Methodist Women’s Hospital Healing Garden, Omaha, Nebraska
by Dipti Trivedi, ASLA and Mary McCawley, ALSA

Sitting high on Omaha's western horizon, the new Methodist Women's Hospital is an inspiration for women's health. The 116-bed facility and companion medical office building are located on 33 acres just inside the entrance to an upscale suburban neighborhood. Acting as an extension of the healing environment inside is a meticulous outdoor garden installed within the outstretched wings of the hospital’s building façade.

The landscape architecture for the garden is dictated by symbolism and an effort to enhance the healing experience. Civilizations throughout the ages have recognized the restorative properties of gardens, and research regarding the effect of nature on patient outcomes continues to grow. Scientific evidence, including that from random controlled studies, has shown that exposing patients to nature can alleviate pain and alter moods. This is also the case of the garden at Methodist Women’s Hospital, which acts as a positive distraction that combines the restorative properties of nature with a specific theme to create a unique environment.

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View of the Garden. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010 Ari Burling. 

Location

The healing garden for the hospital is located between the hospital’s main entrance and the adjoining medical office building. This orientation maximizes visibility and allows for easy access from both buildings. Patients and visitors are greeted by the garden upon entry to the hospital. The location also provides views from the emergency department, waiting areas, and several patient rooms.

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Plan showing location of Healing Garden. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 


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View of the Garden from waiting area. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 

Design Process

The concept and program for the garden was developed through a close collaboration between the landscape architects and a hospital user group. The user group consisted of the hospital CEO, select staff members, and female leaders of the greater Omaha community. There were four user group meetings, and the input gathered from these meetings directly shaped the final design.

Given the location of the garden adjacent to the Methodist Women’s Hospital, the initial theme and layout for the garden was inspired by the feminine image of a butterfly. As with women, a butterfly embraces the changes its body goes through. The evolution from a caterpillar to a butterfly is symbolic of the changes in a woman’s life during and after child birth. Celts once believed that women became pregnant from swallowing butterflies. Using the butterfly as design inspiration, the design team derived the layout of the pathways, green spaces and seating areas.

The overall design of the garden incorporates access to nature, a variety of seating options, positive distractions, privacy and exercising opportunities that create calming and nurturing experiences. 

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Butterfly conception. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 


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Butterfly conception as a plan. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 

Water Features

There are three water feature designs in the garden that are intended to act as positive distraction from traffic noise and thoughts of illness.

The first water element, located near the hospital entrance of the garden, features a water fountain with the naturalistic effect of water bubbling over a large stone. The second feature, located outside the hospital’s main lobby is a running streambed over river rocks. The third feature is also a bubbling stone and is situated near the entrance to the Medical Office Building at the opposite end of the healing garden. This water feature provides an auditory backdrop for the seating area. The sound of water helps create a restful setting. All three features play an important role in creating a soothing environment that supports healing.

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Water feature near hospital entrance. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 


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Water feature outside of main lobby. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 

Seating Areas

The garden provides a variety of seating options to foster choices and accommodate users with different needs. There are several benches spread throughout the garden in a variety of settings―facing water features, resting in planting beds, positioned in the shade, etc. A central area with tables and chairs offers a retreat for staff and visitors to dine outside.. There is also a low seat wall located on the east side of the garden with a backdrop of lush plantings to create a sense of enclosure.

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Bench near walkway. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010 Ari Burling.

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Seating area. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 

Plantings

Plantings provide sensory experiences and are one of the most important features of the garden in creating healing environment. The plantings create a natural and home-like setting. The design consists of a variety of color, texture, layering, and seasonal interest. Large species of plants were installed at the beginning of the design process, and even though the garden is only a year old, the mature plantings already help provide shade and a sense of place. The large planting beds are densely planted with a variety of vegetation. The tree locations in the garden help create a variety of sunny and shady areas and also help define outdoor rooms and comfortable spaces. 

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Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010

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Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010.


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Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010 Ari Burling.

Labyrinth

A labyrinth was included in the healing garden as result of user group involvement. The shape of the labyrinth was derived from a 5,000 B.C. Mesopotamian labyrinth which was built to honor the Goddess of love and fertility. The labyrinth is also symbolic of the journey of life. It provides opportunities for walking, contemplation and mild exercising. The pathway material for the labyrinth is crushed granite, and the labyrinth paths are defined by colorful planting beds.

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Labyrinth design. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010. 


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View of labyrinth. Image courtesy HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2010.

Methodist Women’s Hospital officially opened in June 2010 and has successfully created a nurturing environment based on healing and care. A post occupancy evaluation of the healing garden will be carried out this year to study the impact of the garden.

Methodist Women’s Hospital Healing Garden Team:

  • Architect:  HDR Architecture, Inc.
  • Landscape Architect/ Designer:  HDR Architecture, Inc. and Lanoha Nurseries
  • Landscape Contractor:  Lanoha Nurseries

Dipti Trivedi, ASLA, is a landscape and site designer with HDR Architecture, Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska.  She can be reached at: dtrivedi@hdrinc.com.
Mary McCawley, ALSA, is senior landscape architect with HDR Architecture. She can be reached at:
Mary.McCawley@hdrinc.com.

 
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