The Chekhov Healing Garden
The Chekhov Healing Garden is conceived by the Anton Chekhov Foundation as a welcoming and tranquil place of beauty where patients, as well as medical personnel, can take respite from the hospital environment. Its collection of medicinal plants will be used as a low-cost source of natural medicine.
Anton Chekhov is world famous for his literary works. However, equally deserving of recognition is his active involvement in humanitarian causes. Everywhere he lived, Chekhov worked to alleviate problems of disenfranchised, uneducated and poor. The never-ending stream of grateful patients, visitors and friends, and hundreds of letters attest to how much he was respected and admired for his charitable work. He was also an avid gardener.
As his writing demonstrates, Anton Chekhov was most deeply inspired by the beauties of the natural environment. And he was keenly aware of the practical benefits of gardens. As an impoverished young man living in a cramped apartment in Moscow, he jumped at the chance to create flower beds during summers spent at friends’ country estate. Later, when his earnings allowed, he purchased an under-developed country estate in Melikhovo, where together with his father, he took on improving the existing grounds and planting new gardens and orchards. Finally, nearing the age of 40, and in ailing health, he settled in Yalta, Crimea. Starting from a tabula rasa, he planned and planted a garden as a reflection of all his experiences and interests. We are using these ideas in the design of the Healing Garden.
Healing Gardens: a place of restoration
In recent years, Healing or Therapeutic Gardens have been appearing all over the world. Adjoining health centres or hospitals, they are called to provide physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits to people in need of such support. The tradition of a garden as a restorative space can be traced back to medieval monasteries, where cloistered walks and herb gardens provided both the spirit and substance needed for healing. While most people have personal experience of sustaining and invigorating powers of the nature, recently these observations have received evidence-based support, for instance in the work of Dr. Roger Ulrich of Texas A&M University. He has proved that exercise, a sense of control, social support and natural stimuli lead to reduced stress and anxiety, which in turn speeds up the healing process.
Garden design ideas
We want to highlight the most prominent ideas of Chekhov’s gardens, while adapting them to the needs of a hospital and its patients. Intertwining and branching off, these elements give the Healing Garden its structure, and we expect them to develop with additional facets of Chekhov’s life and as the garden grows and matures.
Celebration of a life
The Chekhov Healing Garden will feature plants which had a special meaning to him. Of course, most people associate Chekhov’s name with the tree featured in the title of his most famous play, The Cherry Orchard. His Melikhovo garden featured exotic species which he brought back from his trip to the Far East, while in his letters he mentions lilacs, azaleas and other plants his admirers gave him, knowing his passion for new varieties. In his garden in Yalta he planted a birch tree, a reminder of his Melikhovo days.
We also want to use some of the ideas Chekhov brought about in his gardens. In Sumy, he planted a large flower bed, creating his host’s initials, A. V. L., out of purslane. In Yalta, he placed throughout the garden a number of benches, including the now famous Gorky bench, where he and his many visitors could sit.
Chekhov valued the practical aspects of growing plants. At Melikhovo he stocked the kitchen garden with new varieties of herbs and vegetables to introduce them to local farmers. In Yalta, the new garden was to have a fruit and vegetable plot in addition to the decorative garden.
Building on the idea of practicality, we propose to stock the Healing Garden with a variety of popular medicinal herbs. These can be used to make teas and infusions to treat minor ailments. Examples of popularly used plants that can be grown in the Healing Garden are: chamomile, mint, salvia, calendula, rose (for hips as well as petals), tansies, and mallow.
Colour and variety
Chekhov wanted the best, newest and brightest flower varieties in his Yalta garden. He amassed ample collections of roses, lilies, phloxes, chrysanthemums and bulb plants. Because of this flower diversity, his Yalta garden is now known as “the garden of perpetual bloom”. In warm months, Chekhov’s favourite flowers will provide the continuity of colour; in winter, it is still possible to bring visual interest and even blooms in winter garden, with plants like Cornus, conifers, birch trees, hellebores, and snowdrops. If funding and infrastructure permit, we also would like to install a small greenhouse, to house warm-climate plants and serve as a meeting place.
One way to emphasize plant variety and medicinal value, as well as promote a sense of well-being, is by means of creating a Scented Garden. Most pleasant-smelling plants, such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, rose, melissa, etc, have high levels of essential oils, and thus medicinal properties. Growing plants on raised beds will allow the patients to interact with plants and experience their aromas. If possible, we also hope to create an environment where patients can do some light gardening themselves.
Knowing his passion for gardening, people often brought Chekhov plants, and he mentions such occasions in his letters with delight. Undoubtedly, he shared seedlings from his garden as well. It will then be fitting for the Healing Garden to include a community garden area, where people can propagate and grow the varieties they bring in, and later take home with them when they leave the hospital.
The garden will also have interpretive signs, identifying the plants and insects, as well as their medicinal properties, cultural significance, and their place in Chekhov’s works. The garden can be further developed to include a family-friendly area, to be used by children visiting their parents at the hospital, such as a butterfly garden and a playground.