Plants and fresh air make good medicine for patients and for the family behind two hospital-based green spaces
Tauba Spiro is no give-and-go philanthropist. Instead, the pleasant woman enjoying lunch at the Spiro Family Garden on a second-floor rooftop
at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences – or at the Max Tanenbaum Garden, high on the 16th floor of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre – often quietly savours the pleasure patients, their families, their friends and staff members find in the gardens that she and her family have initiated and maintain.
Spiro and her husband, Rabbi Solomon Spiro, were inspired to build the first garden when they stepped off an elevator at the Princess Margaret and beheld a vast rooftop on the 16th floor. Designated as garden space, budgetary restraints had left it covered in gravel instead. “That night,” Spiro recalls, “Sol said, ‘I would love to build that garden.’”
They never considered anyone but landscape architect Neil Turnbull, who had designed the small plot they delighted in off their breakfast room. He understood a garden’s power to comfort. His elder daughter, now 32, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of eight and had had months of treatment at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, deep in the city’s busy core. “You’re kind of trapped with doctor’s appointments,” Turnbull recalls. “We tried to spend as much time in natural places as we could, but in reality, we had to be on call all the time. Had we had a garden … it would have been a lovely place to sit and catch up.”
The Princess Margaret Centre’s 8,000-square foot Max Tanenbaum Garden honouring Tauba Spiro’s father opened in 1999. Everything, including tons of soil, had to travel up in passenger elevators before the hospital opened at 8 a.m. The hexagonal planters and diamond-shaped decking of ipe, a Brazilian hardwood, were cut and fitted at Turnbull’s Hedgerow Farm, near Sunderland, Ont., over 17 months and assembled in four months on site.
Ron and Lynda Baird created the Chapel structure, three stainless steel chain-mail roofs inspired by the form of the datura flower. Cloud-like billows of stainless steel disks form a pavilion (added in 2000) that keeps rain off and provides shade for cancer patients, who are acutely susceptible to sunlight. Open annually from April 1 to Nov. 30, it’s popular with staff, visitors and patients. It’s also where you’ll find Tauba Spiro listening to cool Jazz for the Soul at noon on Fridays during the summer, a music program she initiated.
Turnbull’s crew buzzes in three times a year with new plants. “I think it’s a celebration of life,” Turnbull says. “Peonies, when they bloom are a celebration. In springtime, we fill the beds up with minor bulbs like grape hyacinths and thousands of little violets and various forms of Johnny-jump-ups and pansies.
There’s always something about spring flowers that gets to you,” he smiles. In winter, the Hedgerow crew fills planters with displays of evergreens and colourful boughs brought from the farm. Add snow, and the space becomes a sculpture garden. Spiro points out that the palliative care windows overlook the garden.
Patients, she says, “feel there’s something special for them and their families. It always looks nice.”
DESIGNED FOR HEALTH
Right from the get-go, Toronto’s new Bridgepoint Active Healthcare – built to replace the tired original hospital beside it – aimed to go green to optimize patient health. Here, nature isn’t an add-on. Marian Walsh, president and CEO of the hospital, stresses, “We want people to benefit from the healing effects of nature, not to feel isolated by their health problems. Nothing here is accidental or ornamental. It all has a meaning: to call people to life.”
Rooms allow each patient to see sky, parkland or the broad Don Valley. They can also walk or be wheeled on an outdoor labyrinth, a site for quiet contemplation based on one at the medieval Chartres Cathedral in France. Its path mirrors a journey to one’s core and subsequent return to the world. The heart soars with the expanse of sky visible from the 10th-floor Harold Ballard Foundation Garden. Glazed windscreens and a wooden canopy offer shelter, but patients gain exercise by walking its rooftop path.