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Building a flower garden to honor a beautiful soul

September 24, 2008

It was a Sunday afternoon in mid-June of 2002, a day so hot that the only ones staying cool were the colorful fish in the pond in front of the Western Maryland Hospital Center.

Despite the heat, a crowd of well-wishers came out to help dedicate what was then the latest "therapeutic garden" championed by the late Linn Hendershot.

Because of the effort begun by Hendershot and Phares Bitikofer, then the director of respiratory therapy, patients had a wheelchair-accessible place in which to contemplate the beauty of nature.

Now another group of volunteers is planning a garden on the hospital grounds that will be a memorial to Hendershot, the former Hagerstown Councilman and civic activist who died May 1.

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The group is headed by Will Godwin, a member of the Washington County Master Gardeners.

Godwin said the new garden will be located on the road that runs behind the hospital.

Using labor that will be donated on Oct. 1, the "Day of Caring" for United Way of Washington County, Godwin said the idea is to plant a perennial flower garden.

Godwin said the plants used will be of varying heights, creating five "steps," so that even when the flowers aren't in bloom, "the leaf colors and shapes will still be attractive," he said.

A design was completed in July 2007. The completed work, called "Flora Place," will be elaborate, containing 25 different flowering plants and shrubs.

"We have about half of them," Godwin said, adding that donations will be gratefully accepted.

"We'll take anything people will give us," he said.

His one caveat is that the donated plants must be hardy.

"And everything we put up there has got to be low-maintenance," he said.

"Antietam Tree donated plants for the hedge," he said. Godwin said they're an arborvitae variety known as Emerald Green that was developed in Ireland.

There will also be a perennial border, from a design done for the old Crockett's Victory Garden TV show.

And there will be a monument to Hendershot himself, attached to a boulder that was donated by the Churchey Group, a local contractor.

Godwin said that the boulder was chosen so that in the event that the hospital needed the ground for some other purpose in the future, the big rock - and its tribute to Hendershot - could be moved.

According to Godwin, the project will be done in stages. First will come the plantings, followed by the fabrication of the plaque.

Then, he said, there will be a paved walkway so that patients in wheelchairs can roll up to look at the plaque and view the garden close up. When that's done, the group hopes to add a bench there.

In all, the project will cost about $5,000, Godwin said. Of that, about $1,500 has been raised so far, including a $600 gift from MIHI - Many Individuals Helping Individuals.

Besides Godwin, other Master Gardeners who've worked on the project include Tuba Greenfield, Gary Fulmer, Peggy Judge, Cynthia Holzapfel and Sue Ross.

Additional volunteers include: Julia James, Marshall Street School, Beth Iseminger, Al Werking and the Boy Scouts' Order of the Eagle. Leadership Washington County is also expected to participate.

Over the years, I have visited the Western Maryland Hospital Center many times. As caring as the staff is, to be a patient there is to spend a lot of time looking at an institutional landscape.

And as cheered as I am by the sight of a blooming flower or a well-designed garden, I am sure that for someone with limited mobility, the experience is much more significant and no doubt more enjoyable.

Hendershot, who never let his own physical ailments distract him from helping others better their lives, would be proud, I think, that he will be remembered as a part of a project built for the enjoyment of the patients for whom he advocated for so long.

If you would like to help, call Cindy Shaffer, the hospital's volunteer coordinator, at 301-745-4650. The hospital's auxiliary is a 501 (c) 3 organization and your contribution to the project may be tax deductible.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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