Documents: Special Interest: Horticultural Therapy:

The Greening Of An AIDS Hospice
by Hanna Czuma and Virginia Burt
July 30, 2000

The John Gordon Home in London, Ont. stands away from the road on a deep lot at 596 Pall Mall Street. It does not appear to be larger than a fair-sized family dwelling and, by looking at it, you would not guess that its two floors house eight one-bedroom apartments, a large common area and offices. John Gordon Home, operated by the London Regional AIDS Hospice Inc. is the first such apartment complex designed and built specifically for HIV-positive people in Canada. Opened in July, 1997, the Home provides a friendly, accepting atmosphere. Every apartment has large windows looking out to the garden.

Families and friends may visit as in any private home. The residents feel independent, doing their own housekeeping, while help from assisting with shopping to bed care, is always available. On the west side is a Healing Garden designed by landscape architect and CHTA board member Virginia Burt. It was officially opened last October with Lieutenant Governor Hilary Weston officiating. At the opening ceremony, Virginia described the garden and how it all came about.

"Two and a half years ago, as with so many ideas, the seed of a healing garden for the new John Gordon Home facility began around a meal at a table. One of the visionaries at the table was Lisa Poultney, acting executive director. So began a journey of cultivating that seed - a journey of spirit, imagination, drawings, discussion, fundraising and, finally, construction. "Landscape architects dream of creating spaces that are used the way we intend. My desire for this garden was to create a sacred place, a sanctuary that invoked the restorative connection to Nature. There are many ways to interpret gardens - each of us carries our memories and experience with us wherever we go.

"It was my intention to create a garden to address that variety, where the concept of healing is varied, where each person heals themselves in different ways and on different levels - mental, emotional, physical or spiritual. It is my belief that the more animated the garden is, the more sounds, birds, bees, squirrels and butterflies there are, and the more senses stimulated, the more people receive joy and an uplift of spirit. We know the immune system is maintained and even strengthened when a person is feeling positive emotions and an uplifted spirit. Their stress is reduced and, when stress is reduced, the immune system becomes stronger. One of the focuses of treatment in HIV infection is to boost the body's immune system.

All this can occur in the healing garden. The concept of the garden is one of experiences, visual and participatory, both a means of connecting with other living things and the cycle of seasons and of life. It is a variety of spaces from public to semi-public, from semi-private to private. A place where a garden user could be brought into the present with a flit of a bird's wing, the sound of falling water, the scent of a flower, or tending to the tomatoes or watching the snow pile up on the bench. This garden is a place that has interest for those who can only view the garden from their bedside window.

The garden begins with a series of rooms, the most public being the Terrace area beside the veranda. It is a place of connection to the outside world, in which to view the comings and goings of tenants, visitors and staff. Further along, we walk into the Kitchen Garden, a semi-public place for tenants and staff to plant their favourite vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. The espaliered apple provides harvest as well as winter interest.

This is a place for a horticultural therapy program, a place to plant or just to sink your fingers into the soil to get those dirty fingernails with pride! Birds are invited to join, with feeders and houses throughout the garden. And, inevitably, the squirrels will also work to enjoy the feeders. "The beginning of the semi-private space is the next room with teak bench and circular bed with obelisk. It is serviced for a future water feature and allows for planting and lighting in the meantime. A flagstone path draws the garden participants back toward the more private areas, along the sensory garden and butterfly garden. Along the way, they happen upon the stone basin, carved with permission from the spirit of the stone. There are the textures of lamb's ears, scents of roses and lavender and the smell of thyme creeping along the edges and crushed as we walk.

"One begins to hear the splashing of the water spilling out of the 'heaven' rock under the timber-frame arbour, drawing one closer, an invitation to sit on the stone representing 'earth' to feel the cool microclimate created by the water. The three-stone composition of Heaven, Earth and Humanity was designed and constructed using the principles of sacred relationship in the Japanese tradition. The water feature and dappled shade from the arbour is the most private area, a space not overlooked by the apartments. It's a place to find quiet to grieve or celebrate and find peace.

"My heart has been filled to the brim with the story of a tenant who spoke to one of the wonderful artists who assisted in the construction of this garden. As the artist adjusted the level of the fountain, he asked the tenant how he felt about the garden. The tenant replied that he enjoyed the morning most of all. He often takes his pillow out to sit on the rock by the water and, feeling the morning sun on his back, listens to the water, watches the birds and says his prayers....This is what a designer dreams of." One resident, Dennis Costello, says of the garden: "It heals me. I should have been dead seven or eight times, but I'm still here." Support for the garden came from the Richard Ivey Foundation, the city of London, the Sisters of St. Joseph and community fund-raising.

(Part of this article was excerpted from a story in The Catholic Register, by Hanna Czuma, Nov. 16, 1998. This article is reprinted with permission from the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association Newsletter, April, 1999, Page 1.) Karen York 1522 Glenburnie Road, Mississauga, Ont. L5G 3E2 Tel: 905-274-9809

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row