Preservation Notes: Spring Gardens 4-29-22

This version of Preservation Notes takes us to Hill Center’s grounds, restored to their original glory.

I have been waiting long for this spring song.”
                                     –Langston Hughes*
The last two years have seemed like a long winter, and there’s no better place to experience spring than among the daffodils, Lenten roses and columbine in the Hill Center gardens. “Everyone should spend early spring in the garden,” says Lisa Delplace, CEO of the landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden (OvS) which developed the garden plan. “It’s a glorious time to be there.”
In 2007 when the Old Naval Hospital Foundation plan for Hill Center was accepted by the city, the grounds of the historic building were overgrown and under cared for. “When I first saw the grounds, it was pretty dire,” Delplace says. “It was very sad to see such a storied building fall into that kind of disrepair.”
Delplace researched landscape movements of the late 1800s when the Old Naval Hospital was built and found them to be “more restorative, less rigid, more romantic.” It was seen as important for people’s health, she says, to be outside. “We really wanted to bring that feeling back to Hill Center.”
Old photos show the building nestled among majestic trees, consistent with a romantic landscape. The many stately trees – ash, elm, oak – had not been well maintained and most were lost. Trees are being replanted although ash bore and Dutch elm disease have left oaks as the most viable replacements. Both Delplace and Hill Center hope a canopy will develop over time. 
OvS wanted the gardens to be a place people could come and sit and divided the area into what Delplace calls “garden rooms” that can be used for a variety of activities. “All spaces were created for people who wanted to be in the garden, who want to sit and get away from the city for a while,” she said. “It’s the favorite place for people in our office to go to lunch or sketch.”
Delplace applied the OvS philosophy to Hill Center’s garden plan: a four-season garden that is beautiful year-round. The only exception is a rain garden near the entrance to reflect current thinking about sustainability. “We wanted an exuberant landscape and a dynamic spring show,” she said. 
The show starts with the blooming of the 26,000 daffodil bulbs planted by Hill Center staff and volunteers. A dedicated group of volunteers led by David MacKinnon does routine maintenance – pruning, weeding, cutting back spent flowers. A professional firm mows the lawn, mulches and does spring and fall cleanup.
Despite all the tender loving care, however, some of the garden has become unexpectedly expensive to maintain. The grounds have been, in Delplace’s words, “so well loved” that they’ve become almost threadbare each year. “By the end of the summer, the highly trafficked grounds look a little ragged,” she said. The sod has been replaced several times and the ground aerated and soil prepared to receive it.  
The shady east garden has been so well loved by super soccer stars, wedding guests and attendees of other special events that resodding is likely to become a yearly expense. While popular use of the grounds is exactly what Hill Center hoped for, the attendant costs were unanticipated.
After 10 years, we know what it takes to maintain these glorious grounds that are a living asset to Hill Center. Our operating income is enough for all routine garden expenses. There are, however, unforeseen costs of such well-loved grounds.
That’s why we’ve established the John Franzén Preservation Endowment. Based on a thorough professional study of the building’s future capital needs, we know the endowment, once fully funded, will generate enough investment income to guarantee Hill Center’s first-rate preservation and upkeep for generations to come. 
*In honor of National Poetry Month

Bonny Wolf
Board Member
Old Naval Hospital Foundation

Dedicated to John Franzén and Donna Scheeder, past presidents of the Old Naval Hospital board of directors. Their legacy lives on in our hearts and through our passion to impact those that will follow in our footsteps.

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