The One With the Circle of Compassion

Joy Southard is one of my favorite people on the planet. True, I haven’t met all of the people on the planet, but if even if I did, I assure you, Joy would still be at the top of the list. We met a few years ago when I interviewed her for an article I was writing about the program she runs in Texas called Healing Species, which teaches children empathy and compassion with the help of rescued dogs. Joy’s kind spirit just filled the room. Through her example, I uncovered one of the most valuable life lessons I would ever learn.

Beth Ann Chiles is like Joy in many ways: warm, generous, genuine. I always feel that if I showed up on Beth Ann’s doorstep, she’d invite me in for some tea in one of her adorable teapots, no questions asked. I felt honored when she asked me to write a guest post for her blog. I decided to get these two wonderful women together, even if it could only be virtually.

I invite you to head over to my post Beth Ann’s site and read about Joy’s important work. Don’t forget to leave a comment. Beth Ann participates in Comments for a Cause, donating $.50 for every blog comment to a charitable organization. This month she’s donating to Doctors Without Borders, an organization that sends doctors from around the world to places that need them most.

See you there!

SHINE: Becoming Whole: A Caregiver’s Wish, by Caroline McGraw

Here is what I love about SHINE: meeting new people and learning about the awesome things they are doing in their corner of the world. Then, sharing their amazing stories with all of you. Caroline McGraw is one of those people. After reading my call for Shine stories, she contacted me and I got to learn about the wonderful work she is doing. Caroline believes in celebrating people with special needs and reaches out to friends, parents, siblings and caregivers to help them find meaning in these challenging relationships. Through her website A Wish Come Clear she has been able to provide a warm, caring community for people to share their stories and appreciate the ways in which they’ve been transformed.

I am honored to have Caroline here today to tell you a bit about her brother Willie and how he helps her see the world a bit differently.

* * *

When I was a little girl, I don’t remember having a firm concept of God, specifically. Yet I do remember having a very clear idea of what heaven would be like. I believed that heaven would be just this: a place where I could talk freely with my brother Willie.

It would be a place without the limits of autism on his part or lack of knowledge on mine, a place where I could ask him a question and receive a complete answer. I remember wanting to ask him about the details of our life; I wanted to know if Cheerios were really his favorite cereal or if he ate them simply because that’s what Mom bought. I wanted then what I want now: a window into his mind and heart.

Yet maybe, just maybe, I can only see in part because to see fully would be too much beauty to bear.

For me, heeding this wisdom means that, even as I hope for heaven, I look for those sudden windows into my brother’s mind and heart now.

I remember a time one such ‘window’ opened: during the long-ago era when my brother was obsessed with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He had (still has) all seven stuffed dwarves, and he loved to line them up. He referred to himself as ‘Grumpy’ or ‘Happy’ depending on his mood. I realize now that the film was probably an excellent way for him to learn about identifying emotion, since each dwarf is typecast and consistent in facial expression throughout the story.

One day, my parents asked him, “Willie, if you’re Happy, who is Mommy?” For reasons inexplicable, Willie replied, “Mommy is Bashful!” Mommy is not bashful. However, Bashful is a thoughtful, kind dwarf, so perhaps these qualities were behind his choice.

My mom then asked, “And who is Daddy?” Willie said, “Daddy is Doc!” This choice seems a bit more logical. My father wears glasses and has a calm, direct way of expressing himself. He has a quirky sense of humor, and he’s a natural leader.

Finally, my mom asked, “And who is your sister Caroline?” With no hesitation, Willie said, “Caroline is Snow White!”

So there you have it. To my brother, I am a Disney princess. He may not be able to say things like, “Caroline, I look up to you,” or, “Caroline, I’m glad you’re my sister,” but he can cast me in a starring role in the movie of his mind.

I may not be able to see all I’d like to see of my brother’s mind and heart, but what I can see is astonishing. He’s creative, and hilarious, and generous with his casting.


One day, as I was walking home in Washington, DC, I passed a family on the sidewalk. Mom, dad, grandma, teenage guy, walking and smiling. And I passed I noticed that the teenager had some form of physical (and perhaps intellectual) disability.

In that moment, I felt such a strong combination of feelings: happiness that this family was out on the town together; sadness for the experiences of ostracism and prejudice that this teenager and his family have undoubtedly faced because of his disability; grief at the way that they’re not supported by society as a whole, because the rest of society sees themselves as ‘whole’…

…and then a bittersweet joy, because I can only imagine the kinds of amazing gifts this guy has to share.

I was almost in tears…simply from seeing a stranger’s face. And that illustrates my passion perfectly: to seek out the treasures in each person, and illumine those treasures through story.

To write and fight and work and strive for a world in which we celebrate people not just for what they can and can’t do, but for who they are and how much they are able to love.

And that’s what Love’s Subversive Stance is about: assuming the subversive stance of loving people—including ourselves—for exactly who we are.

Such acceptance is radical; such relationships are rare. Yet I know that it is possible to love without agenda. It is possible to say to someone simply, “I love you, and I celebrate you. I will walk alongside you as you grow and change, but I won’t put pressure on you.”


At times I wonder what my life would have been like had I not been Willie’s sister. I know my parents have wondered the same thing: what would life have been like for us, for him, if he had not been born with autism? I cannot deny that it has been a difficult road for us. Yet I cannot bring myself to wish for a different path. It does no good for me to speculate and compare my brother to imaginary, non-autistic brothers I ‘might’ have had.

What can I do? I can accept our life as it has been, and celebrate what holds us together. In doing so, I’m learning to reject comparisons and embrace what is. And what is is downright puzzling. It calls into question all my old assumptions.

At times I wonder how much of the pain of my brother’s disability has come from autism itself, and how much has stemmed from the distance I have felt between him and the rest of the world. As a society, we don’t believe that people with disabilities have incomparable gifts to offer us. We don’t believe that people with disabilities can teach us about overcoming adversity, and what it means to be whole in the midst of brokenness. And this is our loss.

At times I feel like my brother’s defender, as though I was meant to be his protector against the prejudice of the world. And it’s true—this is a way of loving him and advocating for him. Sometimes, that may mean standing up for him. It may mean asking a dear friend not to use the word ‘retarded.’ It may mean speaking at budget hearings and advocating on his behalf and that of others like him.

Yet most often, keeping the faith means simply being there for him in the day-to-day matters, in the ordinariness of life. For example, I’ve committed myself to calling him weekly, to being a part of his routine. The most important testament of my love for my brother isn’t in my words. It’s in how I relate to him. It’s in a willingness to do things that benefit him. It’s picking up his medications for him or calling him or attending his piano lesson when I’m home, to see him shine.

Standing in solidarity with Willie is the boldest statement I can make. I’m saying: not only is my brother worthy of love and belonging, not only is he uniquely gifted…he’s akin to me, and he’s my friend.

Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist who digs for treasure in people with autism and intellectual disabilities at A Wish Come Clear (, and empowers caregivers to do the same. This post is an excerpt from her recently-released book, Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow In Relationship ( which is available in both print and digital format. Her first book, Your Creed of Care:  How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) is available for free to those who receive posts via email at

Have you been transformed by a relationship with someone with special needs?

Get inspired by past SHINE posts here. If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.

Shine: Carla Robertson Is Living Her Wild and Precious Life

Since April is poetry month, it’s fitting that today’s Shine post features Carla Robertson. We met because of a Mary Oliver poem. If you were hanging around this blog last April (and thanks, if you were!) you might remember this post where I shared three of my favorite Oliver poems, one of which is titled “The Summer Day.” It ends with the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” (If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and click on that link to read the entire poem.)

Not too long after that post, I stumbled on Carla’s blog aptly titled, Wild and Precious Life. She was in the process of becoming a certified life coach. When she   started taking on new clients, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. What I loved about talking with Carla is that she has asked herself the same questions a lot of us struggle with. What do I want to be when I grow up? Is this the right path for me? How do I figure out what that is? What’s next?

Carla embodies the Shine philosophy because she has answered Mary Oliver’s question for herself, and now she’s giving back by helping other people do just that.


You’ve recently become a certified life coach. Can you explain what a life coach is? 

A life coach is someone who can help people who are feeling stuck or overwhelmed get back to their right life and live their dreams.  A life coach doesn’t give advice or offer therapy – instead, we ask powerful questions that help our clients uncover the wisdom they already possess.  It’s so easy to get caught up in other peoples’ expectations or even our own muddied expectations of what we think we’re supposed to do.  Many of us are lucky to have a lot of choices, even when we feel like we don’t have options or we’re feeling stuck.  Life coaches help our clients get out of their own way and address fears and untruths. We reconnect our clients with the part of themselves that still dreams of the possibilities, and then help them figure out how to make those possibilities happen.

What drew you to life coaching? 

I read some fantastic books by Martha Beck and they completely changed my life.  I found myself wondering if I could help do these things for other people.  Once I had these tools, I wanted to share them with the world, because they’re so powerful!  It took me a while to realize I could be a coach and I went on my own journeys first and revamped major parts of my life, and now I’m excited to share my skills with others.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail seemed to be a turning point in your life. What was it about that experience that changed or challenged your perspective? 

It’s funny – the turning point actually came before, and the hike was like the cherry on top.  In my job, I’d gotten it in my head that I needed to be responsible for all kinds of projects and programs I’d created, and my work as a teacher and service-learning coordinator had become completely overwhelming and all encompassing.  My life felt unbalanced and I would look at my calendar on Sunday nights and just want to cry.  But I couldn’t figure out anything to take off the calendar or any way to get some balance back.

Once I started really questioning that way of looking at my life, I ended up doing very different work and leaving to hike for six months.  Even before I left for the trail, I had gained a lot of clarity about what I wanted and how I wanted my ideal life to look.

My hike gave me three gifts:  First, it gave me incredible courage and allowed me to realize just what I’m capable of, both mentally and physically.  I faced all kinds of fears on the trail and stepped into my power.  Second, it reminded me just how generous the world is.  On my hike I was overwhelmed by how many people, both friends and strangers, reached out to support me and help me.  We live in a culture that idealizes self-sufficiency, but offering help and being able to ask for help are such glorious ways to share and connect with others.  The last gift my hike gave me was to remind me of the importance of quiet and stillness and connection with nature.  It’s so easy to stay plugged in to the 24 hour News/Facebook/Twitter/drama/castastrophe cycle. Stepping away from that and being intentional about how much of that I let back into my life after my hike has made such a difference in my well-being and my ability to have time to develop my own talents.

Like so many of us you’ve explored different career paths. How did you know those other paths weren’t right for you and when did you realize it was time to move on? 

The way I see it, my whole career has been just a shifting of the same type of work – just done a little bit differently each time.   I started out in environmental education teaching middle school kids in the woods, and it was perfect for me.  I made a shift when I got tired of the repetition and wanted to see one set of kids for more than two days.  So I became a science teacher, and that was perfect for a long time.  There was never a dull moment and I learned so much and developed tons of cool programs.  I always maintained a focus on nature in my science teaching and I learned a lot about what I valued in teaching and how important it was to connect with and listen to my students.  Meanwhile, I began to teach new teachers because I knew the crucial role a good teacher could play in the lives of his or her students, and I wanted to share my wisdom.  I also wanted to support new teachers with managing the overwhelm of a very challenging job. My last big change came from needing to take an extended break from it all. I’m an introvert by nature and I was desperate for a very large chunk of alone time. Hiking the Appalachian Trail had been a dream for me since I was a teenager, and it was time to stop waiting and do it. Once I came back from the trail, I wanted to keep teaching but on my own terms.  Mentoring and tutoring students one on one, life coaching adults, and creating programs and courses to help others make sure they don’t miss out on living their wild and precious lives is just the next variation on a theme.  I’ve been lucky that I’ve always had jobs that didn’t just pay the bills, but also fed my soul.

Can you talk about your “Wordless Walks?” How could someone replicate that in their community? 

Wordless walks are very easy.  On the simplest level it’s just walking silently.  And in the process of silent walking, the brain slows down its chatter and you can connect with nature around you and with your inner self in a deep and restorative way.  If you go to my website and look for “How to take a wordless walk” there’s a blog post with little more instruction, and soon I’ll be offering a more fleshed-out free wordless walk how-to  guide.  Look for it on my website by the end of April.  I’m beginning a Wordless Walk worldwide revolution, and I feature wordless walks from around the world every Wednesday, so look for that as well.  I think it’s important for us to remember the value of wordlessness amidst the cacophony of modern living.

Do you have any A-HA moments that you’d like to share?

My biggest a-ha moment gets repeated over and over every day because it’s so powerful.  It’s this:  I am not my thoughts.  I don’t have to believe every thought that my mind tosses out there.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I have two bits of advice that have made such a difference for me, and both were printed on little signs.   The first was a question that came from a Mary Oliver poem and then became incorporated into my business name. I was walking around a meditation labyrinth with a friend and we were reading the quotes set in the grass in front of the benches around the labyrinth.  I came to one that read, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I immediately felt like I’d been punched in my heart, and I began to cry.  I think it was the wake-up call that I needed at the time to remind me that I wasn’t living all of my dreams, that my world had become small – a never-ending cycle of projects, events,  and responsibilities – the calendar pages whooshing past.  None of it was bad stuff and a lot of it was actually quite meaningful, but there was too much and it was all focused outward.  That quote was a reminder that it was time to do some inner work and gain some peace and take care of me.  That’s when I began to make the big moves and shift everything around.

The second was on the bumper sticker of a good friend’s car years and years ago.  It resonated so much then and has been a mantra for me ever since, even when I wasn’t doing as good a job at it. It’s so simple:  “Don’t postpone joy.”  We are taught from a very young age about the value of delayed gratification.  “You can do this after you _______.”  or  “You can’t use/wear/play with that now – you need to save it for later.”  This is a helpful tool, but it can be easy to believe that we have unlimited time.  If we find ourselves delaying our big dreams until we: move into the new house, get a promotion, get the kids into college, retire, save up X amount of money, feel more stable, lose ten or twenty or thirty pounds, or whatever it is, that’s a red flag that something needs to change.

Is there anything I left out that you’d like to add?  

My cat Buster wants to remind everyone that the other mantra I have and use regularly, especially if I’m in a bit of a hurry and zipping out the door and he’s lolling on the front porch, is this:  “There’s always time to kiss the cat.”  And he’s right.

Carla Robertson is a teacher and life coach who specializes in helping overwhelmed people come back to living their wild and precious lives. She lives in New Orleans where every day feels like vacation, and she loves to help others figure out how they can live lighter and happier. In 2009 she thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, and she revisits the woods whenever she can, taking willing and curious souls with her. Find her at 


Get inspired by past SHINE posts here. If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.

Shine: Cultural Understanding through Stove Top Travel

You’ve heard of armchair travel? These days it’s not hard to go around the globe without leaving home. (There’s probably an app for that.) But Sasha Martin wanted something a bit more active, something a bit more interactive. She developed Global Table Adventure so she and her family could travel around the world from their kitchen.

Going in alphabetical order, they are trying out the local dishes of every single country. (That’s 195 countries, in case it’s been a while since you got out of geography class.) Each week, they focus on a different country, starting on Tuesday with an overview of the cuisine to a meal review the following Monday (complete with thumbs up or down from toddler Ava).  They are a little more than half-way through the alphabet with Mexico being on the menu this week.

Aside from great recipes and amazing photos, Global Table Adventure promotes cultural understanding and diversity by finding common ground through food. If the saying “the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach” is true, then Sasha’s family is building up a whole lot of love.

(Get ready for some food porn.)


How did you get the idea for Global Table Adventure? Have you always had a passion for food and travel?

It all seems so long ago now. Several things came together at once – I needed a creative outlet, my baby girl was just starting out on solids, and I was thinking about all the negative things happening around the world. At the most basic, I wanted better for myself, my family, and the world.

– For myself: I wanted a creative outlet that would help me out of my cooking rut. After moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma – after a lifetime of travel – I missed the food I grew up with – trying new dishes, new flavors. I am more landlocked in the Midwest than I’ve ever been before. Global Table Adventure has been a great way to continue learning and growing, while also being fortunate enough to stay home with my daughter.

– For my family: I wanted to find a way to get my impossibly picky husband to eat better, especially since we had a daughter about to start solids. Children mimic parents and I find that dinner can be a a big struggle if one parent refuses to try certain foods. I also wanted my daughter to learn to appreciate other cultures, other ways. By growing up with one meal from every country in the world, her mind will naturally be curious and open.

– For the world: The news would have you believe that there is nothing but war, poverty, and tragedy in the world. With so much focus on the negative, people tend to feel divided by their differences, instead of united by their similarities. I believe that Global Table Adventure’s uplifting focus on the food and culture of countries around the world will help people appreciate and come together over our common humanity. This is why I am dedicated to only sharing positive stories; there’s enough people focusing on the negative.

(Think of me as the world’s cheerleader!)

Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Bailey's Buttercream (Ireland)
Click photo for recipe.

Take us through a typical week of exploring each country.  
Each week I research and prepare to cook the food from a new country. Typically I cook all the food on one day, but sometimes I will spread it out over the weekend, especially if a breakfast dish is involved.

I only make recipes with ingredients that I can find locally. I feel that is important to my mission, which is to encourage other people to try as much food as they can from other parts of the world. If I make this an expensive, online mail-order experience, that defeats the purpose. Tulsa has a fairly good selection of international markets, so we haven’t had to cancel any recipe plans to date.

5 Step Mole Poblano (Mexico)
Click image for recipe.

Did you have any challenges in getting your family on board? Your husband is affectionately known as Mr. Picky, and when you started this project, your daughter was only about 6 months old.

Yes! (Did I say that too loudly?) Yes. My husband is known as Mr. Picky for good reason. He was very skeptical about anything beyond meat and potatoes when I met him. He didn’t even know what an eggplant was. He’d never had fresh spinach! Thankfully, my daughter hasn’t been as resistant as we began this project her first month of eating solids. It is all she’s known (although she does still have picky moments, like any toddler).  Now I can say that everyone is on board, come what may – and strange tastes are now part of the fun- they give us something to talk about!

I think the key is to think of food as an adventure, not an attack. Also – I always tell my husband – if an entire country eats it, how bad can it be?

Creamy Avocado Dressing / Vinagreta de Aguacate (Colombia)
Click on photo for recipe.

You’re a little more than half way through the alphabet. What has been your favorite dish so far? Least favorite? Are you looking forward to a particular country?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite and least favorite child! I don’t think I can…. but I will say that I have struggled to make several dishes well. My biggest challenges have been any recipes involving yucca. I’m not sure what it is about that tuber, but I spent almost 2 years trying to cook it without much luck (many, many countries around the world eat it). I finally broke the losing streak with yucca fries – a real winner! Phew.

I always look forward to the foods of small countries – places I’ve never heard of. I love gaining that awareness – it is so fun!

Central Asian Noodle Stew / Lagman Shurpa (Kazakhstan)
Click photo for recipe.

With 195 countries, this project will take more than 3 years from start to finish. How are you able to keep your family’s enthusiasm high?
Now that the initial excitement of a new adventure has worn off (2 years into the project), I think the key is to make the experience fun. For example, instead of just trying a new type of tea, make it a tea party. Having friends over also makes it fun. Finally, getting their hands dirty (especially my toddler) makes them more likely to be interested in the dish. For example, Ava refused to try sushi until she helped make the roll for our Japanese Global Table. She’s never looked back!

Peanut Balls / Mtedza (Malawi)
Click photo for recipe.

Do you have any tips for someone who’d like to undertake a Global Table Adventure of their own?

Go for it! There are thousands of folks who have decided to set a Global Table with their families. I’ve called them my Knights of the Global Table. They are having a blast and learning a ton in the process. My best advice is don’t try to do too much at once. Each week you can try something from a different continent by simply browsing our interactive map. You could even try a monthly potluck with friends, if you’re single or without a big family to try dishes out on.

Fava Bean Mash / Ful Medames (Egypt)
Click photo for recipe.


What’s the most adventurous dish you’ve eaten? Have you ever tried a themed meal or party?

Learn more about Global Table Adventure by visiting Sasha’s awesome site and following her on Twitter @GlobalTable. Let us know if you’re inspired to start a global table adventure of your own.

Get inspired by past SHINE posts here. If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.

Shine: Nurturing Through Nature, A Q&A with Landscape Architect Naomi Sachs

Last summer, I took myself on a weekend writing retreat to get a jump start on the final round of edits for my novel. I was looking for peace and quiet and uninterrupted hours. Reggie and I spent two lovely days at the home of Naomi Sachs who is a landscape architect. Her focus is on creating gardens that can help improve our health and well-being. When she said that she believes that these gardens can make the world a better place, there was no doubt in my mind that she was totally Shine-worthy!

I know many of you have restorative experiences in your own gardens. I’d love to hear how being closer to nature helps your well-being.

(The photos below are examples of what members of Naomi’s Therapeutic Landscape Network have created. )


By trade you are a landscape architect. What got you interested in this profession? What still excites you about it? 

I’ve always felt a deep connection to nature, and I became aware of the therapeutic benefits of gardening for myself around 1996. At that time, I was thinking about going back to school for my Masters, and I stumbled upon an issue ofLandscape Architecture magazine devoted to healing gardens. It was one of those “lightbulb moments.” I chose UC Berkeley for my MLA (Master of Landscape Architecture) because many of the faculty had a strong reputation in social factors. What excites me about this profession? I really do think that landscape architects and designers can make the world a better place. The built environment affects our health and well-being on so many levels. To be a part of that as a designer is gratifying. And as the Director of Therapeutic Landscape Network (TLN), being able to provide information to help other designers make better places, and make places better, feels really good.

Can you explain a little about therapeutic landscapes?  Where would these type of landscapes be implemented?

In general, I make this distinction between landscapes and gardens: A landscape is any outdoor space – a national or state park, a farm, a parking lot, a superfund site… A garden is a designed space, and the word “garden” generally connotes a higher ratio of plants to “hardscape’ – paving, walls, etc. So I prefer the term “therapeutic garden,” since that indicates an outdoor (and sometimes even a planted indoor) space that is designed for a specific person or group of people, a specific site, and with a specific intended outcome of positive health and well-being through passive and/or active engagement with nature.

Some fundamental principles that are especially important for therapeutic gardens in healthcare, or for any healing garden, are the emphasis on safety and security; physical and emotional comfort; and a strong connection with nature. Everything about the design – the location of the garden, layout, plants, furnishings – should support the people using the garden for maximum physical and mental health benefits.

BHA Design, McKee Medical Center, Loveland, CO

It seems that therapeutic landscape architects not only have to know a lot about fauna and building materials, but they also need to become familiar with the needs of the people that they are designing for. For example, cancer patients might have different needs than Alzheimer’s patients. How would therapeutic landscape architects familiarize themselves with their end users’ requirements? 

Absolutely! Taking the needs of the “user” into account is paramount. And people using the space aren’t just the patients (or residents in the case of any sort of long-term care) – in fact, sometimes patients are too sick or frail to be able to go outside, but the visitors and staff can benefit immensely. There are certain guidelines that apply to ALL users, like that the garden have more “softscape” (plants) than “hardscape” (paving, walls, etc.), or that the garden should be safe, accessible, and comfortable. But then different populations – you mentioned people with cancer or Alzheimer’s – do have specific requirements. For example, people with cancer need a LOT of shade; they are more sensitive to smells and therefore heavily scented plants (which might be great in a regular therapeutic garden) are not advised; and it’s very important for the garden to be visible from indoors for those who are too weak, or too immune-suppressed, to go outside. In general, the more that people can view the garden from indoors, the greater the benefit.

Quatrefoil, Inc., Legacy Emanuel Medical Center Oregon Burn Center Garden Overview

Are therapeutic gardens something a home gardener can implement on a small scale? If so, do you have one or two suggestions for them? 

Anyone can have a “healing garden” at home, even if it’s just some planted pots on fire escape. Scale does not matter. What matters is to plant and build “whatever brings you joy.” A garden should feed the soul, and because each person is different, creating a healing garden for oneself really requires some introspection, rather than just running to Home Depot and plonking in some shrubs and perennials in front of the house’s foundation. That’s landscaping. What we want is a life-affirming garden that nurtures and sustains.

Roy-Fisher Assoc, Jupiter Medical Center, Jacqueline Fiske Healing Garden “Bamboo Room

Do you have any favorite stories you’d like to share about a person or group benefiting from one of your designs? 

Oh, so many! But I guess a favorite would be about a garden that I designed for an octogenarian couple, Mac and Kay, in Santa Fe, NM. They both had loved to garden, but due to Kay’s very limited mobility and Mac’s near-blindness, they had stopped. Their backyard was a wasteland of weeds and gravel that was impossible to navigate. We developed a plan with a smooth walking surface (colored concrete) with resting points along the way, as well as destinations to move toward; plants that provided shade, seasonal interest, sensory stimulation, and that attracted wildlife; and a design that they could also see and enjoy from inside the house. The week that the garden was finished, Kay – who had not been in her back yard for years, and who hardly went outside, period – ventured out with her walker, with Mac by her side. After that, they walked through the garden every day, several times a day. In good weather (which in Santa Fe is most of the time) they walked to their apple tree and sat side by side in its shade, just looking out and commenting on the darting hummingbirds, or what was blooming, or how much water the mossrock boulders had collected in the afternoon’s rainstorm. After a few months, they began walking on the sidewalk on the street as well. Kay had gotten strong enough to venture out of their small back yard garden and take on the more challenging slope of our street. This was especially encouraging because it meant that she had the opportunity to interact with neighbors, thereby broadening a social circle that had gotten pretty darn narrow. This was the most rewarding design job I’ve ever had.

Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, Clare Tower Roof Garden, Chicago, IL (photographer Scott Shigley)

What is the Therapeutic Landscapes Network and why did you decide to start this organization? 

The Therapeutic Landscapes Network (TLN) is a knowledge base and gathering space about healing gardens, restorative landscapes, and other green spaces that promote health and well-being. We are an international, multidisciplinary community of designers, health and human service providers, scholars, and gardeners. Our focus is broad, but our primary emphasis is on evidence-based landscape and garden design (design based on research rather than just intuition or design trends) in healthcare settings, because no other organization is working in this area. Which is why TLN was born. It was clear that designers and others in this field needed access to information – references, related organizations, lists of exemplary built works, etc. – and to other professionals working in this realm. Rather than try to publish something like a bibliography that would be out of date before it even went to print, a website seemed like a better idea. That was in 1999, and we’ve been building ever since. Our membership is now almost 2,000 on our mailing list, and we have over 3,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, plus a growing membership on our new Linked In group.

Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio, Shore Country Day School

What do you see as the future for therapeutic landscapes? 

I see more and more healthcare facilities incorporating, or trying (alas, not always successfully!) to incorporate, “healing gardens” or other types of outdoor places of respite. This is very encouraging. LEED for Healthcare (originally the Green Guide for Healthcare) and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) both have “human health and well being” components in their guidelines. I’ve been working with the Environmental Standards Council on changes to the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities, and it looks like they will accept our recommendations for more and better access to nature – this would be a huge step, because it becomes a requirement rather than just a suggestion.

Next steps are to work toward a set of standards, and certification, so that healthcare facilities follow certain criteria. Right now, a hospital might call an airshaft with a bench and a potted plant a “healing garden.” Clare Cooper Marcus and I are writing a book (to be published by John Wiley and Sons in 2013) that will have a list of guidelines for creating true therapeutic gardens that promote health, and these guidelines will, we hope, become benchmarks for certification. And in the general culture, I think that people are re-discovering the importance of connecting with nature. Sustainability, the “locavore” movement, edible and green schoolyards…people know in their hearts that they need nature, that being in and connecting to nature feels good. People are starting to demand this in sectors beyond just the private, and that’s very exciting.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that I’ve not included here? 

I invite everyone to visit our website and blog, and to sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter. And all are welcome on our various social network sites. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk with you, Jackie!

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