Jean C. Holler
Contemplation Garden

West Fairmount Park
(Philadelphia County) PA

Serene garden provides respite for cancer patients and their loved ones.

The Wellness Community of Philadelphia provides services and programs for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Located at the historic Ridgeland Mansion in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, the nonprofit organization's programs "incorporate the mind working with the body in promoting wellness, peace, and possible recovery." The bucolic setting of the mansion is now complemented by a garden that is both simple in layout and rich in detailing.

The brainchild of board cochair Jill Durovsik, for whose mother it is named, the garden includes several wooden trellisses, a curving brick walkway, gravel path, ample seating, an enchanting water feature, and well-chosen plantings. The concept plan was created by Landscape Architect Peta Raabe, a breast cancer survivor. She introduced Composite principal Michael LoFurno, also a Landscape Architect, to the Wellness Community, and they chose Composite to prepare construction documents and install the garden in 2001.

After a series of meetings with staff and volunteers from the Garden Committee, Composite refined plans and readied for construction. With assistance from C. Caramanico & Sons, Composite undertook the garden implementation by first regrading the site to provide the level formal area desired by program administrators. Over five feet of soil was placed at the far end of the garden and the bed for the long curving path to it was cut in to blend with the existing sloping lawn.

Composite's LoFurno and Mark Paronish salvaged antique bricks and flagstone onsite and throughout the city that would complement the historic nature of the property. Nearly six thousand bricks were laid, by hand, to create the path that curves gracefully from the driveway to the lower garden. Paronish says the reuse of materials is in keeping with the firm's commitment to the environment. In fact, much of the subbase for the walk and path is crushed, recycled concrete.

Two cedar gateways were constructed onsite and a large cedar pergola (24 feet long) marks the end of the garden area. Each is indirectly illuminated at night. Flowering roses and passionflower vines grow on each.

Sitting on one of the ten wooden benches that flank the formal lawn area, one can hear the calming bubbling of a granite fountain. Water wells up inside the rusticated stone, then disappears into a bed of river rock. Vireos, catbirds, and warblers that nest in the adjacent woods have been known to make the garden their own whenever they can. Plantings of native hawthorn, river birch, viburnum, sweetspire, chokeberry, fothergilla, and native perennials and groundcovers were especially chosen to provide food and habitat for wildlife. The rectangular lawn and the path of crushed red stone that surround it seem restful and soothing.

Often friends or family members find their way to the garden where they sit in one of the many benches and find solace. Tai Chi is performed on the lawn area. Every week, participants in the "Mind/Body Workshops" make their way along the path in single file, feeling the gravel crunch beneath their feet, aware of the fountain's soft murmur and the singing of the birds, getting control, once again, of their lives which have been so disrupted by the cancer in their bodies. It is for each of them that this garden was conceived, designed, and built.

One participant, Judi Gerstl, was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer (1 June 2001), "You feel connected to the entire scheme of things. . .and all of these sounds you acknowledge in meditation -- the birds and the water and even the scents -- because that comes into play as you meditate. . . .It's so extraordinary to be in a place that is so peaceful, and to me quite spiritual."

Contributions to help maintain the garden or establish a memorial can be made to the Wellness Community of Philadelphia at 215-879-7733 or

Composite Inc provides landscape design and construction services for projects that range from intimate gardens to large-scale developments and greenways.

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