“At the hour of your death, what would you rather be looking at? A wall, a television or a garden?” Sally Cobb has answered this rhetorical question by creating and maintaining magnificent gardens to celebrate life at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro in North Carolina, with the help of volunteers and donations. The hospice provides services to enhance the quality of life for patients at the end of their lives and to help grieving adults and children. Each day, the staff visits about 400 patients in their home or in the residences where they live. In addition, 14 private rooms welcome patients at the hospice.
Several years ago, Cobb was volunteering there and something bothered her. The dying plants certainly did not give out the best impression. She went to work to create beautiful surroundings for the patients, their families and the staff. Today, several rooms give out on the gardens and the children’s garden is a good place for therapeutic sessions and for contemplation. The gardens are simply there for everybody’s enjoyment. Cobb does not offer gardening sessions. But she sometimes makes the first move. “I had heard that a 19-year handicapped young woman, who was coming after the death of a caretaker and her guiding dog, had said that the garden was magic. I talked to her and together we planted roses she had chosen,” explained Cobb. She encourages people to come out to the garden and helps them garden if they express an interest like this teenager who had just lost his brother. “It just happened that he started telling me about his brother, I do not initiate those conversations. I am not a grief therapist, I am here for support.”
Every week, she attends meetings with the nursing staff. If she hears about a patient who likes gardening or who seems withdrawn, she visits them and often brings her sensory basket as an icebreaker. She can also bring a bouquet for the family if the patient is unconscious or lavender to calm down an agitated patient. “I consider that we are both living today. We can find a meeting place. It is a question of quality of life. Two people with the same disease and the same life expectancy can have different reactions. Some will tell themselves it is all over and others will try to jump out of bed.”
Cobb came to horticultural therapy after being a teacher and stay-at-home mom. “After my divorce, I started gardening. I told myself that when I went back to work, I would like to bring people the same happiness that I had felt in the garden. I did not feel like doing landscaping for rich people. I was volunteering at the hospice, then I followed Rebecca Haller’s training at the Horticultural Therapy Institute.” She is now a registered horticultural therapist. Occasionally, Cobb will help someone create a memory garden in memory of a departed loved one. “I helped a woman who had lost her 16-year old daughter and wanted to do something to celebrate her life. The great thing is that a patient from the hospice went to her place to create the garden,” Cobb remembered. She also speaks to grieving groups about memory gardens. “All you need is a planter box. You can plant rosemary, the plant of remembrance, or attract birds with feeders. You just need to concentrate on the person and what they liked.”