Patients Help Start Healing Garden at City of Hope OC's Irvine Cancer Care Center

Published on May 11, 2022

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(Orange County Register)

The first plants for a “healing garden” will be dug into the ground Wednesday at the City of Hope’s new Orange County oncology center, laying the groundwork for a tranquil oasis for its patients and staff that will be lush with varieties that also carry potential medicinal benefits for people undergoing cancer treatment.

Donning aprons and gardening gloves, patients and their families will help workers from Lowe’s – the home improvement company donated $1 million for the garden’s creation – in planting the species chosen because they are native to California or have health value, such as peppermint and lavender. The new garden that will decorate City of Hope Orange County’s new 11-acre campus in Irvine.

Walking paths and benches will complete the garden, providing a place for those getting treatment inside the cancer center to slip away and be surrounded by nature.

People will be able to sit in the shade and “appreciate the beauty, appreciate the quiet, ” City of Hope Orange County President Annette Walker said.

The garden, a popular spot at its Duarte campus, provides people, she said, “with another element of care that makes them more hopeful, more ready to face whatever they are dealing with. And maybe, even more celebratory, because many people will be cured in this building.”

It’s one example of City of Hope’s efforts to create a holistic care experience for patients, said Dr. Richard Lee, director of the center’s integrative medicine program.

The 190,000-square-foot outpatient center under construction first – it is expected to be ready later this summer – also features floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views of the mountains on the floor reserved for those receiving infusion treatment and elements of feng shui are being incorporated into designs.

“There’s research that when you provide these types of healing environments,” Lee said, “it really helps calm them down and provides a better environment for them to de-stress and to feel more relaxed and at peace.”

Walker said along with native plants that should thrive in the local climate, the plant mix was chosen so there would always be something blooming.

And, more than 30 of the hand-chosen selections have possible medicinal benefits.

Some research shows peppermint may help alleviate nausea or gastrointestinal issues, Lee said, while lavender “has been associated with relaxation properties,” he added.

Lee’s focus on integrative cancer treatment aims to combine traditional medical practices with alternative approaches, such as acupuncture or the use of natural plants, “interweaving them together as part of the whole cancer journey,” he said.

Often, patients undergoing cancer treatment aren’t aware that many are derived from plants, which continue “to be a great source of new medicine,” Lee said. “At City of Hope, we have researchers like myself and others who are actively looking at plants as a source for drug discovery.”

He sees the garden as “a great kind of intersection” of a being a healing space and representing “City of Hope’s pioneering research to discover new medicines to treat cancer.”

The outpatient cancer center and an adjacent hospital being built on the Irvine campus, near the Great Park, are part of City of Hope’s $1 billion investment in Orange County, which began in 2020 with the opening of a Newport Beach facility. Leaders of the Duarte-based company have said the expansion will help alleviate commutes for cancer patients who, right now, travel hours seeking cancer treatment.

Also being adopted from its Duarte campus are “wishing trees,” which started with the donation of cherry trees by the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and the sharing of the tradition of tying tags with wishes to their branches.

In Irvine, City of Hope is planting strawberry trees in honor of the area’s agricultural roots. Visitors will be welcome to hang a wish whenever they would like, Walker said.

“They flutter in the breeze,” she said, “City of Hope patients immediately recognize them.”

More gardens will be added later around the hospital building as well, Walker said.

And they will also be used at times to host community events, she added. “These will be highly trafficked parts of the campus.”


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