A rooftop oasis

“My mother was only at Victoria Hospice for two days, but the Victoria Hospice rooftop garden played a significant role in her short stay there,” says Marilyn McCrimmon. Her mother, an active senior who still drove her own car and enjoyed golf with her friends, was by all appearances healthy. But then things changed.

“I took Mom to the hospital emergency on a Friday night. Six days later she was admitted to Hospice for palliative care,” says Marilyn. After the stress of the week, they were both pleased by the comfortable surroundings at Victoria Hospice’s 17-bed in-patient unit. “The next morning, Mom said she would like to get up for the first time in a week and she wanted to go outside one more time.”

So, aided by Hospice nurses, Marilyn and her brother helped her Mom into a wheelchair for the short journey up the elevator to Hospice’s Rooftop Garden to enjoy the blooming flowers and warm sunshine.

“The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Mom’s brother and his wife, her two grandchildren, a couple she has known for 60 years, and her two children and daughter-in-law were all there with us. We spent two hours talking, laughing, and reminiscing, sitting in chairs around a table shaded by an umbrella. It was an idyllic setting, surrounded by planters alive with spring growth,” she remembers.

“When Mom finally said she was ready to go back to bed, she said, “You know, I’d like to do this again tomorrow.” Of course, everyone agreed and Marilyn took her Mom back to her room, where she quickly fell asleep.

As it turned out, she never woke up. She passed away the next morning, much sooner than anyone had expected.

“But as sad as we all were, we loved that Mom went to sleep with the memories of an afternoon spent in a garden in the sun, with people she loved, and the thoughts that she might do it again the next day,” says Marilyn.

It is just for such moments that the rooftop garden, located off the fourth floor of the Richmond Pavilion, was created, says Wendy Wainwright, Director of Clinical Services for Hospice.

“When Victoria Hospice moved from the now-gone Bay Pavilion in the early 1990’s with its ground-floor enclosed garden, to the third floor of the Richmond Pavilion, we knew it was very important to maintain access to a garden,” she says. So after a successful fund-raising campaign, extensive reinforcing of the roof and countless volunteer hours, the 1,200 square foot rooftop garden opened in 1997.

“The garden is an oasis,” says Wendy. “It provides solace, and is a place to get centred. It is also a place to feel the sun and the rain on your face.” The expanse of raised flower beds, benches and patio tables, a water feature and more than 50 varieties of plants, shrubs, climbing vines and trees draws people in all seasons and at all times of the day.

Horticulturalist Kathleen Laird oversees the garden with her team of four volunteer gardeners. Although it is only a few hours a week, her role is very important to Kathleen because of the significance of the garden, which is obviously a labour of love for her. She’s quick to point out that just like Hospice itself, the garden is accessible by all. Wheelchairs and hospital beds are easily accommodated, so that anyone, regardless of their condition, may visit the garden.

If you would like to offer a donation to help maintain the rooftop garden, please contact Victoria Hospice Foundation at 250-519-1744.

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Quality palliative and end-of-life care for all: Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for those facing life-limiting illness, death and bereavement through patient and family centred care, education, research and advocacy.