published Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Memorial doctors tend rooftop healing garden

Memorial Hospital's newly updated rooftop Healing Garden is located on the fourth floor of the facility.
Memorial Hospital's newly updated rooftop Healing Garden is located on the fourth floor of the facility.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Dr. Charles Portera Sr. knows medicine and plants.

The retired oncologist, along with his wife, Mary, is the originator of the Bluff View sculpture garden.

Last spring, Dr. Portera and Dr. John Boxell, another retired physician, put their knowledge to work on the rooftop garden at Memorial Hospital’s Glenwood campus.

“The gardens have been up there for quite a while,” Portera said. “They’re a great asset to the hospital.”

The rooftop layout, which features four sets of tables and chairs and five benches, is one of several healing gardens the hospital has provided as part of its Arts Medicine program.

Such a spot, Portera said, can add to the healing process and certainly provides a respite for family members and hospital staff.

“It’s very conducive to have patients to come up there,” he said. “[In the garden], you can see it in their eyes. It breaks up 24 hours of looking at four walls, at television. I think they really enjoy that.”

For family members, Portera said, the garden takes them out of hours of waiting rooms and bedside vigils.

“They’re expecting the patient to be better,” he said. “Sometimes they are; sometimes they’re the same. It’s a place to go sit and relax and see something beautiful. It gives them a little enjoyment through the day.”

Richard and Elsie Bell of Ringgold, Ga., were visiting his sister in the hospital’s Medical Intensive Care Unit recently and said they occasionally had taken advantage of the adjacent garden.

“It’s one of the nicest areas they have,” he said. “We like it.”

“We’ve spent more time [in the hospital] than we’d like to,” she said.

Staff members, according to Dr. Portera, also have told him they enjoy the space.

“They go through a lot,” he said. “It’s an uplift for them.”

Last spring, though, weather damaged the permanent plants in the fourth-floor space, Dr. Portera said.

In May, Dr. Portera, Dr. Boxell and several Bluff View Art District employees took a day to remove plants from their pots, add soil, rework the root system, re-pot them and add water and fertilizer.

Among the permanent plants there are pines and holly.

“Holly is beautiful as long as it’s healthy and vibrant,” Dr. Portera said. “When it loses its color, it’s not such a pretty plant. We trimmed those up and took out the dead spots.”

They also added begonias and wave petunias for color.

Since then, he and Dr. Boxell have occasionally returned to water and police the plants.

“It’s still a volunteer garden,” he said. “It’s been very well maintained [by volunteers] since we put in the last group of flowers.”

Dr. Portera said he’s always been interested in lawn care and said two Master Gardener courses he took several years ago helped immensely.

“I owe an awful lot to them,” he said. “They’ll help you in any way possible. I highly recommend them.”

In a few weeks, Dr. Portera said, he and Dr. Boxell will return for a fall sprucing up at the rooftop garden and plant pansies and other flowers that will weather the winter.

“I’m more than glad to do it,” he said. “It’s adding a little bit of beauty there and certainly has been a joy to take part in.”

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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