Organic Therapy

Sensory gardens give people a place to heal

| July-August 2010

  • Organic Therapy Image

    Robin J. Carlson

  • Organic Therapy Image

See more  photographs of sensory gardens . 

Sensory gardens look, smell, feel, taste, and sound beautiful. They are designed to be therapeutic. Yet the greatest healing of these places may come to those who lovingly create them.

By the time Ethan Boyers turned 2 years old in 2004, he had undergone more medical interventions than some octogenarians will ever know. Suffering from severe and frequent seizures, his tiny body had been put through endoscopies, bronchoscopies, genetic and metabolic testing, placement of a gastric feeding tube, and a medically induced coma. His team of doctors—pediatricians, neurologists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists, urologists, pulmonologists, critical care specialists, and geneticists—was stumped. Nurses, home aides, and physical and occupational therapists were with him 80 hours each week. Open to non-Western medical options, Ethan’s parents took him to an acupuncturist, looked into cranial sacral therapy, and consulted with a shaman.

Despite the ceaseless battering on his body, Ethan often found happiness and peace in the backyard of his family’s Vermont home. Observing how relaxed their son was outdoors, his parents, Rachel and Richard, both trained landscape architects, decided to create a backyard haven that the entire family, including Ethan’s sisters, Talia and Maya, could enjoy.

There would be plants, of course, but also wind chimes for Ethan to listen to, and a “teahouse” with sliding screen doors and a bed for Ethan. It would be wired so that Ethan’s hospital equipment could be plugged in.

The family applied for and was accepted for a grant from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to create the garden, but they had not yet begun when Ethan suffered pneumonia and kidney failure, at age two and a half. The day he died, Ethan’s parents and sisters spent time with him outside, where—even in his final moments—he seemed to be relaxed and calm.

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