Breaking New Ground in Therapeutic Gardening


With 30-plus Green Spring Master Gardeners (GSMG) in five working groups and over 1000 volunteer hours, we set out to transform the grounds of the Fairfax County Crisis Care Program (CCP) on Woodburn Road.

After months of planning and navigation through county rules, we completed the first phase of the transformation process in June. “This project is breaking ground in therapeutic gardening and is the first Master Gardener project of its type in Virginia,” noted Pamela Smith, Community Horticulture Supervisor at Green Spring Gardens.

Two dedicated therapists, who are also gardening enthusiasts, organized the site into three distinct gardens: sensory, vegetable, and woodland meditation. They sought modest assistance from GSMG, but after our initial meeting we all were inspired to propose something more – a total transformation of their gardens, which serve one of the most vulnerable populations in Fairfax County.

GSMG Holly Miller, our landscape designer, prepared a site map and inventory of the existing gardens. She also researched the county regulations and easements to ensure our work would meet the necessary requirements.

GSMG adopted guiding principles for our work: “We want to help everybody feel better. We listen. We engage. We connect. We collaborate. We consider. We create. We share. We create change.” Our CCP project sponsors – Doug Caffrey, Bryan Pashigian and Kelsey Gibby – articulated our goal the best “to create settings in which vegetation is so striking that you can’t help but give it most of your attention… that immediately brings about feelings of calmness, safety, serenity, and receptivity. CCP clients learn that the garden spaces were created through voluntary efforts. They are encouraged because they know we did this for you, because we care about you.” And, indeed, this goal was achieved.

GS Master Gardeners 1– Co-leads: Deborah Hassan and John Zemlan and team members Candace Rende, Cheryl Ghauri, Olga Waters, and Debra Porter

The CCP clients and staff today are enjoying the results of months of work and re-work with a bountiful yield of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, blackberry bushes and more. Mid-stream in the planning, Fairfax County needed to install a sidewalk and fence through the site. The team adapted to the challenges and created raised beds, a trellis, and garden paths by hauling and installing topsoil, compost, wood planks, weed barrier tarp, and wood chips. Team members and others in the community supplemented the modest county funds by donating much of the materials.

The Woodland Meditation Garden

– Co-leads: Lynn Murray and Patty Swain and team members Sara Gillespie, Barbara Mugaas, Lisa Fortune, Paulette Royt

Today, the clients and staff are enjoying a woodland setting with defined alcoves to meditate and practice mindfulness. Logs were relocated to create seating. Different species of shrubs, perennials and ferns were planted that met the researched “eco-savvy” criteria of native, low maintenance and low water so that they may thrive in this partly shaded environment. A group meeting area was created and landscaped with donated hydrangeas, camellias, and azaleas. Ambitious plans to realign one garden perimeter and additional woodland plantings are ready to be implemented when resources are identified. All of this was accomplished through the removal of underbrush, debris, and aggressive greenbrier. The garden is now documented with all trees and plant material identified and cataloged to help staff create mindfulness and gardening education activities.GS Master Gardeners 2

The Sensory Garden

– Co-leads: Christine Bregar and Ruth Nussbaum and team members Holly Miller, Janet Greenhaugh, Karen Stutsman, John Zelman, Sherley Channing, and Anita Johnson

GS Master Gardeners 3The Sensory Garden transformation now gives clients, staff and visitors a respite from the institutional indoor setting and a warm curbside welcome. This garden space provides individual and group seating in outdoor alcoves surrounded by over two dozen varieties of carefully selected plant materials that burst with color and smell. The sensory garden has a diversity of plants which tickle each of our senses: sight – colors; smell – fragrance; sound – grasses; taste – mints and other herbs; touch – soft and prickly; kinetic – swing; tranquility – Zen rake garden. Donated and purchased plant materials were installed after many hours of ground preparation involving GSMG and Fairfax volunteers. The team created a plant identification educational activity that allows the clients to utilize all their senses.

Green Spring Tour Guide

– Co-leads: Nan Bradley and Dori Freudiger and team members David Haase, Jo Burgess-Gorham, Sherley Channing, and Ruth Nussbaum

CCP staff therapists escort small groups of CCP clients to Green Spring Gardens for a field outing. This working group created six self-guided tours of Green Spring to be used by the CCP on their visits. The guides are employing gardening education materials that rival any professionally authored materials. Each guide provides photographs and information of designated garden guideposts, gardening resources, and information and maps. Coloring pages were created for clients to use on their visits, which serve to calm and educate. GSMG volunteered to lead docent tours, but logistics and patient safety and privacy rules hindered the effort. The co-leads presented their work to the entire CCP staff to encourage its use and visits. We will evaluate how we may enhance the client experience in Green Spring Gardens with the CCP staff in the future. The CCP’s limited budget challenged our teams to find creative solutions and encouraged us to do outreach into the community to solicit in-kind contributions within the narrow confines of county rules. Individual community members and GSMGs donated materials and plants, along with Merrifield Gardens, Ports Professional Tree Service, Green Spring Gardens, and the Horticulture Department of the National Gallery of Art. Amy Miller, the CCP On-site Supervisor, noted “we have developed a true Horticultural Center and Glass House Tour partnership between the CCP, Park Authority and community and will reap benefits for years to come.” After all the installation work was completed, each team authored an educational module to be used by the CCP staff with their clients. Each module supported the therapeutic purpose as well as introduced gardening knowledge fulfilling our Master Gardener mission. Co-leads trained the entire CCP staff – almost two dozen – in both garden maintenance and the educational modules. To ensure the gardens will be sustainable, we set out a six-week test to determine if the CCP can maintain the garden spaces.

We learned a lot, most notably how to work together to overcome myriad county requirements and accomplish big goals. The individual leadership of the project co-leads created energy and enthusiasm to serve our community. This in turn created a momentum to inspire and encourage all of GSMG.

Pam Smith summed up this effort the best: “Green Spring Master Gardeners have put their heart, soul and hands into creating a garden space where clients can find comfort and serenity in their time of crisis.”

This article originally appeared in the Green Spring Master Gardeners Newsletter and was written by GSMG Project Co-leads Fred Abbey, Dan Marsick, and Holly Miller.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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