What Does It Take to Build a Garden at a Children's Hospital?

Construction is about to begin on the first-ever Healing Garden at Children’s National. The project poses challenges for the design and construction team, because the goal is to give children a chance to be outdoors while also being safe and avoiding medical complications. We talked to Kathleen E. Chavanu Gorman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of patient care services, about how the garden is being designed.

Q: What has gone into the planning of the Healing Garden?

A: We’ve been planning for several years now, from determining where the garden could be built, to how much weight the area can support, and many complicated design decisions.

Q: What’s been complicated about it?

A: You’d be surprised the level of careful planning that goes into something like a garden – because unlike most of our facilities, it will be outdoors. We’ve evaluated all the ways we can help children enjoy this space safely, even if they are very sick. We want it to be as attractive as possible, while we also look at what types of plants are least likely to threaten a child’s health, and will grow on a rooftop garden.

Care must be taken, for example, to ensure that a child who’s in a wheelchair or receiving intravenous fluids can access the space without interruption of their care, or that a child vulnerable to infections or who has specific allergies can be outside safely.

Q: Can you give us a preview of what the garden will look like?

A: We are finalizing the garden’s design and many of the features. We know that it will include a labyrinth for mediation and calming.  We'll have a water feature for an element of sound, and bamboo will rustle in the wind. There will be lighting that will not disturb patients at night, but reveal the garden’s design to those who can view it even from their patient beds.

Many of the best design ideas came from the very people who will use the garden – children who we talked to during our initial planning. And we know that because of their input, the Healing Garden will be extra special. 

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