Lynn Sinclair-Smith

Lynn is the organizing and fundraising brains behind the Friendship Gardens, the vast network of trees, shrubs and flowers that grace the hospital grounds.

November 25, 2015 | | Local Heroes

Lynn Sinclair-Smith: One of our 2015 Local Heroes

The Healing Gardener

If you’ve spent time at Headwaters Health Care Centre as either a patient or visitor, you may have taken a soothing stroll through its lush, well-maintained gardens. Or looked out a window to see birds or butterflies flutter past.

If so, you have Lynn Sinclair-Smith to thank for those moments.

Lynn Sinclair-Smith tends the Friendship Gardens. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Lynn Sinclair-Smith tends the Friendship Gardens. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Lynn is the organizing and fundraising brains behind the Friendship Gardens, the vast network of trees, shrubs and flowers that grace the hospital grounds. Lynn and a team of volunteers dug the first bed in 1997, and now hundreds of trees and about a dozen distinct garden areas later, it’s high time to acknowledge Lynn as a local hero.

On a recent drizzly fall day, Lynn greets me inside the hospital’s front doors to show me around. She’s in stocking feet.

The tireless gardener is otherwise dressed for the outdoors in a hat and rugged gardening gear. The reason for the missing boots? She doesn’t want to track dirt inside and make more work for the cleaning staff. Fellow gardeners and friends may recognize this trademark selflessness.

As we walk through the building to retrieve Lynn’s boots, it’s already clear she is not one to make hay out of her efforts here. She’s careful both to highlight the work of others, and as in the case of the floors, to respect their work by not adding to it.

Our first stop is just short of the cafeteria, to look out the window at a garden Lynn’s friend, expert gardener Liz Knowles, designed and planted in 2007. Noting it is still vibrant with swaying grasses and fall bulbs, Lynn is delighted to mention that Liz is committed to tending this garden indefinitely, as well as a second one she created.

“It’s all about the volunteers,” says Lynn. As much as she can be a six-day-a-week fixture here from spring to fall, she needs help. And she is particularly good at drawing hard-working volunteers and donors to her cause, including individuals and community groups such as the Lions and Monday Night at the Movies. Businesses such as Home Depot, TD and Scotiabank have also responded with a variety of donations, including cash, trees, building equipment and staff volunteers.

In an era when public health budgets are tight, pretty gardens may seem like an aesthetic bonus, not a necessity. But stories from patients and staff alike about how the gardens provide a comforting spot where they can pause to help relieve the stress of a health crisis – one garden was even a wedding venue for a woman whose mother was in the hospital – compel Lynn to keep digging, weeding and watering.

She was once a patient in the old Orangeville hospital – in a room without a view. “I would have loved a garden. To me, that’s life,” she says of the power of a garden.

Once outside, she readily describes her current obsessions, including a better system for watering the site’s many trees. Young trees were waterbagged during this year’s dry summer, and Lynn and volunteers lugged hoses to get to as many others as possible. In the cards for 2016 is a water tank, which Lynn’s husband Bruce will load onto his truck so she can drive from tree to tree to make watering easier. It’s news she shares like a giddy child at Christmas.

We visit the lush green Serenity Garden, usually visible only from inside through a wall of windows near the intensive care unit. Then there’s the lighthearted Kids’ Garden and the breathtaking Healing Wheel of Trees, a drystone-walled garden perfect for quiet contemplation.

Lynn has made it her mission to ensure every room in the hospital enjoys a garden vignette that not only stars flora but also attracts birds, butterflies and bees. “I’ve been into every patient room,” she says. “Everyone has something to look out to. It’s alive with life.”

Four Seasons featuring eight contemporary stained-glass windows. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Four Seasons featuring eight contemporary stained-glass windows. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Exceptions used to be the critical care and stepdown units, where the windows look north toward Highway 9 and a parking area. Lynn organized a privately funded art installation that celebrates the outdoors. Created by Toronto glass artists (and sisters) Jane and Kathryn Irwin, the installation is called Four Seasons and features eight contemporary stained-glass windows.

Another passion project is the two “nature gardens” on the north and south slopes of the hospital site where the marshy grounds meet highways 9 and 10.

More rugged and hardy than the manicured gardens close to the building, these landscapes, which include more than 200 newly planted native shrubs and saplings, are designed not only to add interest to a bland stretch of lawn, but also to stand up to the winds, pollution, rain runoff and spray from winter road salt that comes with the territory. If this blustery October day is any indication, these plantings have their work cut out for them. Yet under the watch of their devoted caregiver, they are already thriving.

On our way back inside, we duck under an arbour. Talk turns to the trusty plants that are lovingly repeated throughout the property – sturdy hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, butterfly bushes, bird-attracting serviceberries and handsome maples among them.

These stalwarts, Lynn says, “are the backbone of the garden.”

Of course, the same could be said of Lynn.

More Info

Interested in helping out?

Visit friendshipgardens.ca.

About the Author More by Tralee Pearce

Tralee Pearce is an associate editor of In The Hills Magazine.

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