I Want to Plant a Garden at the Mayo Clinic

I've spent many fretful hours in the gardens of the Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville. Okay, so you couldn't really say that the Mayo Clinic has gardens in the classical sense, but the landscaping really is something else. Walking out to Louchery Island has always been the high point of my visits to the hospital, and nothing eases your mind like marveling at the spidery or bell shaped blooms of crinums or the statuesque trunks of split leaf philodendrons, especially when the doctors deliver bad news as they often did. It may be those very visits that inspired me to garden.

So why is it that the same old crinums, philodendrons and caladiums aren't enough for me anymore? Sure, the park like atmosphere is plenty restful and relaxing, but whenever I see someone admiring a caladium for the first time the moment is brief. The patient returns to her worrying and nailbiting in an instant without further distraction from the curative powers of nature, however awe inspiring they might be, because a caladium is just a caladium. You can only get so much out of one painted leaf however beautiful it might be.

This is part of the garden that inspired me years before... and now it just seems boring.

The sculpture in the middle suspends prisms in the air.

One of the rainbows created by the suspended prisms.
Gardeners like yourselves don't need to be told how much your outlook on life can be improved by immersing yourself in a garden, especially when it's filled with unusual and exciting plants and brimming with butterflies and birds. The garden that I planted for my mother is sometimes the only reassurance she has in a world of ostomy bags, cellulitus and wound care. There's always something new unfurling its blooms or erupting from the soil with glossy new leaves. She can always count on the companionship of lizards quizzically inspecting the patio, butterflies alighting on the tendrils of passionflower vines or birds visiting on reconnaissance missions before moving on to seedier places. In a garden, every day presents a new miracle.

This alligator frequents the pond around Louchery Island. I named him Marshmallow.

While my mother is stranded in her hospital bed, she longs to return to her garden. Plants aren't allowed here, and neither are flowers. She relies on my occasional narration of the events outside her window for something beautiful in a hospital room cluttered with wound care equipment, so I tell her all about the sights that she can't see from her bed - the osprey carrying a fish to its nest, the alligator floating around in the retention pond like a pool float, egrets and herons hunting their prey like graceful dancers, and softshell turtles like huge pancakes floating to the surface of the tea stained water for air. Even a little nature goes a long way.

The parklike atmosphere here is great. I just want to plant a garden too!

I want to someday plant a little healing garden here at the Mayo. Hey, maybe I feel obliged to plant a garden since I've practically lived here for a few weeks, I don't know. I know it's a stretch, but I have a whole lifetime ahead of me to accomplish it and there's no shortage of space around here. By then I'll have taken coursework in horticultural therapy too! This "Miracle Garden" will have year round interest and provide a feast for the senses.

The bones of the garden would retain the pleasing simplicity of the rest of the landscape. When seen from a distance, the silhouette will be clean and curving with a solid evergreen border planting of azaleas. I'd incorporate camellias for winter interest and to provide a dark green backdrop to the colorful foliage and blooms, and visitors will have something wonderful to smell even in the dead of winter. Pockets of butterfly attracting plants like butterfly weed, citrus and pentas would punch vivid holes through the deep green of the camellias. The awe inspiring blooms of bulbs like blood lily, hurricane lily, amaryllis and daffodils would poke up from a uniform groundcover of liriope throughout each of the seasons so that there's always something amazing to behold.

This imaginary garden will exist solely to spark a sense of wonder. This garden will have a section for plants with tactile qualities - huge alocasia leaves like rubber, velvety tibouchina leaves, sandpapery cardboard palm - you name it. Sensitive plant would be planted in a raised planter so visitors could touch the feathery leaves and watch them fold up in response. Teacup colocasia would fill up with rainwater before tipping over in a splash, much to the delight of kids. I'm sure that you can think of some other amazing plants too, right?

Maybe this garden won't come to fruition at the Mayo clinic. After all, I'm sure they would have planted a healing garden by now if they wanted to. Even so, I'm planting a "Miracle Garden" somewhere, someday. Just you wait!


  1. That sounds like a wonderful idea! Hopefully you can plant one, wherever it may be.

  2. Telegraph Plant (Codariocalyx gyrans - is that an invasive in FL?).

    Could you make a movie of your walk around the grounds and let her watch it on a laptop?

  3. Maybe,just maybe,they never thought of a "healing garden." Why don't you approach thenm on that subject? I work at Tampa General Hosp.and we have a large rose garden,and it is filled with visitors and patients,everyday.

  4. Sounds like a wonderful idea to bring to the hospital admin. I love your dream.

  5. Notsoangryredhead:
    You know, I bet they are! Luckily she'll be leaving the hospital shortly though... :)

    Aarelon: I know I'll do something like this SOMEWHERE or another... the Mayo's been a lifesaver to my mom at least 11 times so it would be really fitting if I planted it there.

    I couldn't find anything online indicating that telegraph plant is invasive but I could be wrong! Great idea on the video... I ended up doing just that when I saw your comment, but instead filmed the garden I planted for her so she could see what's blooming.

    Any idea of the best way to approach the Mayo with a proposal for a new garden? I would find funding for it in one way or another, but want to ask the right way.

    I'm definitely going to try asking them about it. Any idea of the best way to go about it?

  6. You know, Steve, you are a wonderful writer, and very inspiring when you told of telling your Mom the goings on outside her window. You really should consider writing a book...I think your mind knows what it might write.

  7. ithink that is an excellent idea. You can write the hospital administrator or the medical director with your proposal. Two of the hospitals my wife is affiliated with have "gardens" in the upper floors. One even has a small prayer room right in the middle. She has also spoken of plans for a new oncology wing to have one side opening out into a mini garden to help nurture patients while they are receiving chemotherapy.


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