I first discussed the idea
of a philanthropic
hospice garden — an outdoor space for grieving — with
the directors of Forbes Hospice in the 90s. So when Lulu Orr, executive
director of the Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support (GGC),
asked me to collaborate with artist Stephanie Flom on a similar
concept, I immediately agreed.
Some of the landscape design work is described below, but words
can’t begin to tell the tale of this project. It was inspiring
to collaborate with so many great creative minds: Lulu, Stephanie,
artists Eric Schloss, Frank Ferraro and Lisa Austin, stone mason
Ron Hoover, and many others. I donated my services for free, but
I found a deeper reward in helping to create something valuable
that is all too rare in our rush-around society: a space to grieve.
Magic Penny Gardens combine the efforts of local artists with plant
donations from the community. A wonderful aspect of this “public
art” is that sharing plants often leads to sharing the memories
they evoke. I loved her idea of creating a Magic Penny Memory Garden
at Carnegie Library of Homestead (MPMG) for people grieving —
but making that idea a reality presented a few challenges.
First, MPMG was not a site unto itself — it needed to fit
into an existing property with strong features, including a stately
historic building and a steep, sloping hill. Then there was the
diversity of those involved: GGC, the Carnegie Library, artists
with unique visions using different mediums, the local community,
and the larger community of the grieving who would use the space.
As landscape designer, my role was to overcome those challenges
by creating an “outdoor museum” where all audiences
could interact, express — and remember.
I couldn’t anticipate what each artist would do, what plants
would be donated, or how different people might use the space. Instead,
I focused on “grieving” itself. And my first thought
was that grief isn’t just a byproduct ofseparation and loss.
It also connects us — we all suffer loss. And there is something
in our grieving that can, given time and nurturance, enrich our
lives and relationships thereafter. In early sketches, I symbolized
that continuity of life with a series of entwined circles, which
eventually became the arcs defining each area.
I also wanted MPMG to have both “grounding”
and “opening” elements. The site itself provided the
latter: a beautiful view of Mon River hillsides and plenty of sky.
Once, that view would have included a church in Braddock that had
been torn down. For “grounding” — and to evoke
a sense of enduring — I used reclaimed architectural stones
from that church, along with 29 tons of natural stone, to create
“seat walls” and define the arcs that link MPMG’s
Grieving is a deeply personal, interior experience, so I
tried to create “rooms” that offered solitude. Since
remaining connected to the world outside, to life, is also important,
gravel paths connect the rooms to each other, to the library, and
in a larger sense, to nearby Kennedy Park and the community. Large,
existing trees were a wonderful life-affirming feature, and I integrated
flowering shrubs, a crab apple and vines to encourage the presence
of birds and squirrels.
MPMG took over a year to complete and required many adaptations
along the way, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Working with other
artists to create a space with such a deep sense of purpose was