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NIHD, Master Gardeners: A partnership rooted in healing

  • Category: NIHD News
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  • Written By: Barbara Laughon
NIHD, Master Gardeners: A partnership rooted in healing

Tucked away just to the right of Northern Inyo Hospital’s main entrance is a garden sanctuary, rich with colorful roses, flowering plants, butterfly bushes, and a touch of hospital history. Built around one of three cupolas from the 1949 hospital building, Northern Inyo Healthcare District’s Healing Garden is designed to offer patients, visitors, and staff a bit of peace and a place to promote healing from within.

Many may not know that Northern Inyo Healthcare District’s Healing Garden is a gift from the NIH Foundation through donations raised in the community. The Foundation has been maintaining the garden ever since through new plantings, landscape care, and water improvement projects. All made possible through generous donations to the Foundation

The Foundation first engaged the University of California’s Master Gardener program back in 2015 to help provide the proper attention to the many different types of roses the Healing Garden has throughout. This partnership has made the Healing Garden a hub for hospital events and, in many ways, represents the hearts of those who work within both the Master Gardener program and the District.

Recently, eleven Master Gardeners arrived at the Healing Garden to prepare the roses and bushes for the coming spring. Led by UC County Director and Farm Advisor Dustin Blakey, the group spent just under three hours pruning, lopping, and encouraging new life and growth. Blakey used the time to demonstrate proper techniques and inspire his students to apply what they had learned.

“Gardening on the east side is different from the rest of California,” Blakey says. “It’s great having a team of volunteers who are willing to help people be successful with growing things here. Projects like this are a great way for them to practice skills to share with our community.”

This is the seventh year the Master Gardener program has cared for the Healing Garden. Their touch is evident, and for that, NIH Foundation Executive Director Greg Bissonette is grateful.

“Admittedly, when someone first thinks of a hospital, they likely don’t think of gardens or nature,” Bissonette says. “I think it’s safe to say that anyone who lives in the Eastern Sierra understands the healing nature of being outdoors in the sunshine, breathing fresh air, and taking in the views of our mountains. The Foundation appreciates all Dustin and the Master Gardeners do to make the Healing Garden a soothing, stress-free environment here on campus.”

NIHD Chief Executive Officer Kelli Davis agrees. “I love passing by and seeing patients and their families enjoying time together or seeing our staff enjoying their lunch amid the lavender and roses,” Davis says. “In pre-pandemic times, we often saw our nurses or Rehabilitation team members wheeling patients out into warm weather, giving them a chance to reset their hearts and minds during a hospital stay. I am ready to see those moments again.”

Davis notes that partnerships like the Master Gardeners and the NIH Foundation are just a snapshot of what a community can do to improve daily life when working together. “Seventy-five years ago, our community came together to improve healthcare access; and they did it with one-time donations, penny drives, and community dinners,” she says of NIHD. “Those opportunities for community growth are still rooted in each town along U.S. 395, waiting for beneficial partnerships to bloom, and those often just need a little gardening to get started.”

Both the NIH Foundation and the UC Master Gardener Program rely on donations to enhance their work. The NIH Foundation is responsible for generating awareness and raising funds for programs, services, and new technologies at NIHD. A long-term goal is to build a new outpatient clinic facility to house its eight primary care and specialty clinics, including the Rural Health Clinic. The Foundation is currently working to purchase a new wheelchair-accessible hybrid van for NIHD’s CAREshuttle transportation service.

The Master Gardener program extends research-based information about home horticulture management as a public service through outreach under the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, administered locally by participating UC Cooperative Extension county offices. Donations allow for special projects.

For more information about the NIH Foundation, please visit or email Greg Bissonette at For more information about the Master Gardener program, please visit or contact Dustin Blakey at (760) 872-2098.

UC County Director and Farm Advisor Dustin Blakey explains the potential new growth of a rose bushes in the NIHD Healing Garden.
Photos by Barbara Laughon/Northern Inyo Healthcare District
UC County Director and Farm Advisor Dustin Blakey, front right foreground, watches as Karen Nelson trims back a rose bush while her fellow Master Gardeners look on. From left are: Edyth Irvine, Carmen Kappos, Christy Vega, Chris Barnett, Janice Pettingill-Barnett, and Jerry Gabriel.
Rosie Howard, left, describes how to get new growth from this rose bush as Dustin Blakey and Karen Nelson observe her work.
Master GardenersCarmen Kappos and Laurie Morrow plan their approach so it encourages stronger growth this spring.
Master Gardeners Don Kunze and Elaine Chow map out their trimming plan before getting underway.