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Healing Garden at Mary Greeley Medical Center

Located in Ames, IA

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Staff at the cancer center of Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames wanted to transform a blank greenspace outside its entrance into a place where patients could decompress and potentially heal more quickly. A Healing Garden was created that lets patients connect with nature in a calming way while receiving infusions or waiting for appointments.

A variety of gardens were created in different zones to suit diverse tastes. A pollinator garden offers native butterfly milkweed, bee balm and coneflowers to create habitat and add vibrant color to the garden, maximizing the benefits to people and the ecosystem. A sensory garden includes fuzzy lamb’s ear, lavender and lilacs for scent, ornamental grasses that can be heard blowing in the breeze, and blueberries. The Healing Garden also includes a salvia garden, shrub garden and shade garden. Creating different garden zones – as well as 3D graphics to showcase the project – helped the hospital sell the project to donors.

A wheelchair-friendly strolling path lets visitors meander through the different gardens at their own pace. A small basalt water column was installed along the path to add the relaxing sound of water running. The water feature is self-contained for easy maintenance. Outlets in the garden let patients plug in for treatments or personal devices, and arches along the pathway provide light sources while also framing the space. The outlets and lights also make it possible for the hospital to host nighttime events.

The medical center wanted to offer shade options using two pergolas, including one in the center of the garden that would be free-standing. Negotiations with the City of Ames were necessary not only for the pergolas but also to address the City’s greenspace requirements. By framing the project as a pedestrian space, the seating areas and pathway didn’t count against the amount of greenspace, and a special variance cleared the way for the pergolas. During construction, more design solutions needed to be found to address Covid-related construction delays to allow the Healing Garden to open on time and still fulfill the wishes of stakeholders.

Mary Greeley’s new Healing Garden offers a welcoming and less stressful entrance experience for cancer patients, as well as adding visibility to the medical center from busy Duff Avenue. Not only patients but staff also enjoy spending time in the gardens, with a variety of seating options to get visitors immersed in nature. While the in-ground plants are perennials, the medical center partnered with the Master Gardeners in Ames to help maintain the planters with annuals to add vibrant colors

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