Golden Threads Weave A Sacred Space at VA Puget Sound Fisher House™
by Jan Satterthwaite, ASLA

Spring is a time of regeneration of new life and new beginnings. This past June, a ho-hum garden was transformed into a vibrant, inspirational setting at the VA Puget Sound Fisher House™ in Seattle, Washington. The mission of the Fisher House™ program is to help the family members of active duty or military veterans being treated in the VA health care system by providing extended overnight lodging that has the feel of a “home away from home.” Since opening in September 2008, the VA Puget Sound Fisher House™ has served over 1100 families of veterans and active duty military personnel and has become a place filled with honor, pride, and great emotion.

This transformative garden project was sparked by the energy of the Friends of VA Puget Sound Fisher House™, a non-profit group that worked in collaboration with the University of Washington Department of Landscape Architecture. The students in the department’s 2010 Design/Build Class developed the plan. It was then reviewed by a design advisory committee, including Fisher House staff, guests, two other landscape design professionals, and me. We all worked with the students to formulate the final garden design.

The new landscape is intended to soothe the souls and refresh the spirits of the military and veteran families staying at Fisher House™. The VA Puget Sound Fisher House™ is already a haven for the families who stay there and the inspiration for building a sustainable therapeutic garden grew from the desire to extend that haven to the surrounding landscape. What makes the therapeutic garden at a hospital special involves an understanding of what might help “transport” people away from the medical process or the medical center. For example, knowing that some people grapple with the emotions of a difficult prognosis or treatment, the garden includes a spot for privacy and reflection.

The concept design for the garden embodies a "healing journey." One enters the garden through a threshold of trees, leading to a central plaza. The focal point of the plaza is a "reflection" sculpture composed of metal bands weaving through a bed of ornamental grasses that suggests the movement of wind. The plaza is surrounded by textured, colorful, and aromatic plants to delight the senses. A lushly planted rain garden, adjacent to the plaza, captures water on site. The rain garden gently embraces a circular pavilion softened by flowering vines. The pavilion is also marked by metal panels depicting a dove and olive branch motif that reference peace and healing. An extended woodland restoration garden completes the "healing journey," symbolizing both spiritual and ecological reclamation.

VA Puget Sound Fisher House™ garden.
Image courtesy Jan Satterthwaite ©2010.

There is true magic at the Fisher House™. People check in as strangers but come together to create a community of understanding, empathy, and support to become a new family. The therapeutic garden will be a new magical fabric at this place, weaved by the inspirational people who are part of this amazing facility.

Jan Satterthwaite, ASLA, is a L.E.E.D. accredited professional and owner/designer of VireO Design Studio in Seattle, Washington. VireO Design Studio is a landscape design firm dedicated to creating personalized life-enhancing designs for sustainability, working, and living. She can be reached at or (206) 409.9970.

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