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Healing garden a place to honor life, celebrate renewal

LOGANVILLE - With a little dirt on their hands and sweat on their brows, volunteers paused for a moment at the Gwinnett County Relay for Life healing garden and surveyed their progress.

The healing garden, located in the Vines Botanical Garden, is more than just dirt and flowers. Gwinnett residents who have been touched by cancer are encouraged to write love notes, shred them and then mix them in with the planting soil.

The first Relay for Life healing garden was presented in May 2005 at the Exhibition Hall at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. However, this is the first year a permanent garden spot has been offered to the American Cancer Society, which hosts the annual fundraiser Relay for Life.

"The healing garden is a place where people can visit to remember both that life is exquisite because it is transient and that there really is no end to life," said Cynthie Annie, whose idea it was to create the healing garden.

The initial planting took place March 30, and eight volunteers from the Gwinnett County Master Gardeners, a local gardening club, mapped out where each plant should be placed.

"Over here we're planting bleeding hearts and some variegated hydrangeas," said Jackie Kujawa, a master gardener. "And there we will plant the lamb's ear and hosta."

Kujawa said she enjoys this particular volunteer opportunity because she has known a lot of people who died from cancer and she enjoys offering her knowledge and experience.

The purpose of the healing garden is to offer an oasis of calm, invite contemplation and provide a safe place to grieve and encourage visitors to rejoice in the lives of those who've left this year, Annie said.

Baskets of shredded love letters dotted the garden, and the volunteers periodically dipped into them before planting the donated flowers and shrubs.

Pike's Nusery, Bucks Nursery and Home Depot were instrumental in the garden's creation, Annie said.

May Cachner, a volunteer from last year's Relay for Life Garden, said every year the 200 members of Gwinnett Master Gardener's log 11,000 hours in volunteer time from participating in events like the healing garden.

"I hope Gwinnett County Relay for Life will become a nationwide healing garden Relay for Life project with hundreds or even thousands of gardens throughout the United States." Annie said.

Projects like the healing garden are what has made Gwinnett County's Relay for life so successful. Gwinnettians have historically banded together to push the county into the No. 1 position in the world both in attendees and money raised for Relay for Life. Last year's total hit $2.2 million, but this year the teams are shooting for $2.5 million.

So far Relay for Life Gwinnett has registered 345 teams and has received more than $600,000. This year's event will be May 12 and 13 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. To get involved, visit www.gwinnettrelayforlife.org or call 770-814-0123.