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Posted by Foulkeways at Gwynedd on 01/10/2020

Dreams Do Come True

Dreams  Do Come True

By Elmer Smith

Katherine, “Kitty,” Baker never got to see her dream garden. She never walked along the broad, foliage-lined paths that cut through the serene setting. She was never regaled by the birds or comforted by the soothing sounds of the gurgling fountains. The bucolic 

garden that was made possible by Kitty’s generosity and designed with her concerns in mind was still a dream two years ago when the longtime resident of Foulkeways at Gwynedd died just weeks short of her 100th birthday.

But this is not a sad story! Those who stroll through the Dream Garden, relax on the deck that overlooks it, or view it from the window of one of the personal care apartments that border it are all living Kitty’s dream.  The Dream Garden is part of the Abington House North, the new personal care community at Foulkeways.  However, as staffers who enjoyed the fall foliage during an impromptu pizza party on the deck can attest, the Dream Garden is a gift to the entire Foulkeways family.

“It was meant to be interesting for any user,” said Tom McLane of McLane associates, the Scranton-based landscape architect who was the principal designer. “But it also needed to be very easy to navigate for people who may have experienced 

some mental health or physical decline.”

“When I spoke with Mary Knapp [Foulkeways’ health services director], she made it very clear that she wanted it to be secure but accessible to Alzheimer’s patients who crave solitude,” McLane explained. “She also wanted to make sure that it would work for people with limited vision. But her main goal was that it would be secure enough so that Alzheimer’s patients could roam around outside without a lot supervision.”

Mary Knapp said the idea of a secure walking space for dementia 

patients who have a tendency to wander had been marinating with her since an experience she had with a patient a few years back.  

“He had dementia,” Mary Knapp recalled. “He had left his personal care apartment.  I was following him as he headed back. I remember thinking, ‘Why is there no secure outdoor space where he could walk without having someone like me following him?’”

When she heard about Kitty Baker’s generous bequest, Mary started to connect the dots. “I went to our fund development person and asked if we could use some of those funds to build a garden,” she said. “They thought it was a wonderful idea.”

And that’s how Kitty Baker’s Dream Garden became the latest element in an evolving treatment protocol at Foulkeways that seeks to minimize the stigma that some patients and family members endure in secured areas.

“We used to have a secure, locked community for some dementia patients. It was commonly used in the industry for patients who were a risk to wander off,” Knapp recalled. “But we felt it was isolating and stigmatizing.  People used to say, ‘That’s where you go when you lose it.’ We decided to have universal dementia care, so that our residents could roam anywhere on our campus, which has a very large footprint.”

 “The Dream Garden is part of the overall universal care initiative. It’s gated but we have the ability to use a bracelet with a sensor if a patient is a wandering risk.  They can’t unlock an outside doorway or access an elevator,” Knapp explained.

Another concern, Knapp said, was that the space be safe for people who have trouble walking or have visual impairments.“The Dream Garden was a health services initiative,” she noted. “We were responsible for design and implementation. Our health services team wanted walkways that were wheelchair accessible. We wanted white pathways, which are easier to see for people with macular degeneration. No blacktop.”

ps. The oversized deck is built flush with the path to make it accessible to walkers and wheelchairs and to prevent missteps by the visually impaired.  

 McLane’s team of designers and landscapers managed to accommodate a range of therapeutic and security concerns without marring the aesthetics of design.  To the casual observer, the space is impressive for the balance of evergreens and flowering shrubs that bloom in sequence, creating a landscape that evolves with the seasons.

“We had some direction from the residents’ open space committee,” said McLane. “They wanted lots of color and the more seasonal change the better. They wanted us to use native plants as much as possible.”  

“We used some tall plantings as a focal point,” McLane explained. “For instance, in the middle of the first intersection off the deck is a blue-atlas cedar. It’s a North African evergreen with bluish green leaves that are less dense than native evergreens. They allow more light to come through. It’s meant to be a striking contrast with the liriope, a purplish ground cover that grows almost like fur.”

McLane went on to explain the theme of the Dream Garden’s design, which is “a journey.” He said, “We placed rest stops along the path where people can sit by the fountains or by these large, vertical sculptures.  A Japanese Maple that is planted above the fountain is a main focal point that can be seen from both directions.”  

Even while following a theme, the design team always considered accessibility, McLane noted. “Part of the idea is that the journey comes with familiar landmarks, so it’s not confusing to people with dementia,” he said. 

McLane also collaborated with the Baker family, which donated three, large sculptures in addition to overseeing a personal bequest of more than $1 million, which Kitty Baker left to help offset construction of Abington House North.

“We decided that we would select just three sculptures from their collection,” he recalled.  “We didn’t want to turn it into a sculpture garden. They are meant to be rest stops.” 

The sculptures now serve as natural places to stop and smell the roses, enjoy the relaxing cadence of a waterfall or just to feel a gentle breeze on your face.

“Kitty” would be pleased. 

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