Allison Ballard

| Wilmington StarNews

Someone who has lost or lost a friend or family member needs space for comfort and reflection at any time of the year. This was one of the challenges Lower Cape Fear LifeCare faced when they began designing on-site gardens in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

The organization, formerly known as the Lower Cape Fear Hospice, started the process in 2008 with help from Sheri Chisholm, owner of Flora Landscapes.

Now the gardens that are in 1406 Physicians Dr. Located in Wilmington and 955 Mercy Lane in Bolivia, multiple functions.

You are peaceful and meditative. They are a place to bring friends and family members to honor loved ones. And they provide an opportunity to raise funds to care for future patients.

The gardens are not necessarily open to the public, but rather to those in need. Many of the rooms in the buildings of the care center have windows facing the property so that patients can enjoy the gardens regardless of their mobility.

“I love giving tours of the garden,” said Lynn Murphy, LifeCare Donor Advisor. “As soon as you see it, you can really understand.”

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She was also one of the creative forces behind the gardens and is a constant advocate of their development.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t see a family member walking around,” she said. “You are often in a very difficult situation and you can see what a comfort it is.”

While home gardeners don’t necessarily have to create such lavish outdoor areas, they can learn lessons from the LifeCare site.

An evergreen foundation

One of the first rules landscape architects use when creating a year-round garden is to start with the right plants. That was also true of the LifeCare Gardens, said Chisholm.

“We wanted a nice evergreen foundation,” she said.

This means that even in winter there are always plants with foliage and attractive elements. Then you can incorporate the plants that will add color in the warmer months. Chisholm said she used a variety of color themes on LifeCare, including pinks, blues and purples. She layered these colors, starting with ground plants with a touch of these hues to flowers that will burst in spring, summer and fall.

That foundation can extend to other elements that stand the test of time. Chishom used stone benches, an ornate maze, and other hardscapes in a similar fashion.

Add in art

Some of these structures can also serve as art elements. At LifeCare, garden sculptures offer colors and shapes that can be appreciated in any weather. Visitors can spot several pieces by local artists – including a large turtle by Karen Crouch and oversized butterflies by Dumay Gorham in the children’s pavilion.

“It’s a very deliberate way of keeping the color year round,” Murphy said.

The arts at LifeCare evolved organically from the organization’s healing arts program, which was led for many years by Wilmington artist Lorraine Perry.

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“The arts and gardens seem to go hand in hand,” Murphy said. “And she played a big part in developing this.”

One of the most recent additions is the statue of a blue heron flying in honor of Daniel Gottovi, one of the nonprofit agency’s founding doctors.

The statue, designed by Gorham, has both symbolic and artistic significance and is already one of Murphy’s favorites.

“You notice the blue,” said Murphy. “It makes an impact.”

Design garden room

The art can also help distinguish the various smaller spaces within the garden. Creating it was one of the most interesting aspects of this project for Chisholm.

The early plans included several themed gardens and a plan for treating rainwater. For this basic concept, she has included the themes of Consolation and Sanctuary and expanded them so that they can be used for gatherings of individuals, families and groups.

Since then she has designed several additional gardens. Your favorite is the kindergarten with a pavilion. A new Veterans Memorial Garden is currently being planned, she said. It will be in the shape of a circle and have national colors.

Chisholm said using the “garden room” concept would be a great way for homeowners to redesign their outdoor space.

“There are a lot of options when you think about creating small bags like this,” she said.

For those looking for inspiration, Chisholm said theirs was found for the LifeCare Gardens in the traditional English style.

“We’re trying to include meandering views that allow you to change your perspective,” she said.