Year ’round, Portland Memory Garden provides refreshing experiences

If you haven’t discovered this public park in outer East Portland, learn why it’s unique in the region …

Friends of Portland Memory Garden board members LuAnn Cook, Edie Polson, Julie Brown, Patty Cassidy (president), Nancy Chapman, and Eunice Noell-Waggoner pause for this photo during their recent open house event.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
It’s not easy to spot the Portland Memory Garden, located on the east end of Ed Benedict Park, as one drives eastbound on SE Powell Boulevard past SE 104th Avenue. But, this park is unique in the greater Portland area – both in its design and its purpose.

“This garden is a very special place,” explained Patty Cassidy, President of Friends of Portland Memory Garden, “in that it was specifically designed to be a place where Alzheimer’s patients and people under memory care – and their caregivers – can come and get some respite.”

Cassidy said this public garden is a Portland Parks & Recreation facility, built with special design features to accommodate people with memory issues. “For example, the garden is designed in a circular pattern, so people can’t get lost. The Gateway building, when you walk in, is a way-finding point that can be easily seen from anywhere within the garden.”

This sign marks the entrance of the Portland Memory Garden, located on SE 104th Avenue, just south of SE Powell Boulevard.

A four-season garden
The garden, Cassidy told us, was started it in 1998, and was completed in 2001.

“This is a four-season garden,” Cassidy continued. “Every season, every day of the year, there are wonderful botanical features here to be experienced. Even in the darkest days of January, you can see twigs budding, greens sprouting, and even see some plants that are in bloom. We made this a garden that has rich and lush horticultural features.”

She pointed out “old-fashioned” perennials and annuals like roses and hydrangeas, carefully planted and tended in the park. “Many of these plants bring back pleasant memories for the patients who visit.”

Provides positive sensory experiences
More that just being a pretty place to visit, Cassidy added that the garden provides therapeutic value for people experiencing memory loss.

“It seems that most people have a ‘hired-wired connection’ to nature,” said the association president. “People do better when they’re in nature, and when they’re around natural things in the world. It gives people who were gardeners a space where they can enjoy the greenery, even if they can no longer handle the actual gardening work. It provides people with that kind of emotional and psychological support and comfort.”

Cassidy should know – she’s a professional horticultural therapy specialist, who got her required practicum clinical hours by helping to develop the garden!  Now, in addition to being the president of the Garden’s Friends group, she continues to help with events.

The Portland Memory Garden is designed as an enclosed circle, with features enabling people of all physical abilities to enjoy the safe, non-toxic greenery planted there.

Unique design welcomes all
Showing us how the raised flower beds gradually slope up, Cassidy said that this design allows people of all physical abilities to sit on the edge and admire the natural setting, or to do a little gardening.

“This has been designed to be a place that is ‘sensory’. We want people to be able to touch the plants and earth. We want visitors easily to see and smell the garden. The seating is such that you can sit anywhere and be close to the plants.”

Sandy Morehouse, with Rosewood Specialty Care in Hillsboro, talks with Helaine Gross, a horticultural therapy expert, at a “nature station” in the garden.

Caregivers laud park
Visiting the Garden when we toured the facility was Sandy Morehouse, who is with Rosewood Specialty Care in Hillsboro. For the patients with whom she works, she said, a visit to the park is well worth the drive.

“Being outside in the beauty of nature is calming and peaceful – especially for the residents with whom I work,” Morehouse said. “You can sit, and do absolutely nothing, and have an absolutely wonderful experience here.”

Kathy Schwabe, activity director at Pacific Gardens, talks with Lynn Wagner, a horticultural therapy student at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Pacific Gardens, the facility at which Kathy Schwabe is the activity director, is much closer – out on NE 172nd Avenue – and she also appreciates this garden.

“I’m glad it’s close by,” exclaimed Schwabe. “We’re an Alzheimers and dementia care community, and this is a safe place for us, because we can shut the gate and our residents are protected, as they stroll through the garden. Our residents can’t get lost or wander off.”

Enjoys putting feet in the grass
Schwabe was talking with Lynn Wagner, a horticultural therapy student at Good Samaritan Hospital, when we met them. Wagner added, “Another reason it’s safe is that none of the plants or materials in the garden are toxic. It’s a safe wonderful environment.”

In the center of the circular park is a large, round area of well-tended lawn. “We’ve had many residents who just lie down in the grass and enjoy the sunshine,” Schwabe reminisced. “Sometimes, we all take our shoes off. And, we’ve found that patients in wheelchairs enjoy being taken over into the grass, so they can dangle their feet in the soft, lush green grass of summer.”

One of the garden’s volunteers, Elaine Hesselman, fills the air with beautiful music, as she plays the harp for visitors.

Labor of love for many volunteers
After soaking up the bucolic atmosphere, the Friends group president told us that the garden is maintained with 95% volunteer effort. “There’re only eight hours a month of paid gardening by Portland Parks – they help us with heavy hauling and lawn mowing,” observed Cassidy. “We maintain the beds, and do all the pruning and padding and deadheading. This is a very hands-on groomed facility. I’d say there are about 50 volunteer-hours spent here every month, among all of our garden teams.”

Volunteers also help stage events and enrichment activities – for free – on an on-call basis, Cassidy mentioned. “All the facilities need to do is just transport their patients here.”

Learn more here
If you’d like to learn more – or perhaps volunteer – at the Portland Memory Garden, call the organization at (503) 239-9174.

Or, see a map and learn more. Visit the Portland Parks & Recreation web site, CLICK HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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