The Healing Garden at Piedmont Regional Medical Center

The Labyrinth / image: Marguerite Koepke

Healthcare & Therapeutic Garden Design Interview Series: Joel Siebentritt, Director of the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support, part of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, Athens, GA

The need for cancer support and patient services was first envisioned by a very special group of nurses, caregivers, and cancer survivors in the mid- to late 1990s. They used their understanding of not only medicine but also complementary therapies to begin planning a physical facility to serve these needs. At first, the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support was conceived mainly as a building but soon the planning grew into a more holistic idea of not only a structure but a building surrounded by nature and naturalistic gardens. Since its inception, the Center has grown from an idea and an unused piece of property on the edge of the hospital campus into a vital center of support for patients, caregivers, and family member. The healing garden is an important and integral part of the Center’s mission and is designed to serve the hospital, its caregivers, patients and their families, as well as the broader Athens community.

Joel Siebentritt, the Center’s director, is a passionate supporter of the garden and driving force behind getting the garden built, funded, and perhaps most importantly, programmed for important uses and functions. He loves nature and every day can see from his office window people who are using, enjoying, and benefiting from their interactions there. The following is an interview with Joel that delves more deeply into his connections to the garden and the garden’s history and purpose.

The following interview with Joel Siebentritt, Director of the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support, was conducted by Marguerite Koepke, RLA, ASLA, professor emeritus, College of Environment + Design, University of Georgia.

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Healing Labyrinth for Cancer Support

image: Thomas Baker
image: Thomas Baker

[The labyrinth] is…at once the cosmos, the world, the individual life, the temple, the town, man, the womb—or intestines of the Mother (earth), the convolutions of the brain, the consciousness, the heart, the pilgrimage, the journey, and the Way.
–Jill Purce, The Mystic Spiral

The Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support was built in 2000 as part of the Athens Regional Medical Center (ARMC). The Center serves the community of Athens, GA and the northeast region of the state. It is a welcoming “safe harbor” for anyone affected by cancer and provides resources, research, and access to social services, as well as a supportive therapeutic outdoor environment for patients and their families as they deal with the physical, social, and emotional impacts of cancer treatment. The Center and surrounding gardens also serves ARMC medical professionals and caregivers who care for these patients and their families.

Construction on the Loran Smith Center began in 1999. With therapeutic gardens and healing landscapes as her research area, Professor Marguerite Koepke saw this as a special opportunity to establish a dialogue with the hospital and Center. ARMC was very receptive to the collaboration and Koepke prepared the first master plan for their approximately two-acre site.

At that time, Koepke was also establishing a new semester-long course in therapeutic garden and healing landscapes design at the University of Georgia (UGA). She saw her relationship with the ARMC and the Center as an important opportunity to involve students in local service learning projects, especially those in medical settings, with real clients and real sites. Over the years, as the ARMC campus has grown and changed, her classes have been involved in multiple projects, including several revised master plans and small garden area designs. Design elements in these long-term master plans have typically included a grotto, a meditation/labyrinth garden, memorial garden and numerous naming opportunities, a wetland meadow with observation points for quiet meditation, woodland walking paths, small play areas for young users, and an area designated for a small greenhouse to support horticulture therapy and year-round use.

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