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Norwich - Three times over the last two weeks, Joanne Dorman of Mystic has sought out the quiet beauty of the outdoor sanctuary newly created at the Center for Hospice Care to reflect and find solace.
"It's a place to grieve and to heal," said Dorman, who lost her husband in January and her mother in May. "My husband's ashes were scattered off the coast of Maine, so we don't have a gravestone. I was looking for a place to go."
She found what she needed at the new Healing Garden that opened Aug. 16 outside hospice's offices at 227 Dunham St. Hospice, Dorman said, was a great help to her husband and her family during his illness, and participating in a bereavement group there continues to provide her support.
The new garden, with light pink roses, lavender clusters, white echinacea blossoms and hovering bumble bees coloring the artistically arranged beds between arched pathways and benches, is being used by three to four people a day, said Christie Williams, vice president of philanthropy for hospice. Visitors include people who recently lost loved ones, hospice staff members needing some therapeutic quiet time, and local residents like Rose Marie DesJarlais of Norwich, whose husband, Rudy, is currently receiving care from hospice "angels."
"It's beautiful," she said of the garden. "It's such an inspiration, with all the memorials to the friends and the relatives who are remembered, and the fruit trees and the benches. It's so peaceful."
DesJarlais was referring to the pavement bricks along one of the paths that are inscribed with the names of donors' loved ones, and to memorial plaques throughout the garden. After a first visit there last month, she said she plans to return with family members to sit on one of the benches and be soothed by the sound of water gurgling over a fountain of boulders that is the centerpiece of the garden.
The garden occupies what was once "bare lawn with no function at all" in the center of the parking lot for the organization, which provides end-of-life care and bereavement services for residents of southeastern Connecticut, Williams said. It was the first of two new "healing gardens" created in the region, with the second scheduled to open Oct. 2 at the Lawrence + Memorial Cancer Center in Waterford.
The hospice garden, designed by Kelly Sisk of Oasis Gardens of Waterford and built with $110,000 in donations, features a ring of four pergolas that will one day be covered with climbing hydrangeas, a veterans' corner with an American flag and memorial plaque, a sandbox where visitors are invited to write messages or draw, and an imbarimba - an all-weather marimba where visitors can make soft music. A row of shrubs that produce berries favored by birds anchors one of the beds, and two wooden birdhouses await occupants.
"All of the plants were selected for their traditional healing properties," said Williams, pointing out the juniper, dogwood and ginkgo trees.
One corner is reserved for community vegetable garden beds, which children in hospice bereavement groups help tend. In another section, aromatic herbs including lemon balm, lavender and lemon thyme grow, "so it also appeals to the sense of smell," Williams said.
The garden is open to anyone to use free of charge and is being maintained by about 20 volunteers who also helped with the plantings.
"Our volunteers come twice a week to water it, and they have really taken ownership of it," he said. "We have one couple that comes early every Sunday morning."