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Tree Stewards from the Peninsula chapter of Master Gardeners have been busy identifying trees on the grounds of Hospice House in order to put together a brochure to benefit residents’ guests.
Hospice House and Support Care of Williamsburg is a non-medical center that serves hospice-certified residents of the City of Williamsburg, James City County and upper York County.
Terminally ill people can reside in one of the four guest rooms on site for up to six weeks, during which time they will receive round-the-clock care and supervision.
The house also includes numerous amenities and gathering spaces for friends and family of residents.
One such gathering space is the Woodland Garden and Walking Path, which offer friends and family of Hospice House residents the chance to take in some fresh air and spend time away from the guest room.
Gary Streb, a certified Master Gardener and volunteer in charge of maintaining the gardens at Hospice House, came up with the idea for creating a pamphlet about the trees along the walking path while taking part in the three-month course required to become certified as a Tree Steward – a special designation within the Master Gardeners.
Upon completion of the course, participants are required to take part in some sort of tree-related community service project. Recalling how frequently he had been asked to identify trees by visitors in his capacity as a volunteer gardener on site, Streb approached three of his classmates who reside in the area – Debby Griesinger, Kendra Swann and Joanne Sheffield – with his idea for the project.
The group of four has met weekly at the Hospice House since March. The early stage of the project was devoted to identifying the trees along the walking path, a challenging process even for these certified tree experts.
“New growth leaves often have a completely different shape than developed leaves,” Streb said.
That fact, along with other variations among trees based on exposure to sunlight and seasonal changes, made the identification process time-consuming and fraught with uncertainty. Only by viewing the trees over the course of many weeks was the group able to successfully identify 22 different species of native trees along the path that stretches about 800 feet.
Now that the identification process is complete, the group’s attention has turned to putting together an informative pamphlet visitors can take out on the trail with them.
The group has also decided to create a book with more detailed information about each type of tree that will reside permanently in the sunroom of Hospice House.
All four Tree Stewards have expressed that to an individual who has not experienced watching a loved one die, their project might seem a bit odd.
“The Woodland Gardens provide a sense of solitude, remembrance and a place for thought,” Streb said. “The emotion of the house can be overwhelming and guests frequently need a break, to escape for a little while.”
In this way the tree guide provides a good “distraction,” in the words of Swann, for those in need of anything at all to take their minds off of the sad circumstances around them.
The pamphlet will include a blurb of information about the mission of Hospice House and brief history of the walking path, along with a map of the path that will be numbered to correspond with bullets of information about each species of tree.
Eventually the group also hopes to install signs along the trail that also provide identifying information and refer back to the pamphlet.
The path itself, though mere feet from the house, has the feeling of being secluded and remote, which provides both a physical and emotional respite. Visitors often use the path to take a private moment to collect their emotions, as well as attend to more practical considerations, like making sensitive phone calls.
“It’s a safe place,” Streb said.
The group is aiming to have the project complete by the Hospice House Open House on Sept. 22, a twice-annual event that invites members of the community into the house to learn more about the services it provides.
Events like the Open House are crucial to keeping Hospice House, which relies entirely on donations because residents stay at the house free of charge, open and running.
“One of the distinct benefits of Hospice House is what we can do for the family of the person in our care,” said Janet Reid, deputy director of Hospice House. “It’s our hope that what we have to offer, from the kitchen where they can come together and share a meal, to projects like this that enhance the natural spaces on our grounds, we allow the family to actually become a family again in their most difficult time.”