Green Smarts and Your HC Landscape

Posted on January 22, 2014


Paving is bad. Turf is better. Meadow is best.

This is a pithy, nine-word summary of how to sensitively approach your hospital’s landscape design according to a landscape architect I heard speak recently.

I learned other interesting facts about best approaches to a hospital’s campus.  For instance, the cost to maintain one acre of turf (grass) is between $1500 and 3500 a year!  Prairie meadow costs twice as much as a first-cost (installed), but by Year Four plants are established and the maintenance costs drop off significantly, so it becomes cost-beneficial for the life of your hospital.  In this post-healthcare reform world, who would not want to save money on the upkeep of the hospital grounds?

Also, we typically think of turf as a wonderful storm water runoff holder, but as it turns out, it is not so great.  Grass roots are only 6-8 inches deep and get saturated quickly.  Forest or tree habitat contain the underground voids and root die-back that facilitate premium water absorption.  More trees, please.

And then we discern benefits between “soft nature”—man-made spaces like gardens and parks—and “hard nature”— non-man-made places like meadows and forests.  Soft nature helps clinical staff accomplish tasks more efficiently.  Hard nature suppresses endorphin production and has a calming effect.  Facinating!

Established evidence-based design suggests patients with views of nature have lower need for pain medications, recover faster and exhibit less stress.

More rural and ambitious healthcare systems can explore actually seeking a return on their acreage via food production.  For $30k per acre, a farmer can agriculturally manage the land to produce crops to sell to local restaurants (which is big and getting bigger), or help create a CSA (community supported agriculture, or small farm / co-op).  This would not be hard-core farming with farm animals, but would return 15-30% profit back from various crops and honey production.  Return would be even greater if labor was managed by volunteers.

Hospitals have a lot of potential to maximize resources.  A few years ago, selling land and hospital buildings in order to lease was en vogue.  Those that remained land owners can now opt for some creative ideas to both reduce costs and produce additional income—double bonus!

One of my favorite nature authors, Wendell Berry, seems appropriate to reference:

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

What is a hospital if not a community?