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Healing Garden at Kenosha’s Aurora Cancer Care clinic

Plants, and gardens specifically, have the power to heal.

In addition to the medicinal powers of their chemical compounds, when living plants are gathered together in a garden, the effect is relaxing — and, by extension, healing — to those in need.

In fall 2015, horticulture students at Gateway Technical College got the opportunity to participate in this healing process when they were asked to submit designs for a Healing Garden to be installed at Aurora Cancer Care, 6811 118th Ave.

The winning design was created by Amanda Granger, a Williams Bay resident pursuing her associate’s degree in horticulture at Gateway’s Kenosha campus.

Granger’s design was used as a concept for the final garden, said Gateway Horticulture Instructor Courtney Greve. With her design as a template, professional landscape architect

Brian J. Boeding from Paragon Design Group refined the details.

Two years later, the garden has been planted and has just wrapped up its first blooming season.

Gateway’s involvement in helping the garden come to life was recognized last week at the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce’s Business After 5 meeting held at the clinic.

Dr. Malik Bandealy, an Aurora oncologist, was also on hand to honor the occasion. “Healing gardens are a relatively new concept; they complement our other (cancer treatment) therapies like art therapy and acupuncture to improve the quality of life of patients.”

The Healing Garden in Kenosha is one of five offered at Aurora Medical Centers in Southeast Wisconsin, said Jennifer Burnett, manager of oncology services at the Kenosha clinic.

Greve says assigning students real world community projects like Aurora’s Healing Garden is an important part of the curriculum.

“I like to find projects that have a community connection,” she said.

Planning the garden

Just as they would need to do in the real world of landscape design, the students visited the clinic to conduct a site analysis, took measurements and interviewed staff members (their client) for input.

“We suggested things we would like to see, such as plants that would look nice during the winter months, and features that would attract birds,” Aurora’s Burnett said.

At the time, the garden area was a flat expanse of grass on the north side of the clinic’s infusion treatment room. Designed with the intention of installing a healing garden, the large, open-plan therapy room is surrounded by windows on all sides and is devoid of television sets.

Bandealy said the treatment room design provides a peaceful, single, open room where patients can talk and informally support one another.

The Gateway students noted the dynamics of the room and the garden area and then returned to the classroom to apply what they had learned to a working design.

Before meeting with Aurora staff members, Granger says she researched other Aurora healing gardens to get a feel for what they were looking for in Kenosha.

For Granger, it was important to create a peace-inspiring environment for patients inside the room receiving chemotherapy and for patients and staff visiting the garden outside.

She did this with meandering walkways and plants of various elevations. “I wanted areas for sitting for reflection with a sense of privacy so those outside didn’t feel like they were in a fishbowl,” she said.

Softer textured plants and pastel colors were used.

Strolling through the garden

A stroll through the garden reveals a wide assortment of plants, shrubs, textures and colors. Gateway’s Granger and Greve ticked off the plants as they saw them: young maple trees, crab apples, nine bark shrubs, hydrangeas, boxwood, spruce trees, ornamental grasses, hostas and young bee balm plants (to name a few).

A winding path of crushed granite leads over a bridge that spans the dry creek bed leading up to a pergola and sitting area.

Granger said design challenges included the garden’s proximity to the interstate and the flatness of the existing terrain.

“I wanted a way to create a private space and block road noise,” she said.

Another hurdle was Aurora’s prohibition of water features in the outdoor garden — no ponds, reflecting pools, waterfalls or fountains were allowed.

“This is to prevent waterborne illness,” Burnett explained.

Because water is a such common garden element, Granger decided to create the illusion of water with a dry creek bed comprised of medium-sized wash stone in shades of pale blues, grays and lavenders.

Voting on the design

Granger’s design was one of 13 student designs submitted in December of 2015.

The student designs were displayed in the lobby of the Aurora facility for two weeks, where they were voted on by patients of the cancer center.

“Patient input was critical since they were ultimately the ones using the garden,” Burnett said. “I loved watching the patients go around and look at the drawings.”

After the selection of Granger’s garden plan, some plants and materials were modified by the landscapers to accommodate the hospital’s budget and other practical considerations. Planting took place in the fall of 2016.

Granger, 46, said that although she is a longtime home gardener, this was the first time she had put a plan to paper.

“I think all gardens can be healing,” she said. “It’s not just about picking out plants but considering the people who would be using the garden.”

The final product is being well received, hospital staff members said.

“Patients have enough turmoil in their lives; healing gardens give them an atmosphere of calm and serenity,” Bandealy said.

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