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New hospital garden helps soothe patients
A variety of flowers and other plants fill Anne’s Garden. - photo by Tom Reed

Healthy Monday

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Rarely is a hospital visit not met with heavy doses of pain or stress. While doctors nurse the body back to health, more hospitals are using gardens to rejuvenate the spirit.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center is embracing the pleasantries of gardens to help soothe patients and family members during their stay.

Research shows that time spent gazing at greenery or colorful blossoms can reduce patient stress to help them feel better faster, according to Dr. Roger S. Ulrich of Texas A&M University’s Center for Healthy Systems and Design.

Ulrich found that viewing natural settings can produce significant restoration within less than five minutes as indicated by positive changes in blood pressure, heart activity, muscle tension and brain electrical activity, all of which can contribute to a quicker recovery. And the positive effects of a hospital garden boost staff morale, too. Doctors and nurses are more likely to feel relaxed and give patients higher quality care.

Bedridden patients recuperating in the rooms of the North Patient Tower at Northeast Georgia Medical can enjoy a view of Anne’s Garden through their windows. Able patients and family members are invited to amble through the garden, which Anne and George Thomas donated to the hospital this spring.

Nancy Colston, executive director of the Medical Center Foundation at the hospital, said Anne’s Garden is a garden of hope and healing. It creates a respite where people can go to meditate or reflect and enjoy time outdoors, she said.

"When the North Patient Tower was being constructed, we knew we wanted to create green space and a space for patients, families and visitors where they could have a place to come and enjoy the outdoors," she said. "If anyone has ever spent time in the hospital, then you know how important it is to get away."

Patients and families can visit the nearly 12,000-square-foot garden abound with blossoms year round. Anne’s Garden features a blue stone water fountain surrounded by pink camelias in fall, yellow mahonia in winter, purple iris in spring and perky white daisies in summer, said Fockele Garden Co. Vice President Julie Evans. Flowering trees, including Japanese maples, Chinese dogwoods and magnolias, encircle the garden.

The garden also will feature a statue of Elpida, a Greek figure with wings for arms, who represents hope. The statue by Georgia artist Jean Westmacott will arrive this fall.

Evans said more of the hospital grounds have been developed as gardens in recent years.

"It’s a lot of concrete and cars, so the hospital really wanted to incorporate gardens throughout the campus," Evans said. "So many patients, even if they can just see the garden from their window, and then their attitude is better or maybe their medication can be reduced. We all know how much better we feel after a walk in the park on a beautiful day."

Evans said she knows first-hand how it feels to be a family member cooped up in the hospital caring for a sick loved one, and pulled from her personal experience as she designed the garden.

"Having spent a lot of time in the hospital with my parents being sick, I thought about what would be soothing or relaxing to somebody, because you can’t really take away their pain," she said. "You can just wander around here, sit on a bench or look at the fountain and recognize some things. I thought about what I would have wanted."

Evans said Anne Thomas wanted Southern flowers to grace the garden to provide patients a connection with nature’s familiar and beautiful delights.

"People can say, ‘Oh, I used to have some day lilies,’" Evans said. "It makes everybody happy. How could it not make you happy?"