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Learning to Grow Again; A Healing Garden’s Evolution

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A Healing Garden is about Learning to Grow Again

My friend Hannah called to ask me to help her create a healing garden. That’s because her love had long encouraged her to build a garden space at her apartment. So whhen he died climbing on Mt. Rainier, she was driven, through a tear-filled fog, to fulfill his wish and learn to garden. And I was honored she asked me to be her gardening guide through this journey.

Ferns Lee Planted in His Garden

Ferns Lee Planted in His Garden

When we first met about her garden…

I gingerly asked about her lost love. That’s because I had never met Lee. And I wanted to know, through her, what he loved about nature. As she pet her purring, comforting cat, she told me that not only was he an avid outdoors man and climber but he also loved large, native evergreen trees. Too he loved to hike. And he grew a garden.

We cried together as a part of crafting this healing garden.

We sat in silence while the cat purred. Then, at some point in our conversation, she asked me to join her at his home to see his garden. To be honest, the prospect of taking her to his home made me uneasy, but I knew there would be no better way for me to know Lee’s garden sense than to see his garden with her.

So together we made a couple of trips to Lee’s garden.

And his garden was filled with simple but lovely sedums, bamboo, ferns, iris, black mondo grass, and a very striking, prominent Japanese Maple. It wasn’t a traditional Asian garden. But Lee was clearly  influenced by that style and those plant materials.

I suggested we take divisions to include in her healing garden.

From Lee’s garden, we collected plants we could divide. Then, as we were leaving, I noticed a small volunteer Japanese Maple.  I told Hannah that I couldn’t promise it would be exactly like Lee’s large tree, but given the proximity, it was quite possibly a baby from his tree. She loved the idea of cultivating this tree. So we collected it up as well.

Then the healing garden design began.

Off her main living space, Hannah had a very dreary, shady balcony. It was barren as you can see below. And  it looked out onto a world of neighboring ugly apartments, parking lots, and a not-attractive naked neighbor with open curtains.  But from the balcony, Hannah had a view of the stunning Olympic Mountains. But from her living room, the view left a lot to be desired. And, she really didn’t use it, but she did look at it every time she sat on her sofa.

Hannah's Original Balcony View from the Sofa

Hannah’s Original Balcony View from the Sofa

Crafting a private space but not a prison…

First, I wanted to design privacy without boxing her in. And I didn’t want the privacy to block her mountain view.

Second, I wanted to be sure the balcony garden was an extension of her eclectic inside space.

Third, I needed to consider that Hannah’s new to gardening and doesn’t have a lot of time to care for her plants.

Fourth, we needed to remember that this was a rental apartment, so moving and taking her garden with her might come in handy some day.

Fifth, It was really windy up there

Finally, I wanted to be sure that the space honored Lee. But it also had to be a space Hannah would love and use for herself. It needed to be calming and meditative. So while all of this may sound like a tall order, it did all come together in the end.

How we put Hannah’s Healing Garden Together…

We began by installing a series of different sized bamboo privacy panels along the railing. Tall ones to create privacy. Short ones to allow for gazing at the desirable views. And we kept some spaces open to avoid feeling boxed in.

Hannah's View from the Sofa Today

Hannah’s View from the Sofa Today

Because the deck flooring was so darn ugly, Hannah selected a simple outdoor rug to cover it. Next we added a simple hand-made bamboo bench for a sense of destination. Then, where the panel installation had intentional gaps, we strategically added a series of different height containers. And we filled them with easy-care plant material, which included Lee’s iris and Japanese Maple.

Hannah Stepping Out Into Her New Garden

Hannah Stepping Out Into Her New Garden

Finally, we tucked a small recirculating water feature into the center of one of the planters to add the comfort of a trickle and perhaps provide water to the hummingbirds that live in Birch trees nearby.

Bubbling Water Surrounded by Plants from Lee & Hannah's Palettes

Crafting this garden helped her heal.

It was quite a journey from that first day meeting up with my heartbroken friend the day we built this garden together. On building day, she learned to plant. And for the first time since we’d been working together, Hannah smiled.

Through all of this, she’s learned to grow.

5 comments on “Learning to Grow Again; A Healing Garden’s Evolution

  1. Cat Saylor on

    Robin,
    What a wonderful story for this Spring. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us.
    cat

  2. Roberta on

    What a wonderful gift you have been given! If every apt. dweller could know what
    can be done with the usual barren, boring & too open balconies with nosy neighbors
    included! You give hope to all 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

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