Healing Gardens: Dell Children’s Medical Center


At Dell Children’s Medical Center, healing connects top medical technology and dedicated caregivers to nature’s powerful assistance. Gardens that nurture health, spiritual contemplation in peace and downright fun change our children and their families few hospitals in time of trauma. Brian Odd of TVG led the design team to create experiences from the most intimate to the most gregarious events for families and the community every week.
There are two major reasons that we thought the healing garden was important. One, it shows our commitment to sustainability. As we constructed this building, I think our dedication was to creating a sustainable environment for taking care of children. I think the other piece of it that is often I would say understated in hospitals in general, is the importance of the environment in healing.
– At Dell Children’s there are seven different gardens throughout the whole campus. Dell Children’s serves 46 counties, so each garden represents a different ecosystem from which our patients come.
– So we hope that that helps children feel at home when they’re here.
– We even have things you eat because we have a garden where we grow vegetables for our children and herbs for the cafeteria.
– It started with 4 beds and then grew to six beds and now we have a great partnership with the Charlie Grant Foundation, and we’re going to be able to expand this to the whole backside of the healing garden to really make it an interactive exhibit of real plants growing but also an educational experience for anybody who comes out here to the Dell Children’s healing garden. With our Center we really focus on helping folks make healthy changes in their lives, and that includes nutrition and physical activity and family change and also behavioral health, and so while gardening does produce these great vegetables it also is a way to de-stress and reconnect with nature which is another source of stress relief that so many of us have forgotten about. The sensory garden was specifically designed for our children to come out here and experience the different senses, so there’s things that you can touch and smell and plants you can crunch in your hand, and then there are tubes that you can hit to make different sounds. Our music therapists bring children out here, but as well as our physical therapists and our occupational therapists also bring children out here. Music is something that we think about a lot playing sort of natural tunes or even organic made-up melodies to help establish breathing patterns or walking patterns. The maze is sort of a real maze. The kids call it the Swiss cheese maze because it looks like Swiss cheese. And a wheelchair can wheel through there just as well as a kid can run through there. The labyrinth is actually a labyrinth, so it’s a real path, a labyrinth is one that isn’t a maze. You walk it, it’s one journey, you walk it all the way to the center. I oftentimes bring staff out here to walk the labyrinth on a difficult day when they’re like “I’m not doing okay, but I don’t want to talk, but I’m not okay.” I said “Let’s go outside, let’s walk the labyrinth together, and I promise you at the end you’ll feel calmer”. This sundial is the coolest. Kids come out here and they get to learn how the Sun works and how people used to tell time in ancient times, and they can stand there and they can tell time by the sundial.
– For some of our kids that have been through either a very prolonged medical illness or even been injured and they need rehabilitation and physical therapy, one of the great things, I think, about a normal environment is that you have things that attract young children and that make them want to walk. As opposed to doing physical therapy again in a fairly sterile room and asking a child to walk, you have incentives, bright colors, flowers, running water. We have pet therapy that comes to the hospital three days a week, and the images on that wall are of the dogs who actually come to the hospital. Some of our patients did those, some of our staff did those, some other artists in the community did them.
– The fish and water lily pond is equally irresistible to children families and staff. The pavilion hosts many a picnic or quiet reverie, emits fragrance, flowers and the waterfalls lovely rhythmic flow. The fish got to know one child with a traumatic brain injury since he and his dad visited daily. It became their memory that they did every single day to give him a sense of schedule and a sense of something normal. Tucked between two wings, a reel connects splashing pools. Children gleefully float boats down its ripples. It’s also a natural nesting cove for families.
– Sometimes you need that little intimate space where no one can find you and you can just sit and be together as a family and have that intimacy with your pain or with your joy with your questions.
– Clusters of water thrifty perennials engender peaceful settings. Reflecting nature’s life cycle, progressive blooming delights children and families since wildlife is always on call. Nature is the spiritual language that transcends everything that we might find as differences. When we come out here, it doesn’t matter what you believe, we all have an experience out here that’s similar. We all are touched by what we see and feel and smell and taste – that is common. It becomes a common language that helps us heal. Life in a hospital can be very difficult for a parent. It’s difficult to even see past all the IV poles and the staff that are constantly at the bedside, so I know that this kind of outdoor environment provides a natural respite for the parents when they’re having some of their sort of darkest moments wondering about the future or not being able to feel like a parent. You come outside, you experience nature. All the craziness of life can melt away even for a moment, and if it’s only for a moment that matters. I think one of our most special days here is when we celebrate those children that have passed in our hospital over the past year, and it really is an amazing celebration where they are able to come to sort of this peaceful environment and look at sort of nature’s way of talking about growth and the life cycle.
– It’s one of the most beautiful experiences you can imagine. People think that service will be sad and it’s actually pretty glorious as you experience the love of all those families for all those children. Inside, the healing courtyard excites lots of cheers during rubber duck races down the blue tile drill, but every day it’s a comforting, colorful enclosure as rippling water makes it healing journey for both families and staff. Children can even see bananas growing on trees and parents can get a laugh over the grackle tree. I love that little garden because you can access it from every single floor. You can sit outside of the cafeteria and hear the waterfall while you’re eating. Well what better way to disconnect from everything that you’re experiencing in a hospital setting then to sit and listen to the water? You can’t be more than 30 feet from natural sunlight streaming in anywhere in the building, so it’s an easy walk for anybody or perhaps a push in a wheelchair to get to one of those windows and experience that, even if they can’t be outside. what we’ve tried to create is not just a healing medical environment but the complete total healing environment as complex and as difficult as that may be, and that incorporates a lot of nature in our work. Sometimes I’ll say instead of coming to my office for counseling, let’s just go outside. Just walk outside even for one minute, two minutes, five minutes. Doesn’t matter if it’s raining or sun shining.
– It’s amazing that you can go from sort of critical care at the bedside, lots of things going through your head, trying to adjust medicines and figure out what’s going on at the same time to outdoors to this environment which feels like one of the most peaceful environments in Austin, literally right outside the wall of where some very complex medicine is going on.

2 thoughts on “Healing Gardens: Dell Children’s Medical Center

  1. We figure LOTS of people could benefit from this tour of a healing garden right about now, so we're recommending it.

  2. I think healing landscaping is necessary because in some difficult stages of patient life they need to be in contact with the nature elements: nature life, air, soil, fire. This example presented, is the manufactured while the other option can be natural (or a try to be natural). Certainly, some how all the elements were manipulated by human civilization for healing in historical times, religious or well-being, such the case of Sundance and Sacred fires performed by aboriginal communities or the thermal saunas constructed by the Romans but what about the empowering of Nature by itself? Consider human medicine did what was possible to do, then, is the incommensurate power of nature that remains to take all of us to where we come from (physically)

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