Hospitals find ways to create interior gardens

Remedy, by Joan Linder, located in Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Can beautiful images of nature promote healing? Even healing from cancer? There is a British university study that suggest the viewing of beautiful art has a powerful effect on the brain’s “joy response” centers. Then there is the landmark 1984 study in which patients recuperated from surgery faster when they saw trees from their window. And recently, sixty percent of Cleveland Clinic patients reported a reduction from stress as a result of their interactions with the institution’s collection of contemporary art.

Enough evidence—though not without caveats and some mixed results—has been presented on this that for decades now, hospitals have been bringing art into the mix, with targeted, curated programs that go further than slapping decoration on the walls. Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo is one of those hospitals, with an art program that reaches the patients there in a few different ways.  Patients can choose art for their rooms from a selection presented to them on ipads brought to them by staff. There is a Community Artists Gallery, as well as artworks lining most hallways and communal spaces. Artists in residence work with patients to create interactive projects. And then there are large site-specific installations—seen throughout the hospital—that tie it all together, highlighting an institutional commitment to the interaction between art and healing that has been going on since the first art donation in 2001.

Is it surprising that imagery featuring plants is so prominent in these installations? Shasti O’Leary Soudant’s Wish Field features abstracted dandelion seedheads in metal, spherical formats; the Institute loved the concept so much that the dandelion imagery is now part of its logo. O’Leary Soudant notes, “I’ve loved dandelions since I was a child. They’re one of my favorite flowers. The whole back yard turns into a dandelion garden.” She goes on to remember how she, like many of us, blew the seeds away to make a wish.

A new installation, Remedy, by Joan Linder, is located in RPCI’s Breast Imaging Clinic. It depicts herbs that support women’s health. (Images from Remedy are shown in this post.) The beautiful panels light up and can be seen from outside the facility as well.

At the very least, these interpretations of various flora improve the look and feel of hospital environments. They give staff, patients, and visitors something to look at with pleasure. And if the studies have credibility, they may help instigate some kind of healing.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


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