Above are some of my drawings for a Memory-Care Garden that I designed for Alzheimer patients in a continuing-care retirement community in North Carolina (CCRC). I designed this therapeutic garden to be powerfully sensorial — sound, water, lighting, color, scents, and focal points figured prominently, and they were all carefully controlled and curated — but I took great care to accommodate the limitations typical of Alzheimer patients and to avoid activating the triggers that often afflict them.
The garden’s path encourages the resident Alzheimer patients to exercise through walking and exploring. Paths are gentle and clear to view in order to avoid difficulty navigating, and they’re curvilinear to avoid confusion and decision-making. The plant palette is rich, calming, and interactive, but every plant is carefully chosen, not only for its beauty and utility but also for its non-toxicity, as Alzheimer patients sometimes eat garden plants.
A destination grouping of mailboxes along a far wall allows staff to stage card and newspaper “deliveries” so patients can “check the mail” — and safe, waist-high planters allow even wheel-chair-bound residents to care for plants, interact with living things, put their hands in the soil, and feel the sunlight on their faces. Ultimately, I designed this garden to provide the residents with comfort, joy, privacy, and refuge, but also to be as safe as possible.
Recent focus on grave injustices suffered by many traditionally marginalized peoples brings to my mind our society’s general acceptance of woeful discrimination against the poor, the mentally ill, the aging, the old, and those experiencing homelessness. I find it deeply troubling, which is why I find working on projects that serve people in these groups to be especially rewarding. Designing therapeutic gardens provides me with a professional opportunity to help, at least in some small way.
Memory-care gardens and healing gardens are gardens specially designed to help people who suffer from mental illness, physical illness, mental decline and, often but not always, the elderly. Great thought, effort, and skill go into designing good therapeutic gardens, and when I have the privilege of working on them, I make a special point of giving them “my all.”