Emmaline's Blog

A different garden

The plainest summary I can give of what it's like in the Peter Mac (subjectively, emotionally, and with all disclaimers claimed) is to compare the art collection and the sensory garden.

The art collection is kind of breathtaking. I'm forever trundling along some dank corridor and then catching my breath over some immediately recognisable and shockingly expensive painting. I don't know the history of the collection, but there are doctors who are seriously proud of and inspired by it. It's a well proportioned addition to an institution with 2500 staff, including 400 researchers, soon expanding to 600 researchers. It's fitting that they spend a tiny fraction of the budget on an art collection that is ambitious, substantial and sneakily flamboyant.

On the other hand, there is the 'sensory garden' on the upper ground floor. It's situated on a very exposed rooftop with no obvious patient access, outside the windows, next to the lifts. It's a cluster of small, faded, plastic pots, sitting on concrete. There is no suggestion of design, no structure, no actual soil, no irrigation, no consideration of methods to support life in an environment that is simply too harsh. And did I mention that the plants are almost universally artificial, save a couple of anaemic spider plants? To me that pretty much destroys any possibility of the 'garden' being 'sensory'. I've had more fun in a cigarette butt filled council planting next to a busy road.

So someone was inspired to declare the existence of a 'sensory garden', perhaps even imagining it as an aspect of 'treating the whole person', but the reality is that that the people who might build or maintain such a thing are relentlessly busy, under-resourced, overwhelmed, grief-filled, burnt-out, devastated, tired. A thousand forms of all of those things. And the upshot of a project that is being managed that badly is that it undoes itself. It's like a list of tasks that should be small and domestic but which has become chaotic and hideous. The claim that it's a 'sensory garden' when that is so far from the raw physical truth is a declaration - in effect - of a much more forceful point about death, neglect, futility, abandonment. It's a more articulate bit of installation art than the things in frames that cost the dollars.

That is how it feels. Sparkling conversations with highly trained doctors. Squalor and desolation in crowded, dirty wards. I wrote a post that described what actually happened to me, but honestly, who needs to read that? I had chemo and I went home.


NB: Rainer and I, of course, leapt spontaneously into a disarmingly detailed conversation about fixing the sensory garden of death. Fundraising, design, irrigation, reinforcing, maintenance roster and so on. But the hospital is moving in 2016, and we, well you know, we have two little girls and I keep on being sick. So I'm hoping someone fixes the situation at the new campus or else I will get off my sick bed and do it myself, vengefully. Make a goddam peaceful garden for them.

Rainer, I am so glad that we both love plants xxxx.