From the sprawling lawn at Baltimore’s MedStar Harbor Hospital, you can see the downtown skyline across the Patapsco River. The open space offers a calm atmosphere for patients trying to heal, and as part of the Gwynns Falls Trail, it’s also enjoyed by a wide swath of Baltimore residents.

Access to green space has a positive effect on health, from reducing high blood pressure to lowering the number of days in a hospital setting. For MedStar Harbor, a new healing garden at the hospital not only benefits community health, but the health of the Patapsco.

Baltimore is working to improve its water quality by reducing the amount of impervious surface—hard surfaces that allow precipitation to collect contaminants before flowing into waterways. But space to plant gardens can be hard to find in such a highly developed urban setting.

Before the project, the hospital had nearly 13 acres of impervious surface, where water flowed more or less directly into the river. Over the course of five months, it removed 1.2 acres of that hard surface and has added enough rain gardens to existing open space to effectively filter stormwater runoff from five acres total.

It also helped fix a flooding issue that plagued one of its parking lots.

Much of the project falls along the shoreline, creating a walkable healing garden planted with native perennial wildflowers and shrubs. Dubbed the Clean Water Community Healing Project, it will treat five million gallons of stormwater a year, and won an award from the Chesapeake Stormwater Network.

Blue Water Baltimore led the effort, with over $1 million in funding from Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re really hoping to use this as an example for other institutional properties, whether it’s a school campus, a university, a hospital, to get them thinking about what they can do creatively on their property and with their resources [to reduce pollution],” said Jenn Aiosa, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, during a tour of the project last year.

With the healing garden in place, now doctors can even prescribe some time outdoors for patients on the mend.

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