GREENSBORO - Mary Magrinat and Sally Pagliai have been amazed at the outpouring of support for Cone Health Cancer Center’s new Healing Gardens.

Magrinat and her husband, Cone Health Cancer Center oncologist Gus Magrinat, lead the Healing Gardens steering committee, and Pagliai is the landscape architect.

More than $870,000 has been raised so far for the $1.2 million project, which will cover a little less than two acres next to the cancer center at 501 N. Elam Ave. and will include a Wetland Garden and a Meditation Garden.

“When we’ve gone to people with our vision, everyone gets it,” Magrinat said. “It’s wonderful to see our community really join hands.”

Pagliai has experienced that same excitement as she has approached people for help.

“I don’t think there’s many people not touched by cancer, and there’s so many hours and hours of fear and uncertainty that follow a diagnosis,” she said. “When we tell people we’re going to provide this oasis, they get all crazy and happy.”

The goal of the project is to create a place where patients, families and staff can engage with nature, promote physical movement and exercise, encourage social interaction and provide peace, rest and quiet in a comfortable, secure outdoor setting.

Skip Hislop, vice president of Cone Health Oncology Services, said he believes healing gardens are the future of health care.

“We emphasize treating the whole person, mentally, emotionally and physically,” Hislop said. “We’re developing a healing space so patients are not just in a sterile environment.”

Magrinat agreed.

“There’s a growing body of research that shows nature promotes healing,” she said. “We’ve known this in our gut, but now we’re doing research to prove it.”

Work on the Wetland Garden, which will be located between the parking garage and the cancer center, has begun. It should be completed in spring of 2015. In addition to the garden, 62 trees were planted along Wendover Avenue to block noise.

The Wetland Garden will have a boardwalk to offer patients, families and staff a place to walk outside in the fresh air, complete with a 6-foot-wide wheel chair-accessible path. There will be large patios, lookouts and benches for rest and relaxation, healing arts and cancer survivor support programs. An herb and vegetable garden with wheelchair-accessible raised beds will be used by staff nutritionists to teach about nutrition and well-being during cancer treatment. A children’s and family garden area will have boulders and a whimsical flair. Plans are in the works to build a treehouse.

Because the Wetland Garden occasionally has experiences flooding, the boardwalk will be built so that water can seep through, and plants conducive to a wet environment will be planted. Pagliai and other project planners have drawn inspiration for the healing gardens from the Greensboro Bog Garden.

A second phase of the project, the Meditation Garden, will add a water feature, flower garden and Japanese maple grove to the area around the Tanger Labyrinth. A stone path will connect the labyrinth with the gardens. This phase is scheduled to be completed in 2016, after the cancer center moves and renovates its chemotherapy treatment area. The new treatment area will have large windows that overlook the gardens.

Magrinat and Pagliai’s own personal cancer journeys fuel their passion for the healing gardens.

Magrinat was diagnosed with an aggressive stage one form of breast cancer in 1986 at age 36 and underwent chemotherapy. A nature lover, she described a mental image she had each time she entered the hospital for treatment, grasping for the trees and sky, wishing she could take them with her.

“The updated cancer center here is beautiful now, but there’s a need for a wonderful place outside,” she said. “To be in a treatment room where you can see outside or to be able to take a walk through a beautiful garden area would just be wonderful.”

Pagliai also longed for nature during the long hours of waiting as her husband faced cancer treatments. Her husband, Stefano Pagliai died in June 2007 after suffering from stomach cancer.

“Sometimes we were there (at the hospital) all day long, and even though the care he received was wonderful, I think he would have benefited from having a view,” Pagliai said. “When you’re going through a stressful situation and you have an opportunity for a respite, it’s restorative.”

Her husband was a gardener and enjoyed the outdoors.

“I think human beings are connected to nature, and when we are exposed to it and around it, we feel better,” Pagliai said.

Pagliai, with the help of landscape architect Claudia Dinep, has put more than 200 hours into designing the gardens.

“We’ve had so many key players, including general contractor Mike Murray with MWM Construction who has worked to get our costs down as low as possible, and Tim Apple of New Earth Designs,” she said. “For this whole year and a half, Tim has contributed so many hours.”

A maintenance fund has been established for the ongoing care of the gardens once they are completed, but Pagliai stressed the need for more donations and volunteer hours.

Magrinat said fundraisers will be held to raise the rest of the money needed for the healing gardens.

“This is something that will be permanent and wonderful, something that will profoundly transform the lives of patients, families and staff,” Magrinat said. “It’s a beautiful thing to create beauty and respite for people in need.”

Contact Jennifer Atkins Brown at (336) 574-5582.

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