Hospital garden growing community project

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  • The Planetree Healing Garden at North Valley Hospital is a quiet place for patients, families and hospital staff to relax in during the day. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

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    Alan Satterlee, Executive Director of the North Valley Hospital Foundation, nurse Kelly Avanzino, and Gretchen Boyer, Executive Director of Farm Hands, pose in front of the North Valley Hospital’s Planetree Healing Garden. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

  • The Planetree Healing Garden at North Valley Hospital is a quiet place for patients, families and hospital staff to relax in during the day. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

  • 1

    Alan Satterlee, Executive Director of the North Valley Hospital Foundation, nurse Kelly Avanzino, and Gretchen Boyer, Executive Director of Farm Hands, pose in front of the North Valley Hospital’s Planetree Healing Garden. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

The Planetree Garden at North Valley Hospital can mean different things for different people.

For patients or family members at the hospital, it can be an escape from the stresses that come with hospital visits and extended stays. For hospital employees, it can be a nice place to eat lunch in the sun. Even for the kitchen, the garden is a way to source fresh vegetables.

The garden opened last year during the hospital’s Planetree Festival in September and is slowly growing into the community and healing-oriented space it’s intended to be.

Set just north of the hospital in a field of tall grass, the garden is a 60-by-60 foot plot of land with high fences and a large decorative entrance that features the Planetree International logo of a tall and flourishing tree. Inside, the garden is split into thirds, with the first two thirds housing native plants and small fruit-bearing bushes and trees, while the back third is dedicated to a set of production beds, where things like garlic, tomatoes, peppers and more are grown.

Gretchen Boyer, Executive Director of Farm Hands, says the garden has a lot of potential and is now just in infancy.

“This is stage one. Really next year we plan on adding perennials, adding mulch, we’ll be checking out our trees, and our goal here is to really look at, ‘How can we utilize the production area of the garden to the highest benefit?’ That’s still a work in progress,” Boyer said.

The hospital partners with Farm Hands, an organization for farmers, eaters and business leaders in the Flathead, for the garden. Farm Hands provides a garden manager and volunteers, and the hospital also partners with groups like the Center for Native Plants and Landcastle Landscaping.

The Planetree name comes from the hospital’s patient care philosophy and refers to the Planetree International organization. North Valley became a Planetree affiliate in 2002, joining more than 500 organizations around the world.

The idea for the garden came from Meagen Healy, formerly the Catering Manager at the hospital. Healy brought her vision for the garden to the hospital’s Green Team, a group that focuses on making North Valley more sustainable and less impactful to the environment, Alan Satterlee, Executive Director of the North Valley Hospital Foundation, said.

“We had an employee that was very interested in the idea of a garden as being a kind of genesis for a lot of different things we do, because we have a lot of healthy eating programs and an amazing restaurant and kitchen here,” Satterlee said. “It’s grown into a partnership with Farm Hands to totally implement everything we’re doing. It’s been a team effort.”

From there the idea snowballed, nurse Kelly Avanzino said, as fundraising for the project came together in pieces, with the hospital raising and bringing together about 50% of the cost on their own while a group of businesses helped to fund the rest.

“I think it’s something that a lot of staff have been interested in for awhile, working with local farmers and getting involved,” Avanzino said.

The garden itself is expected to be involved with a number of different projects too.

Along with its use as a meditative space, the garden is also going to provide food for the hospital’s Food Rx program, that will bring fresh produce to clinic patients that qualify for the program based on a lack of fresh food or malnourishment. Two of the raised production beds are for dietitians to use in a program to discuss healthy eating, cooking and growing food, and the garden will also open to residents at The Springs at Whitefish. Excess vegetables will be used in the hospital’s café or donated to North Valley Food Bank.

There’s still more to come for the garden as well. Picnic tables are set to arrive at the end of the summer, and improvements for shading and more plant coverage are planned as well. The space will also be used for educational classes.

While the site best caters to hospital patients and staff, it’s also open to anyone from the public who wants to stop by and smell the flowers.

“Energy just kind of springs up around the garden,” Boyer said. “It becomes a hub for food, for gardening, for interaction. It’s fertile ground.”

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