Butterfly garden at C.S. Mott opens to support children and families

Saturday, June 18, 2016 - 2:24pm

Patients, family and friends of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan gathered Friday afternoon to open a butterfly healing garden in the hospital’s courtyard.

The Healing Butterfly Program and Garden was pioneered by two University Health System staff members — Brendon Weil, a senior facilities lean designer, and Susan Fisher, a radiology grants coordinator — in 2013. The program was funded by the Fostering Innovation Grant at Mott.

Weil said he was inspired by a butterfly garden his grandmother had when he was young. He hopes watching the butterflies transform will help patient children cope and transcend their conditions.

This year marked the fourth annual opening event and was the first year the opening event took place in Mott's new, expanded location. The garden expanded from the main courtyard near the old building to a 2,000-square-foot outdoor space in the new building. Masters students from the School of Natural Resources and Environment’s Landscape Architecture program helped design the garden to be attractive for butterflies.

Children at Friday’s opening event engaged in various butterfly-themed activities, such as observing a butterfly terrarium, painting butterfly tattoos and creating chalk drawings with art therapists. Additionally, the Leslie Science and Nature Center had an educational booth showcasing the life cycle of a butterfly. 

Julie Piazza, project manager for patient and family-centered care at Mott, said the butterfly garden is intended to help children feel less isolated in the hospital and to give them a supportive emotional experience.

“We want to reconnect them with the community,” Piazza said. “Things are happening outside, like nature, like butterflies, and so it’s hopeful.”

The event staff brought out dozens of butterflies from inside, releasing them from cages in three spots around the courtyard. Some children held the butterflies in their hands or watched them fly.

Students from Spirit Sanctus Academy, a local private Catholic school, also attended the event. The first-grade class raised butterflies to learn about the insects’ life cycles before giving them to the hospital.

Kevin Dehority, a Spirit Sanctus Academy parent, was happy that his daughter’s work paid off.

“It’s great to see the patients come out and get a little break from their days and have a smile on their face,” Dehority said. “I overheard (some)one — I don’t know if she was a patient or a sibling of a patient — she said, ‘I told you mom, we should have come outside’ like they didn’t know this was happening and just happened upon it.”

The butterfly garden opening is the first in a series of summer events that engages patients with nature as part of distraction therapy. Weil hopes that the garden, which is populated by host and nectar plants native to Michigan, will make the butterflies stay long enough to lay eggs in the garden.

Weil said even simply observing butterflies together can help the families endure the pain and anxiety of having their children in long-term care.

“It really does create that moment for the families,” Weil said.