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Urban Oasis Brings Healing Beauty in Difficult Times


December 08, 2020

Howard Ulfelder, MD, Healing Garden at Massachusetts General Hospital

Gardening and the love of gardening can influence lives in unforeseen ways and vice versa. In this case, a bone cancer diagnosis became the genesis of a beautiful public garden in Boston. A member of the Beacon Hill Garden Club (BHGC) received that cancer diagnosis and thought during treatment that “if I can just be in the garden again I’ll be perfectly happy.” Since 2005, when the Howard Ulfelder, MD Healing Garden was dedicated, that wish can be realized by patients, caregivers, families, and visitors to the rooftop oasis at the Yawkey Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). 

The creation of the Howard Ulfelder, MD, Healing Garden, a serene refuge from the hospital’s clinical environment, was initiated by a collaboration between two Boston area garden club members, one from BHGC and another from Chestnut Hill Garden Club. The women, also active in The Friends of the MGH Cancer Center, spearheaded the efforts to create, design, and fund the garden. In 2005, the 6,300 square foot rooftop oasis high above the noise of the city and with expansive views of the Charles River was dedicated and opened. 

The garden’s design allows visitors to feel connected to the world beyond the hospital while feeling the embrace of nature. Visitors enter through an upward sloping, dappled corridor that has the effect of a path before reaching a large glass window, giving the first glimpse of the garden’s birches, shrubs, grasses, and granite. Passing through the glass enclosed pavilion that offers winter and summer sanctuary, the visitor steps onto a path which leads around the entire garden. Click to learn more about the garden Howard Ulfelder, MD, Healing Garden.

Now, thanks to yet another collaboration between the Chestnut Hill and Beacon Hill garden clubs, the garden’s design will never be lost. In 2019, the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens (AAG) accepted the Howard Ulfelder, MD, Healing Garden at Massachusetts General Hospital MA427 for preservation.

For over 30 years, the GCA’s Garden History and Design Committee has partnered with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens to preserve and highlight significant aspects of gardening for the benefit of researchers and the public. At the core of the Archives is a collection of over 3,000 glass lantern slides from the 1920s and 1930s along with approximately 35,000 35mm slides that were donated to the Smithsonian by the GCA in 1992. Through its national network, GCA volunteers continue to expand the collection by photographing and documenting gardens each year for consideration by the AAG.  The GCA collection at the AAG is searchable through the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive (SOVA)

Photo courtesy of Halvorson Tight & Bond Studio

 © Anton Grassl



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