Apr 29, 2019


by Dave Powlen

Garden for the Soul

I have had a hand in designing many types of spaces in my 30-year career – from 100-acre corporate campuses, to schools, to urban plazas in the heart of Uptown. But it is this small 3,000 square foot garden at the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte that has made the greatest impact on me and the community it serves.

The House contacted us in 2014 to help design a space, a garden, that could be used by their guests as an Oasis during their stay.  “The Healing Garden”, as it came to be known, is a restoration space for families of children who are seeking treatment for injuries or illnesses at nearby medical facilities. It is a place to be reflective, a place of solace after a long day at the hospital, a place of remembrance for those whose lives were lost battling an illness and, as the name suggests, a place of healing.

The Garden includes vine-covered pergolas, butterfly bushes, a small waterfall fountain and statues that stimulate the imagination. The garden is designed as a series of small “rooms” incorporating benches where families can gather to pray or talk and at the center of the space is an arbor-covered porch swing.

This is where you’ll find 14-year old Sydney McCurry.

Sydney is defined by a warm, loving, playful personality, her love for music and her need to sing. A few years ago, Sydney was diagnosed with cancer and the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte has become her home away from home. And while the house itself provides Sydney a place to lay her head at night, it’s the swing in the garden that is Sydney’s favorite spot. THIS is HER spot where she goes to escape…to be alone, to listen to music and, as she puts it in this letter, “to sing loudly”.

Sydney’s story serves as a reminder to me, why I got into this profession in the first place.  To design places that will impact people’s lives and make a difference in our communities.  It also serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate the restorative power of nature – even the smallest garden can have a great impact on people when they need it most.


Dave Powlen

Dave is a landscape architect who enjoys having the greenest lawn on the block. He is an avid college football fan (Let’s Go PSU!) who still dreams of being the first landscape architect on the moon. David is the Land Development Studio Principal at Little.

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