Gie Hough was a professional landscaper who owned her own company in the Seattle, Washington area when cancer struck. In 1997, due to cancer and its treatment, she had to stop working. After a second bout with cancer in 1998, she had nerve damage in her spine, lost strength in her hands, and had to use a cane to walk. Gie went from being a fully active landscaper who also had beautiful gardens at her home to being disabled, having to leave her home and move into an apartment. It was devastating.
It has been hard to recover from the physical effects of cancer, but the emotional pain due to losing her gardens has been equally as difficult. Her saving grace was finding the Cancer Lifeline Center in Seattle. This nonprofit organization provides support groups, classes, and activities to more than 9000 people a year aimed at optimizing the quality of life for cancer victims and their families.
Gie enthusiastically pursued the idea of having gardens at the Center. In 2000, with the help of local volunteers and college students and professors from the University of Washington, the Center constructed three raised bed gardens. Involving the staff and patients in the design process, the gardens reflected the need to create a natural place for healing and communing with nature.
From the beginning Gie offered plant suggestions and advice drawing from her years as a landscaper. It was bittersweet, though, because she realized she no longer could physically do the work she loved. The 3 gardens total only about 3500 square feet, but quickly became her oasis, helping her rediscover her joy and love of plants. The gardens include The Celebration Garden, an herb and kitchen garden near the lunch room where patients and staff can harvest fresh greens and herbs for cooking. There's a Reflection Garden featuring a quiet nook enclosed with bamboo, containing benches and even a heater to keep warm in winter. It's a place Gie often goes to write poetry or sketch garden plants. The Earth and Sky Garden includes a large space with annuals and perennial flowers, shrubs, and a fountain. There's a healing circle area that is used for art, painting, and other workshops that Gie has sometimes facilitated.
Gie spends hours in these gardens not only weeding, planting, and harvesting from the specially designed raised beds that allow her to work without bending over, but also just sitting and enjoying the peace. Rain or shine she's out there 3 to 4 times a week. "The gardens center me when I'm stressed," she says. 'It's like a meditation for me. I can get lost in the garden," Gie says.
The Cancer Lifeline Center also acknowledges the benefit from their gardens and has plans to build more. The Memorial Garden will be a sitting area with butterfly-attracting plants. Although Gie isn't involved in the design, you can bet she'll be there working in the garden as the staff installs it. "These gardens are very special for me," she says. "They've given back to me something that was lost."