• Redesigned Rooftop Garden for Banfield Pavilion Long-term Care Home at Vancouver General Hospital

    Banfield's main garden was sorely in need of renovation to replace old wooden planters and improve independent accessibility for residents using wheelchairs.

    The community design process was led by horticultural therapist Shelagh Smith, with the assistance of Lindsay Van Huizen's landscape design skills, and included the Banfield community of residents, family members, staff and volunteers.

    Our purpose was to create a long-lasting garden patio that improves the residents’ health and quality of life: a safe, accessible, restorative and engaging garden that supports a variety of organized and spontaneous activities.

    Numerous small group sessions offered creative ways to express design preferences, whether for type of plants, or ways to make the garden more accessible and engaging.

    A garden design survey invited participation from all community members. Volunteers helped by sitting down one-to-one with residents to invite ideas in each resident's language.

  • The completed entrance garden with welcoming sign and garden tools in the shed

  • Looking along the length of the patio. Several resident rooms have a garden view

  • Vertical garden of movable pots, each planted & tended by a resident

  • Part of the central gathering area with a retractable shade awning and subtle evening lighting

  • One of several semi-private seating areas that provide a choice of sun or shade

  • A corner of the Asian garden, with lantern sculpture and hummingbird feeder

  • Collaborative research project between UBC Occupational Therapy Department & a Nonprofit Mental Health Services Organization.

    Lead Researcher: Melinda Suto

    Educator & Facilitator: Shelagh Smith

    For three years, Melinda and Shelagh engaged the community at two sites to steer the project direction and to contribute to sustaining the gardens and the garden programs.

    Full text article: Participation in Community Gardening

  • At both sites, Shelagh led a weekly group session that was educational and social, followed by hands-on gardening with support and more socializing. Site 1: A supported housing site with large raised beds. A seating area, shed and composter were added.

  • The participants learned to grow food plants from seed and seedlings, including edible flowers that attract pollinators. We shared healthy snacks and herbal tea, with increasing responsibility taken by participants.

  • Site 2: A mental health drop-in resource centre rooftop with container-grown plants. Garden program participants, volunteers, peer-support workers and other staff learned, collaborated, and contributed in various ways that engaged their strengths and built their capacities.

  • From Melinda, Lead Researcher: "Shelagh encourages cooperative learning where all gardeners can contribute something: sharing their ideas, asking questions and teaching others.... She was an excellent collaborator on this project."

  • The British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burns and Plastic Surgery Unit on the second floor of the Vancouver General Hospital

    Shelagh conducted individual interviews with patients, visitors and volunteers, and conducted group interviews with staff, to determine their preferred activities and features for this small undeveloped terrace. She included a guided visualisation of their favourite outdoor places, which elicited creative and plentiful responses.

    The results of this participatory design process were shared with a class of landscape architecture students at UBC. Under the direction of landscape architect Elizabeth Watts, each student created a design using the principles of universal design and healing gardens. The design (shown above) by student Avril Woodend was chosen as most appropriate.

  • Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander fine tuned the design and created working drawings.

  • The resulting garden provides patches of shade, a water feature, and includes BC Coast native plants.

  • The western edge of the terrace looks out over tree tops and sunsets. This garden is a verdant oasis compared to the clinical interior of the hospital unit.

  • A post-occupancy survey showed that the garden is beneficial as "an area of relaxation" that "reduces stress." The garden "increases mobility by encouraging patients to leave their rooms."

Participatory Design of a Terrace Garden in an Acute In-Patient Unit

By Shelagh Smith

Shelagh presented her participatory design process for the Burn Unit at an international symposium at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and her paper was included in the symposium proceedings.

  • Landscape Master Plan for Zion Park Manor Long-term Care Home

    Community Design Process: Shelagh Smith

    Landscape Architect: Deborah LeFrank

    Shelagh created a questionnaire, facilitated focus groups and conducted interviews with residents, family and staff. The responses clarified design objectives for nine garden areas, including pathways for strolling, areas for gardening, for recreational programming, for large gatherings, for small group socializing and eating outdoors, for relaxing, viewing nature and watching children play.

  • 5th floor rooftop terrace at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver Centre

    Community Design Process Lead: Shelagh Smith

    Landscape Architect: Colette Parsons

    The terrace had huge raised beds of uninteresting ivy surrounded by gravel that was lower than the pathways, making it challenging for patients using IV poles, walkers or wheelchairs. The goal was to better facilitate ease of movement and user comfort so the terrace could be enjoyed to its full potential as a place of refuge and diversion for the patients, their visitors and the staff.  

  • Shelagh and two team members created colourful lobby displays with photos of a previous project in which they’d led the community in transforming one large bed of ivy into a biodiverse garden. They offered handouts introducing the redesign project and inviting people to take part in the steering committee and in scheduled focus groups.

  • They facilitated interactive activities in the lobby to invite in-the-moment participation. They led focus groups with patients, visitors and staff to get their input into how they’d like to use the terrace and their preferred garden features. Colette Parsons reflected the community input in three choices of designs.

  • The resulting garden has cozy shaded sitting areas interspersed with open-to-the-sky tables and chairs. A firm rubber pathway meanders around the terrace with views of treetops & mountains. Many more trees, shrubs and vines were added in large containers, and a central gathering spot for group meetings is shown in the first photo.

My Community Engagement Approach

Curiosity & goals

I approach any new garden project with curiosity about people, place and potential processes.

My goal is always to co-create a garden or a garden program so that the end users:
• easily take ownership from the start,
• benefit from the process by growing capacity, community, and wellbeing
• willingly take responsibility for maintaining and sustaining what we create together.

Invitation to engage

I find creative, accessible ways to invite all community members to contribute imagination and energy according to their inclinations. I listen with care and appreciation. I have a gentle, sensitive way of inviting, engaging, collaborating, facilitating and leading.

I’m fascinated by different ways of knowing and being, and how to invite people to bring their whole selves as they contribute to a community project.

A fountain of ideas

I’m a muse: a fountain of creative ideas, more so when I have time to connect with nature for inspiration.

Beauty in biodiversity

While I strive to be open to people’s preferences, I have a strong personal preference for gardens and nature areas that are biodiverse and ecologically purposeful. Plants that provide food and habitat for wildlife as well as people, and plants that are culturally useful and personally meaningful are highest on my list.

Flowers are gorgeous & draw the eye. I find just as much beauty in nature’s patterns of growth and flows of energy.

My Professional Bio

Shelagh Smith, HTR, MAEEC

Shelagh inspires healthcare professionals and caregivers to engage with nearby nature for joyfully restorative self-care, and to share this evidence-based practice with their peeps for health promotion and therapeutic intervention.

She's a professionally registered Horticultural Therapist with the CHTA in Canada and the AHTA in the United States, and holds a Masters degree in Environmental Education and Communication.

For 23 years, Shelagh developed and led therapeutic garden programs for care home residents, while supervising and mentoring many students and volunteers. She taught people with mental health challenges how to grow their own food, collaborated on the design of restorative and enabling gardens, and gave 100+ live multi-media presentations and workshops to healthcare, community, and professional organizations.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is her local nature playground, and she loves to paddle remote lakes with her husband, Callum, and cozy up in their tiny Trillium trailer with big window views.