A garden in the sky lifts patients’ spirits at Houston Methodist
Plans for the rooftop garden began to bloom last fall when Renee Stubbins, Ph.D., senior research oncology dietitian, and Ashley Verzwyvelt, an oncology infusion nurse liaison, submitted a proposal for a natural oasis on the roof to the Center for Health and Nature. The center, housed at Houston Methodist, is a partnership between Houston Methodist, Texas A&M University and Texan by Nature, a nonprofit conservation group.
Now, more than a year later, the garden has sprung to life at Houston Methodist Hospital-Outpatient Center.
“It can be so crazy and stressful up here, ” Verzwyvelt said. “Once you see that view and … this huge, impactful mural and the flowers, it just melts all of that stress.”
After Verzwyvelt and Stubbins were awarded funding by the center for the garden, members of the community reached out to get involved. Architects and planners donated their time to design a safe, relaxing space.
Houston’s prolific muralist, Gonzo247, formally known as Mario E. Figueroa Jr., painted a mural to accent the garden. Rich shades of blue, orange and pink, reminiscent of a Texas sunset, blend seamlessly into a hill of wildflowers.
“Gonzo did such a good job,” Stubbins said. “He matched our vision perfectly. … Some people might think it’s a little disorganized, but I really wanted it to look like a meadow.”
Still in its early stages, the garden is not yet open to anyone except the Houston Methodist staff maintaining it.
For now, the garden, which is visible from multiple patient rooms, will provide pleasant views and be part of a clinical trial with Texas A&M University to test the benefits of nature in a hospital setting. Patients will be randomly assigned to one of three rooms while receiving regular chemotherapy infusions: a room with a view of the garden, a control room with no windows, or a room where the patients will experience nature via a virtual reality headset. The trial will examine whether interaction with nature improves the patient experience.
Stubbins and Verzwyvelt hope to gain funding to make the safety additions required to allow patients to spend time in the garden.
“Our goal is to make it different from other gardens,” Stubbins said. “To do that, we are going to have elements of music therapy and art therapy. I think when you have that combined with green therapy, it is just this perfect harmony.”
Stubbins and Verzwyvelt have already received positive feedback about the garden from patients. And it was patients who named the garden Horizon’s Hope.
“We had narrowed it down to four or five names and most of them had the word ‘nature’ in it. We let our patients choose from there and, ironically, the name they chose was the only one without ‘nature’ in it,” Stubbins said. “When we were focusing on seeing nature, they were focusing on seeing hope.”