Howard Ulfelder Healing Garden

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Howard Ulfelder Healing Garden at Massachusetts General Hospital, Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care, in Boston. Well, WOW, is my first exclamation about this garden. Located 8 floors up it is certainly a successful hospital garden installation. Designed by Halvorson Design Partnership Inc. and built in 2005 it is thriving and is true to its initial design intent.

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Designed to provide a calm sanctuary of respite and relaxation for patients undergoing cancer treatment and their families it certainly achieves that. While I was visiting I noticed families meeting together sitting in the garden, individuals spending a moment sitting in chairs that viewed out over the city and the Charles River and also a mum with her young child who enjoyed playing around the water feature with that sense of child-like discovery and adventure. The entrance to the garden is via a passageway that then opens onto a beautiful glassed room that overlooks the garden. I wasn’t sure whether it was my excitement about finally visiting this garden, but the sense of reveal that I experienced as I walked into that room was amazing. The views, the greenery and the connection with a natural space within a clinical hospital setting was sensational. Quite calming, peaceful and enriching.

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It was almost difficult to remember that I was 8 floors up. This felt like a garden on ground level. This to me says that this is a successful rooftop garden, and anyone who has had anything to do with rooftop gardens knows that there are lots of logistics to consider when installing gardens on top of buildings! I had to also remind myself that this is garden that is covered in snow in winter, so while the trees were the predominant feature there were still adequate shrubs that provided a depth of planting. Trees were ideally placed to ‘hide’ the neighbouring buildings and also placed at the end point. This could’ve closed the garden in, however it didn’t. Instead it created a subtle end point to gently enclose the garden and avoid the feeling of being on the precipice of the building. Sensational!

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Inside the room there are various chairs and people come and sit quietly gazing out onto the garden. I’m sure that this environment helps them to stop, ponder, relax or just escape the feeling of being a patient for just a moment. A visitors book is provided and is filled with endless positive comments. And why wouldn’t there be … this is truly a desirable healing space.

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For me, the sign of a good garden is having that moment of deciding whether I’m ready to leave it, knowing that I may not see it again. Asking myself “have I experienced it enough for the memory to last?”. And I had that moment with this beautiful garden. Thankfully I’ve taken a few photos to help jog my memory of this great experience.

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