Center for Hospice Care Southeast Connecticut plans healing garden

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Feb. 10, 2014
The plan for a healing garden at Center for Hospice Care in Norwich, designed by Kelly Sisk, includes plants and other elements that appeal to all the senses. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Even though it looks like the frozen tundra these days, covered with a blanket of snow, the entrance circle at Norwich’s Center for Hospice Care Southeast Connecticut will be transformed this summer into a healing garden, providing solace and respite to clients and staff alike. Designed by Stonington landscape designer Kelly Sisk, the garden will feature plants that have long been revered for healing properties and will appeal to all the senses.

“This will be an important part of the services we offer to our patients,” said Hospice vice-president of philanthropy Christie Williams. “It will be open to the public, to anyone who needs such a resource. It’s our gift to the community,” he said.

Hospice provides resources, service and support for people nearing the end of life, as well as to their families. Sisk said that the garden will serve in “helping to understand transitions and the cycles of life. It offers whatever they need: peace, hope.”

Already, four hardwood pergolas stand on the Dunham Road site, marking each of the four themed quadrants of the garden. Separate sections will feature perennials and roses, wild berries, herbs and a Zen garden. At the center, a waterfall sculpture will provide the soothing sounds of splashing water.

Sisk said that the garden will also feature a vegetable plot, a children’s play area and an imbarimba, an interactive musical instrument similar to a xylophone. The instrument was chosen by the children in the Hospice program, she said. “Sound is useful for healing,” she said.

The garden has been designed with many layers of meaning, Sisk said. Colors like blue and purple have been chosen for calming effect, while other plants were selected based on their history of medical use in ancient therapies. A weeping cherry will serve as a symbol of transition, and a gingko was chosen for its medicinal qualities as well for its status as the most ancient tree that still grows.

“Everything in the garden is a symbol, and has a meaning to it that each individual will be able to feel at whatever level they’re at, to help them with closure. Everything offers something when people are open to it,” said Sisk.

The garden will also feature a grassy gathering space and flagpole, along with stone and metal elements and a play area for children.
Work on the garden will get underway in earnest this spring, and CHC hopes to formally open the garden by August, said Williams. Volunteer gardeners will help plant the garden and maintain it afterwards. The Center is currently raising funds toward the projected $100,000 cost of the installation, he said.

Sisk said she has designed a similar healing garden in the form of a butterfly labyrinth at Camp Harkness, a state park and recreational facility along Long Island Sound in Waterford for individuals with disabilities and their families. While that garden, designed to be wheelchair-accessible, has a different focus from the one she is planning for Hospice, it is often used for meditation walks, she said.

“Healing gardens have an ancient history, dating back to ancient Greece,” said Williams. Medieval cloisters also fostered healing gardens, growing plants for medicinal purposes as well as herbs thought to have positive effects on a person’s mental and spiritual state.

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