August 30th, 2012 by

By Michelle Werts

Sometimes — oftentimes — it feels as though nature and development are locked in an eternal battle. Cities and communities are continually running out of space, while trees, flowers and shrubs need lots of precious space to thrive. So what is one to do when more space is needed for infrastructure, but the only way to get it is to destroy a greenspace? That’s the question currently facing Boston Children’s Hospital.

Prouty Memorial Garden, Boston Children’s Hospital

Prouty Memorial Garden, Boston Children’s Hospital. Credit: schickr/Flickr

Boston Children’s Hospital is one of the largest pediatric medical centers in the U.S. and services almost 25,000 inpatient admissions each year. It has more than 1,100 scientists producing research and is one of the best pediatric hospitals in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. It also has “one of the most successful hospital gardens in the country,” as Clare Cooper Marcus, an emeritus professor in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Scientific American.

Tucked between the Wolbach and Farley buildings on the hospital’s campus is the green oasis known as the Prouty Memorial Garden. The garden is the brainchild of Olive Prouty, who set up an endowment for the creation and maintenance of the garden back in the 1950s. The famed Olmsted Brothers architecture firm designed the restful place — modeling it on the terrace and garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — and it’s become a treasured part of the hospital. But that may soon change.

A column in The Boston Globe earlier this month details that the location-strapped hospital is currently exploring ways to increase its space, and one idea on the table is building new facilities where Prouty Garden currently offers respite for patients, visitors and staff. Margaret Coughlin, a Children’s Hospital senior vice president in charge of marketing and communications, tells the Globe that “as we look at what we have to do to be a clinical and innovative leader, we have to look at all our space, and there is no new space in this area.”

On the flip side are the patients and parents who have viewed the garden as a sanctuary over the years. A petition has been started to try to help preserve the garden. Signatory Jennifer Lubao writes that “The garden was such a place of peace for me the four months I stayed with my infant son at the hospital. The chapel was the only other place where I felt such peace. Both gave me the strength to deal with the chaos surrounding my infant son’s extended illness and death. I can’t imagine a proposal to tear down the chapel so why the garden where so many of us pray and meet one another as a community?”

The Globe reports that any action regarding Prouty Memorial Garden is a few years down the road. Let’s hope that the famed hospital is able to figure out a way to preserve such a vital, recuperative space, while also advancing its other work. We need new research to battle disease, but as research tells us, we also need green oases to fight and recovery from those diseases.