The Perennial Plant Association announced it has awarded its highest award for garden design to Brenda Adams for her creation of the Serenity Garden at the entrance to the South Peninsula Hospital.
The award is the result of an international competition among top professional garden and landscape designers. Each year, a panel of experts in landscape design and horticulture make the award selections. They base their selection not only on artistic merit of the design, but also the creative horticultural use of perennial plants in implementing the design. The Honor Award is the Perennial Plant Association’s highest award and is not necessarily granted every year. The award is additionally unique in that Adams is the only Alaskan ever to win this prestigious honor.
The landscaping project at South Peninsula started in 2009 after the hospital created a new entrance area and new access to the Emergency facilities. Members of the Hospital Auxiliary focused their attention on the power of gardens to bring solace and healing power to visitors and wished to create such an area for the new addition. To make this happen they brought highly acclaimed garden designer, Brenda Adams, into the project.
The first challenge they had to wrestle with is the fact that nearly all the space outside the hospital building is either concrete, parking area or an extremely steep hillside. The only unpaved area was a forty by forty foot flat area surrounded on three sides by modern grey concrete or metal walls and windows. The walls keep a large part of the area in shade except in the early morning and the open side of the space spills directly onto a parking lot.
“The available space was downright bleak yet the objective was to turn this unappealing location into a welcoming, soothing and secluded sanctuary for people in distress,” Adams said.
Developing private areas immediately adjacent to a parking lot is a particular difficulty in Alaska because of the free-roaming moose that inhabit the area year-round. The moose thrive on trees and shrubbery unless they are tightly fenced – a very unattractive option – so Adams created an alternative.
“To create an inexpensive privacy screen, I designed a highly-mounded island garden planted with tall grasses and perennials. It shields the benches from approaching traffic and also gives someone sitting on a bench a delightful focal point for contemplation while leaving the distant view visible,” she said.
The distant view is of Homer’s Kachemak Bay overlooked by beautiful snow-covered mountains. The blue and purple hues in the distance bring majesty to the background of the garden island.
Among the perfect scores granted to the Serenity Garden by the judges were those for “Plant Selection” and “Bloom Succession.” Adams chose a subtle mix of perennials with rich textures and soothing colors. Blues, lavenders and burgundies combine with soft pinks, whites and greens to blend the garden with its surroundings and to invoke peaceful and calming feelings in the visitor.
In Alaska, bloom succession is of the greatest importance in designing a garden. This part of the world is dependably snow-free only five months of the year so it was important to select plants that would bloom from the minute the snow melts in May until it returns in early October. From the time the bulbs first peek through the snow through the end of the growing season, the Serenity Garden always abounds with colorful blooming plants, each succeeding the others through the summer. Then the tall grasses stand erect throughout the winter adding their beauty and motion to the winter tableau.
The resulting garden has exceeded its contemplated goals. Not only visitors, but staff, and even patients spend time in the garden — rain or shine. It’s truly wonderful to see a patient in hospital attire, tethered to a medication pole, enjoying the summer sunshine on one of the benches. A few moments of peaceful contemplation, or just a relaxing escape from the stress of being in or around a hospital, are gifts the Serenity Garden continues to give to the community.
The Perennial Plant Association awarded two Merit awards to Adams 2007 and 2009. She is a Master Gardener, and was president of the 150-member-strong Homer Garden Club for six years. She is a popular speaker at gardening conferences throughout Alaska, and is finishing a richly informative book on gardening in Alaska and the Far North.
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