Historic Healing Garden Under Threat


Historic Healing Garden Under Threat

Historic Healing Garden Under Threat
Sep 30, 2013
Clare Cooper Marcus
Prouty Garden - Photo courtesy Clare Cooper-Marcus


Boston Children’s Hospital’s Prouty Garden, which opened in 1956, was created through the patronage of Massachusetts-based novelist and poet Olive Higgins Prouty in honor of her two children who died in the hospital. For generations, the garden has offered respite and relaxation for patients, family members, and staff. Now it is under threat of demolition as the hospital looks for space to expand.

Prouty GardenHistory

In 1953, Boston Children’s Hospital officials approached early-twentieth-century author Olive Higgins Prouty about sponsoring  a garden at the hospital. Prouty contacted the Boston landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers and asked them to model the 23,000-square-foot space after the walled garden and terrace of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The final design was executed by Boston landscape architects Shurcliff and Merrill, and the garden was opened in October 1956. Prouty insisted that the garden be perpetually maintained “as a haven…for as long as Children’s Hospital has patients, families, and staff to enjoy it.” In March of 2012, the garden was featured in a Scientific American article documenting the benefits of hospital gardens.

Prouty GardenThe garden, created long before contemporary research-based insights into hospital garden design, is an exemplar of a restorative hospital garden. It is predominantly green with wide expanses of lawn, mature trees, shrubs, and perennials – all with identifying tags; a predominance of “green nature” has been found to be critical in lowering stress, and in some instances, decreasing pain. Paths of varied lengths allow for walking in the garden according to a person’s energy level. A small pond/fountain provides the soothing sound of water, and  a variety of semi-private and more public seating offers multiple resting points. All of these options accommodate the many different patient needs; moveable seating offers greater flexibility in how the garden is used.

A garden at a children’s hospital is perhaps one of the most difficult to create successfully in that it must serve the needs of a variety of – sometimes conflicting – user groups: staff and worried parents looking for a quiet retreat; the parents of a sick child trying to distract them; well siblings who need to run-off steam; perhaps the parents of a deceased child who need to find complete privacy. While the Prouty Garden, at first glance, appears not to take into account the interests of children, on closer exploration, people come across a dozen simple animal sculptures half-hidden in the planting. Both well and sick children take delight in discovering an owl, a fox, a rabbit, a squirrel, a frog, a cat, and other creatures. Along with the many who use the garden for taking a walk, exploring with their children, or eating a brown-bag lunch, it can be viewed from a cafeteria terrace and the hospital library.

A case study of the Prouty Garden as an exemplary site was included in the first comprehensive book on the design of healthcare gardens – Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes (Eds.), Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1999.


Prouty GardenIn 2012, the Boston Children’s Hospital announced expansion plans that would place a building on the Prouty Garden site. Although the hospital administration promises to replace the garden with the equivalent square-footage of green space through the creation of interior and roof gardens, these spaces are an unequal substitute for the half-acre, mature garden that has been a restorative oasis for so many. The threat of demolition has prompted considerable protest from the families of current and former patients, current and retired members of staff.

How to Help

An online petition to save the garden has so far garnered more than 6,700 signatures, but needs more. The comments on the petition tell a moving story of the garden’s impact on patients, visitors, and staff.

A newspaper article with slide show can be viewed at:

On July, 26, 2013, an article about the Prouty Garden appeared in the Boston Globe, and a discussion was featured on Boston’s WBUR Morning Edition. This broadcast can be heard at www.WBUR.org, which also features a slide show, photos, and links.

Photos courtesy Clare Cooper Marcus.