For various reasons my husband and I have become frequent fliers at the Wilmer Eye Institute there.
We’ve spent time both in the original building and in the new Robert H. and Clarice Smith Building and Maurice Bendann Surgical Pavilion across the street. The collection of plants around the Smith Building and Bendann Surgical Pavilion rivals the art collection inside. Many gardens are visible to patients, doctors and researchers from inside this handsome new building, whose elegant entrance was designed to capture the reflection of the original Wilmer dome.
Repetition of plants, as well as variety, makes the extensive gardens around the six-story building cohesive and striking. Dark evergreen trees, shrubs and groundcover soften the masonry foundation, provide year-round foliage and a glossy backdrop to flowering ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials.
Rarely, have I seen such a collection of boxwoods in an institutional garden, yet many are clustered at the entrance to the surgical pavilion, with hollies and osmanthus, native inkberries and rugged cherry laurels generously planted throughout the gardens on all sides of the one-block building. The play of light on the evergreens and their varied textures make the evergreens themselves an outstanding feature of the Smith gardens.
The graceful cascading, vase shape of deciduous Japanese zelkovas and heat-hardy crape myrtles soften the geometry of the building. They also provide seasonal color, as do flowering azaleas and berry-producing nandinas.
Color in late September comes from Knock Out roses, Stella de Oro daylilies, late crape myrtle blooms and beds of white begonias at the entrance to a discrete parking lot reserved for surgical patients. (How civilized.) Dwarf fountain grass gives an autumnal look.
That the Smiths funded an endowment for the maintenance of the gardens is obvious. Plants are well watered (quite a task when flanked by concrete), well fed and well pruned.
Sitting inside waiting for patients, families are surrounded by a stunning collection of upbeat and atmospheric Wolf Kahn landscapes. Through glass windows and outside the sliding doors, they are equally surrounded by well- designed gardens, which soothe and connect them to nature. Not exactly what one might imagine at the corner of Orleans and Broadway.