Garden Photo of the Day

An inspirational healing garden in Toronto

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

Today’s photos are from Mary Anderson, who says, “I have worked for 23 years as the recreation therapist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario, in the Geriatric Day Hospital. During that time I have designed and built a raised wheelchair- and walker-accessible garden for the patients of the program to use.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

“It has all been achieved through donations, volunteers, and family members who helped build the structures and hardscaping. Over the years I have added more walkways, a small water garden, and a 4-holed putting green. The hospital’s chapel and synagogue mirrored my design to create an additional planter for us to use, as well as a second pergola.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

“The patients plant seeds indoors and then transplant them to the raised gardens. We also supplement with plants donated, if required. This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Geriatric Day Hospital, so the patients, volunteers, and I worked diligently to have a lovely show for this celebration.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

“The planters are constructed out of pressure treated lumber, so as not to rot. They are lined, so no chemicals leek out to the soil. The raised gardens are mainly annuals, and the lower beds are perennials which have been divided from my gardens at home and through donations. The two large round planters were left over from one of the hospital’s additions, there were too many of them for the front lobby, so guess who begged for them. They are perfect for this secret garden which is enclosed on all four sides (so it has a bit of a micro-climate).

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

“The staff of this large hospital come to sit and rest in this area when they need to recharge their batteries, as do the patients of the program. Every fall we have a pesto party with the basil the patients have grown from seed. We also serve the tomatoes they have grown.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

“The veteran population at the hospital come from across the street and use the putting green upon occasion. The putting green is made of an astro turf, which is low maintenance and easy for walkers and wheelchairs to maneuver on. The patients love working in this garden, as the majority of them are unable to access a garden now.”

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

What an amazing garden, Mary, on so many levels! Kudos to you, your volunteers, and the patients. You’ve all created a beautiful space and experience.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

You’re running out of time to take some photos in your garden! So get out there with your cameras and send some in! Email them to [email protected].

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Mary Anderson

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View Comments


  1. user-1020932 09/26/2013

    what a great story to wake up to. i think this is absolutely wonderful and i love it all,,, the background, the garden itself and it's purpose and use. you have given the patients much more than you could ever imagine , Mary, and i am in awe of your abilities, service and compassion. i can't imagine not being able to get my hands dirty and with this garden you have provided them with an opportunity to re connect with something they have always loved.

  2. gloriaj 09/26/2013

    I piggy back on what tntreeman said, the reasoning and purpose of the garden, I love it and I am sure not only the patients love it but also anyone who use the garden. The love that went into the garden is evidence in the pictures. Unless I missed it I didn't see the vegetables you mentioned. Love the grill nearby waiting to grill those vegetables.

  3. user-1020932 09/26/2013

    i returned for another look before starting my day. this is my favorite feature thus far and there have been some pectacular gardens featured. this one, however, makes me happy to be human. the garden, the purpose of it and the community effort to build and develop it. we need MORE of this type of thing around the world

  4. flowerladydi 09/26/2013

    Jeff ( tntreeman ) stated it so well,,,,,and I think we will all share those sentiments!
    It is beautiful,, the garden,,,the collective efforts of all,,,and to you,,, who generated the program. I am sure it has given the ' guests ' so much joy and sense of purpose,,, not only to plant and be part of it, but to see others enjoy it and the joy that comes from ' growing things '. Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. User avater
    meander_michaele 09/26/2013

    Mary, my sincerest compliments on this wonderful healing space you have helped create for those you serve. Jeff has stated so eloquently what we are all feeling in our hearts as we read your words and look at your pictures. The thought you have put in for functionality is very apparent and yet no beauty has been sacrificed. This is very inspiring.

  6. terieLR 09/26/2013

    Such a heart warming post today. Thank you Mary for putting others first and for all those years of executing your dreams to make their days just a bit brighter. I'm sure it takes many willing hands to keep it maintained. It's beautiful. What a fun fall day it must be when you celebrate pesto! Blessings to you all.

  7. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 09/26/2013

    very moving and beautiful as well! thanks for your inspired efforts on behalf of others!

  8. gramamarg 09/26/2013

    this is truly inspirational. all gardens bring beauty that is healing on all levels, but to have put so much effort in to this one that will give purpose to lives that need purpose and beauty is a life well spent. what a legacy you have given this facility. other health care facilities should take note.

  9. tractor1 09/26/2013

    I always imagined that the theraputic effects of gardening, both physical and emotional, were lengendary, why pray tell aren't such healing gardens more widespread? Kudos to Mary.

  10. n2hostas 09/26/2013

    Knowing how hard it was from my mother to have to give up her garden, this truly is a ministry you're doing for your clients. It's absolutely wonderful what you have done, keep up the great job.

  11. LFeliciGallant 09/26/2013

    Oh, I love this healing garden on so many levels, especially because of all of the love and passion that went into creating it. All gardens can be healing gardens, and who amoung us would not benefit from one, or two, or more in our lives? Thanks for including this as the GPOD, Michelle! It made my day.

  12. wittyone 09/26/2013

    Wow, Mary, what a wonderful job you have done with what could have been (and too often is) a very sterile environment. I know that just being around plants out in the sunshine makes a tremendous difference for people who are healthy. How much more so for someone who is not so healthy and who may have mobility issues. You've gone above and beyond in your service to the people living in this facility . I'm certain that they must appreciate all your work and effort.

  13. wildthyme 09/26/2013

    Mary, thank you for the service you've been providing to these patients, who are so often overlooked. Is that a hardy hibiscus in the last photo (one of the flowers almost looks like an aubutilon, but I can't imagine they are hardy in Toronto?)?

  14. Sunbeams 09/26/2013

    Beautiful and inspirational. I've been thinking a lot about how I can adapt my 41-year-old garden so I can continue to do some work in it and eventually just enjoy it as I age in place. Age-appropriate hardscaping that blends into landscaping is key and your garden is an exceptional example of how to do it. Kudos to you, the volunteers, and the hospital patients. Job well done.

  15. GrannyMay 09/26/2013

    Huge thanks to you Mary for your time, effort and understanding of the needs of your patients! I, like Jeff and many many others, need to get my hands dirty or, at the very least, be close to growing things! It takes dedicated and compassionate people like you to make places like this happen. You have created a wonderful space that can only help anyone who ventures into it.

    I always love the use of vegetables, fruit and herbs mixed with the purely ornamental plants. Growing edibles adds an element of anticipation of the delicious harvest that is to come, and most of them are beautiful as well.

  16. marygardener 09/26/2013

    Thank you for all your wonderful comments. It warms my heart to think that I have given inspiration to people to adapt their existing gardens to bring them joy for years to come as they age.
    The question is, yes, it is an abutilon, or flowering maple. We bring them in during the winter months and then transplant them back out into the garden. We also save our dahlia bulbs to replant next spring.
    The tomatoes and the herbs are all in raised pots or tubs. We have not attempted other veggies this year, as we focused on herbs and the tomato varieties. You can just see wee peek of them looking back to the BBQ. Glad you enjoyed the pictures.

  17. crizmo 09/26/2013

    Mary, it looks like you have managed to make a garden and a community a life and a living simultaneously.

    I hope you don't mind a little Kipling, from "The Glory of the Garden" ...

    There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
    There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
    But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
    For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

  18. ancientgardener 09/27/2013

    I'm getting up there and when my day comes I hope there is someone like you around, Mary, to provide a garden and a small spot for me to weed and dead-head. You will never know what comfort and healing you have brought to the guests of your facility. The gardens are lovely. That dahlia is a knockout.
    I have never grown aubutilon, but it certainly is tempting after seeing your photo.

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