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The Healing Place

As The Queen’s Medical Center marks its milestone sesquicentennial, we take a closer look at the historic landscape that surrounds it.


This 150-year-old tree may soon be designated by the city of Honolulu as "exceptional," giving it added protection.

Photo: Sheila Sarhangi

This  year, the queen’s medical center celebrates its 150th anniversary. Sure, the history of the hospital is well known—Queen Emma and her husband, King Kamehameha IV, saw a need for a hospital in Hawaii due to a dwindling Native Hawaiian population, and raised the necessary funds. Perhaps less known is that Queen Emma also envisioned the hospital’s landscape.     

Mark Gwinner, the current landscape design manager of the hospital, explains, “Queen Emma knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to have people come into town for Western health care. So the idea was, if you greened up the campus and made it look nice, Hawaiians would feel more comfortable in making the trip to see the doctor.”

The Queen, as well as Dr. William Hillebrand, the hospital’s first physician and a noted botanist, planted exotic trees, many of which still stand today and share the hospital’s birthday. On the front lawn, three trees in particular—the baobab, bombax and nawa, each labeled—hold “exceptional” status, meaning they have historic value or are particularly good examples of a species. They can’t be pruned, moved or disturbed in any way without a special permit from the City and County.

Today, beyond the trees, the hospital has intricate gardens designed to nurture patients and their families. Take, for example, the garden that fronts the Queen’s Cancer Center. “This is where we do most of the radiation for cancer patients, so this area is bulked up with a lot of eye candy,” says Gwinner. Delicate plants hang on either side of a raised walkway and textured or color-rich species, such as the prayer plant, whose purple leaves open and close according to the sun’s direction, are among the design elements.

“We’re trying to come up with sounds and smells and things that you can interact with in the landscape to get your mind off why you’re here,” says Gwinner. Near a covered sitting area, ceramic water fountains contain guppies that kids can feed “just to give parents a little bit of a break,” Gwinner explains.

In the Hawaiian plants garden, multiple varieties of sugar cane and the Pritchardia palm, as well as a native gardenia plant from Molokai and Kahoolawe, grow. This is only a small branch of the campus’ 27-acre grounds.

“In the evenings or on Saturdays or Sundays, when there aren’t a lot of workers or business people around, patients come out with their IV poles and in their pajamas and use this as their front yard,” says Gwinner. “That’s when I say, Aah, this is really worth doing.”  


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Honolulu Magazine December 2019
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