Children's Hospital, Prouty defenders agree: New garden is 'completely different'

When Boston Children’s Hospital demolished the beloved Prouty Garden to build a new inpatient building, executives promised that green space would return to the property.

On Monday, the first of five new gardens at the hospital opened to patients, as sick children were welcomed into a 8,000-square-foot space situated on top of the hospital’s main building on Longwood Avenue.

Hospital executives say the five gardens in total will be about 25 percent larger than the 23,000-square-foot Prouty Garden, which was demolished in preparation for Boston Children’s $636 million, 11-story new clinical building.

But executives aren’t claiming the hospital’s first foray into new green spaces is a replacement for the Prouty, which featured giant trees and natural wildlife as a secluded natural nook amongst the city’s tall buildings. The new garden is intended as a more modern space that overlooks the city and beyond.

“They are completely different,” said Lisa Hogarty, vice president of real estate planning and development at Boston Children’s. “It has incredible views of Boston, the types of plant material and the way the spaces have been designed are incredible and very thoughtful. I think it’s different. But the feedback we’ve been getting … when you come out of the elevator lobby and see the garden, there were gasps — and I’m not exaggerating — of delight.”

The other four planned gardens consist of a 14,000-square-foot Olive and Olivia Prouty Wishing Stone garden planned for land around the new building; a 3,700-square-foot rooftop garden on the top of the Hale Family Clinical Building; and two smaller, interior gardens in the Hale building totaling 3,500-square-feet.

Opponents of the project have fought to stall the construction and rebuild Prouty Garden, which was demolished starting in late 2016. In a blog post, the Friends of the Prouty Garden wrote that the new space lacked the immersive and serene quality of the old one.

“There are certain characteristics that every therapeutic healing garden must contain, and even rooftop gardens can have these features,” the Friends of the Prouty Garden group wrote on their website. “Things like: being serene, soothing and quiet in every sense. This garden has little shade, and visitors must content with sun, wind, and the noise of helicopters landing nearby.”

The group is still trying to stop the project, filing a suit in Massachusetts Appeals Court in February that appeals a Suffolk Superior Court dismissal of their case in which they sought to overturn the state’s approval of the project.

Despite the ongoing opposition, the hospital touts the first rooftop garden as a feat of engineering. Over 18 months, all the major building mechanical systems elsewhere on the roof were relocated, and a seven-foot high roof deck was built above the top of the building to allow for the necessary drainage.

The garden features shade sails adorned with patient artwork, and designers made the wood deck out of a Brazilian hardwood that grows back so quickly the material is considered sustainable. The mulch is made from recycled plastic, which is safe for immunocompromised children. The 12-foot glass panels offer 360-degree views of the city, and wheelchair-height binoculars let patients explore the city around the hospital.

“It’s hard to create these small niche spaces,” Hogarty said. “(This is available) for a family that wants to come up and have lunch, or a patient in the hospital or stretcher could come up and it creates nice enough privacy for the family to feel like the space is their own. At the centerpiece is a lovely grass mound.”

The new clinical building, which won't be completed until 2021 or 2022, will house the four other planned gardens. In the meantime, the hospital hopes the new rooftop garden acts as an ellipses to the Prouty — marking the beginning of change that will hopefully still be a restful place.

“The Prouty was what it was – a beautiful enclave,” Hogarty said. “But in this space the views are breathtaking. You can even see the cruise ships come into the harbor.”