Mount Nittany Medical Center hopes healing garden soothes

A tree that honors the memory of a local doctor will now be a “witness tree” at the heart of a healing garden project at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

Kim Neely, director of The Foundation for Mount Nittany Medical Center, said the idea to create a healing garden was sparked about two years ago with a mission to help relieve stress for patients, families, staff and the public.

“We were just kind of thinking, ‘What kind of additional resources do we need?’ ” Neely said. “This meets the needs of everyone.”

Ground could be broken on the grassy knoll adjacent to the hospital’s main entrance by early fall. But it could take up to two years to complete the 40,000-square-foot garden.

The outdoor, year-round garden will be a quiet, retreat-like area for people to enjoy, said Erin Welsh, communications coordinator.

It will be built between the hospital’s main entrance and the Lance and Ellen Shaner Cancer Pavilion and will include a variety of plants, flowers and trees.

“There’s a need and want for a therapeutic garden because of the healing properties of nature,” Neely said.

Local landscape architect Derek Kalp is leading the design team, with help from Penn State Master Gardeners, horticulturalists, arborists, physicians and patients. He’s been working for about a year on the project.

“It’s exactly what you would call a full community effort,” Kalp said. “It’s really all about putting a vision and concept together with everyone’s input as a place that should encourage people to get out.”

The plans include a plaza with a water feature, benches and seating areas, paths and evergreen screens. It also will be accessible for those with disabilities.

“Designed to be something that can be enjoyed year-round, Kalp and other advisers have studied the sun, shade, and soil of the area to ensure lush blooms and greenery,” Welsh said.

Kalp was the lead designer of the lion shrine renovations that were unveiled last summer.

Arborists with the borough of State College have also evaluated the land, suggesting which trees and shrubs should be kept, Neely said.

One of the trees that will be kept was planted in memory of Dr. Tom Cawthern, who died in 2002.

“We want to keep any existing shrubbery and trees we can,” Neely said. The tree honoring Cawthern “will act kind of like a witness tree for this project,” she said.

The entire project, which is in the first of three phases, could cost $600,000 to $700,000, Neely said. The foundation is still working with a final budget, but was given a $75,000 donation by retired oncologist Richard Dixon and his wife, Nancy.

Employees have begun a fundraising campaign that has raised about $35,000, Neely said. The rest of the money will likely come from donations.

“What we’re really finding is this has become a memorial project where people are making donations in honor of others,” Neely said.

Design development is expected to wrap up in early summer and the plan will be sent to College Township for approval.

Neely said there is no name yet for the garden, but that the opportunity exists to be creative.

“This is really the kind of community partnership that makes a project of this magnitude extremely rewarding to be a part of,” Neely said. “I think this healing garden is meeting the needs of everyone and will create a space people can enjoy and be proud of.”