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Harrison’s healing garden designed to provide respite

Silverdale artist Lisa Stirrett, seen in the background adding decorations to the Tree of Hope, created the steel tree as well as the glass fountain for the healing garden. The magnetic tree decorations will change several times a year. Pink blossoms in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month will decorate the tree in October, followed later by autumn-colored leaves.When Judy Hagen’s late husband, Gary, fought leukemia a few years ago, the couple spent more time at Harrison Medical Center for six months than they did at their own home. Hagen recalls how difficult it was for him to find a place around the hospital where he wouldn’t be reminded of his fight.

“If only there had been a place for my husband to step outside and sort of feel normal for a little bit,” she says.

When she received a call from Harrison to be on a committee planning a healing garden for the Bremerton campus, Hagen says she was overjoyed. The garden would have been exactly the kind of place where Gary could have found temporary refuge.

“The smell of fresh air, hearing the sounds we take for granted — even 10 minutes would have been healing for him,” says Hagen, who lives in Port Ludlow.

After 10 years of dreaming, and more than two years of planning and designing, the Less and Betty Krueger Family Healing Garden opened in September. The 3,100-square-foot rooftop garden is adjacent to the inpatient oncology unit and the radiation oncology department — which has a direct view from inside. But it’s designed not only for patients but also caregivers, visitors and hospital staff.

“It’s really about being a sanctuary, for renewal and rest, giving people a reprieve from something quite stressful, which is hospitalization. Part of it is due to being in nature — it has an effect on people,” says Stephanie Cline, executive director for Harrison Medical Foundation, which raised funds for the garden through private donors and events. “It gives families an alternative destination to relieve stress when they’re here. There are also known benefits for staff — even a few minutes outside has been shown to improve safety … and they go back to their units clearheaded and refreshed.”

The garden includes a covered area with furnishings, a wheelchair and ramp to a raised area — for physical therapy purposes — and space for creative programming such as art therapy. The focal point is a 9-foot-tall Tree of Hope sculpture, created by renowned Silverdale artist Lisa Stirrett.

“We wanted a central story for the garden. The Tree of Hope became the focal point of shared experience,” Cline says.

The steel tree will change through the seasons with magnetic decorations created by Stirrett. The first set is pink blossoms, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

The garden will be interactive, mostly through a kiosk that will have both information about the garden and personal stories and encouraging words from community members.

“I’m so excited for people to experience this garden,” Stirrett says. “I think the tree will mean something different for everybody. I want people to find some hope, healing, joy and inspiration out of it.”

Stirrett also created another major garden feature, a cascading fountain made of sections of glass — each measuring 7.5 feet long and comprised of hundreds of strips of fused glass — flanked by slate stone columns on both sides. The final piece of the water feature, which Stirrett expected to add this fall, will be three glass salmon, red and orange in color.

The healing garden was supported entirely through charitable giving, including more than 100 donors. The Harrison Foundation began raising funds about five years ago, Cline says, and dedicated all money raised from one of the Festival of Trees events to the project.

“We consider it the very best in health care design and a great example how charitable giving makes this hospital a special place,” she says.

Bremerton’s Rice Fergus Miller Architecture provided the design in collaboration with Seattle landscape design firm Hafs Epstein, which specializes in therapeutic gardens. Cline says the design was guided by input from a variety of stakeholders and professionals, including master gardeners.

The plants were selected based on ease of maintenance, year-round interest and characteristics such as lack of strong fragrance (which can adversely impact chemotherapy patients). A group of volunteers has been recruited to maintain the garden, and Cline says there will be ongoing charitable giving opportunities to pay for new plants and other maintenance and enhancements.

Growing trend

Healing gardens date back more than 1,000 years but are going through a resurgence. Various studies have shown clinical benefits such as reducing blood pressure, pain, anxiety and depression; decrease in length of hospitalization; improved satisfaction with the facility and improved staff performance, among other things.

Hagen says she is pleased with the outcome of the steering committee’s work and feels the healing garden “will be a place of hope for years to come.”

“Just to get out with a loved one — I love the concept where you can sit and it’s kind of like your home,” she says. “For the people that find themselves there, it will give them a little normalcy, hope and a sense of healing.”

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