.

To fully understand the garden site and context, Sun interviewed hospital staff and visited with the patients. She was struck by the quiet, dignified acceptance of children who in many cases are in intensive pediatric care. The patients range in age from newborn to late teens.

“If they’re not in any pain, they love to play. Any worry they feel isn’t for themselves, but for how sad their mom and dad are feeling,” says Sun. “That’s why I want to serve them in creating this garden.”

The proposed design would transform a 1,200 square metre (12,916 square feet) area near the hospital’s Oak Street entrance—currently lawn and shrubs—into a tranquil haven using low-maintenance plants and local materials. In one corner a birdbath will attract robins and sparrows. The soft rustle of wind through bamboo will soothe as scent and colour come from plants such as climbing wisteria.

To foster a sense of entry “from the profane or ordinary to a sacred space,” says Sun, the design employs unifying elements such as a series of wooden trellises that wind through the L-shaped space. These create a sense of intimacy while providing cover from rain or bright sun.

The foliage has to be suitable for children who may only access the garden while being pushed in a wheelchair or their beds, notes Sun, who also gained experience as a volunteer gardener at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

“The height of the shrubs and trees is quite important as is the surface since uneven paving stones would clearly be a problem.”

Sun says she hopes to one day share her vision and skills with clients in Canada as well as China. Growing up in Nanjing, Sun says the pace of modernization has stripped many cities of green spaces and residential gardens—a trend that she wants to help reverse.

“Nature is miraculous. It’s sacred.”

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