Healing gardens; body and earth–and fire

Last night, after I gave a talk at Wellesley Booksmith (an *amazing* independent bookstore which you should visit immediately), a woman came up to me to remind me that women with breast cancer are survivors, not victims. I had talked about the  in Harvard, MA, and probably emphasized courtesy and respect for other visitors a bit too strongly. I worry sometimes about disturbing other visitors’ experiences in places that evoke such strong emotions.

Mind you, our local healing gardens are designed to calm emotions, not to express them. Boston has a few healing gardens, places that are supposed to quiet the mind, spirit, and perhaps the body of people who, well, want healing. The Thurston garden is designed for women who have breast cancer. It’s a quiet place in the woods; it’s easy to hear the wind chimes, water trickling in the fountains, even the neighing of the horses in a neighboring (invisible) farm. There are wooded paths, a lawn with a gazebo, and a small Japanese meditation garden– and stillness, everywhere stillness.

Cancer patients who cannot get to the Thurston garden can visit the Howard Ulfelder MD garden at Mass General Hospital. This green roof overlooks the Charles river, and repeats the Thurston garden’s East Asian motifs – gray granite and low grasses, urns and small stones. It’s a lovely space, wheelchair accessible (unlike much of the Thurston garden), a quiet place above the city and the machines and medicines and unending business below.

Still, these are just one New England version of healing, where Asian meditation gardens have been popular since the early 19th-century. But what if you’re not ready to be calm? What if you’re angry and burning inside?  What if you feel like you’re walking through fire?  Healing garden designer Topher Delaney will talk about her work creating healing gardens with flames, lilies, and other materials next Tuesday, May 4, at  7 pm at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston.

Delaney has created elegant formal gardens with flowers and small stones–but she has also designed challenging, energetic landscapes that rage against the dying of the light. I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

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