Garden Tour: Healing Nature | Midwest Living

Garden Tour: Healing Nature

The diagnosis: An overworked Ohio physician. The cure: Transform an unused backyard into a sanctuary of water, native plants and wildlife.

Heart surgeon Larry Jacobs had trouble with the adage “Physician heal thyself.” He was so busy helping others that he had little time for himself. That started changing the day he read a newspaper story about Sabrena Schweyer and Samuel Salsbury’s garden sanctuaries that introduce clients to the life-changing power of Mother Nature.

Larry admitted to the Akron, Ohio, husband-and-wife landscape design team that he rarely entered his backyard and, in fact, he and his wife, Anne, weren’t even sure where their property line was.

Sabrena and Samuel responded as they always do—by digging into an ecological, sustainable design that would invite interaction and, in this case, lure their client out the door.

“We want to create gardens that are beautiful, but that are also a transformative experience,” Sabrena says. And that requires a personal connection with nature.

A huge-for-its-lot-size pond provides that connection, Samuel says, noting that water is healing for people, the habitat and the wildlife that flock to the garden all year. “You cannot experience this garden without having an intimate relationship with the water,” he says.

Stepping-stones set a slow take-it-all-in pace. Avoiding a direct path encourages wandering and discovery.

Bluestone slabs dramatically bridge the pond.  “We made this the only path to the back garden to encourage interaction with nature,” landscape designer Sabrena says. Photo courtesy of Salsbury-Schweyer Inc.

In addition to the pond, native plants benefit the ecosystem and attract pollinators. “If diversity isn’t there, then balance isn’t there,” Sabrena says. Larry’s favorite natives include papaw trees that anchor the backyard and provide tasty fruit.

A deck (above) built dock-style over a large pond was one enticing addition to what was a no-frills, no-reason-to-go-outside backyard (below). “We didn’t even know we had this much property until we put the garden in,” says homeowner Larry JacobsPhotos courtesy of Salsbury-Schweyer Inc.

And, yes, Larry goes outside now. “I never thought I’d spend as much time cultivating the garden and getting dirt under my fingernails as I do,” he says. “The garden has improved my daily life because there’s something special for everyone: the seasonal beauty of flowers and plants, the fish that nibble at my grandchildren’s toes, the squirrels who challenge my Westie terrier to catch them—all of these things bring great pleasure to me.”

Landscape design Salsbury-Schweyer Inc., Akron, Ohio. (330) 375-9600;

Rocks, plants and fish work together to keep the pond clean. For instance, tropical water lilies shade the fish while also absorbing nutrients to prevent algae growth. Photo courtesy of Ian Adams Photography.

Make it happen

1 Bubbly Water spills over the grooved cast stone of Campania’s 30x15-inch Girona fountain that weathers naturally. Pump kit included, $771 (

2 Just beaming Wood-grain-look resin textures this tiered 2.8-foot Timber indoor/outdoor fountain by Kenroy Home. With pump, $175 (

3 Mood lighting An app controls the water-resistant MiPow Playbulb sphere’s color and effect (pulsing, fading). $50 (

4 Healthy glow Portable Lighthouse fireplaces with bioethanol burners spark a smoke-free flame. Four sizes (17 to 46 inches tall), from $950 (

5 Totally laid-back Recalling the deck chairs of vintage luxury liners, this teak Steamer lounge chair by D-Art redefines the art of  kicking back. $289 (

Sponsored Partner pick Find more time to relax by choosing low-maintenance decking that won’t rot, splinter  or require upkeep. TimberTech’s Legacy collection’s hand-scraped hardwood look suits any style. See more at


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