Society for
Organic Urban
Land Care

Case Study of the Use of Organic Land Care Practices at a Health Care Campus


Sunnybrook Health Services Centre is a major cancer research and treatment centre located in Toronto, situated on approximately 100 acres of land that includes a blend of gardens, lawn and woods. The diverse and beautiful grounds at Sunnybrook act as an extension of the treatment and care provided by the centre, helping to maximize the health benefits for staff, patients and visitors, while also providing a myriad of ecological benefits.



Throughout history, nature has acted as aid in the healing process. Recent studies show that access to green spaces contributes to positive health outcomes such as enhanced psychological wellbeing, better pain management and increased physical activity.  At Sunnybrook, the landscapes are integrated into the centre’s health promotion and self-care initiatives, which include physical mobility, emotional relaxation and spiritual care. As such, health workers and staff, as well as patients and families, are encouraged to visit the outdoor spaces for relaxation, respite and restoration.

Since 2005, Sunnybrook’s groundskeeping team, led by Head Groundskeeper Rohan Harrison, has worked to optimize the ecological health of the grounds. This has resulted in the adoption of 100% organic land care practices to build soil health, which in turn contributes to plant and tree health. As described by Mr. Harrison, “like in humans, proper nutrition (soil management) is the foundation to create and maintain a healthy, environmentally-friendly and sustainable landscape – that heals!”


In addition to the adoption of ecologically centred maintenance practices by transitioning to soil health and organic land care, the groundskeeping team has increased total plant and tree coverage and overall biodiversity.

Over the last decade, with donations from the national organization Tree Canada, and volunteers organized though the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute Campaign led by Landscape Ontario and well-known gardener Marc Cullen, Sunnybrook has increased the tree canopy by planting over 1170 native trees of 21 species. Currently, the tree canopy is at 32% and the goal is to reach a 40% tree coverage, which is well above the current average tree canopy coverage in the city of Toronto. In the summer of 2020, Sunnybrook planted 500 trees to establish an arboretum, thanks to a donation from Grand Trees Climate Solutions through the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute.


With support from donors and partners, Sunnybrook has increased the number and diversity of gardens to create points of interest close to the health care facilities. These include a healing garden, a therapeutic garden, beds of edible and medicinal plants, a community planted garden and a butterfly garden, as well as a labyrinth. The diverse gardens offer places for relaxation and rejuvenation for health care staff, patients, caregivers and visitors.


Take the time to select plants and trees suited to the existing growing conditions and for any specific purposes, such as windbreaks and shade.

Include native plants that require minimal maintenance as a way to reduce energy-intensive practices and maintenance time.

Plant native species to provide habitat and food for dwindling pollinator species. Bees, butterflies and birds spark joy and are good indicators of ecological health.

Promote multi-story planting to encourage greater biodiversity, interest and privacy. Greater plant biodiversity ensures increased tolerance to adverse conditions and increases plants’ ability to withstand attacks from both insects and disease.

Design garden beds - sensory gardens, contemplative gardens, edible gardens - so that each garden will resonate with different people at different times. Provide Interpretive signs to engage visitors and raise awareness about the plants or the purpose of the gardens.

Incorporate plant species that are medicinal or offer healing properties.

Plant companion plants to attract beneficial insects, repel pests and provide nutrients or offer support for each other.


Since 2005, Sunnybrook’s Lead Groundskeeper and his team have maintained and cared for the hundred acres of land surrounding Sunnybrook using methods that support human and environmental wellbeing and that foster an integrated approach to health care and health promotion at Sunnybrook. This has required leadership, training, collaboration and dedication.

The following is a list of foundational activities that Sunnybrook has learned are important to ensure support and to engage the wider community on the value of optimizing land health for human health.

Ongoing Communication with all Stakeholders, including Senior Management

  • Communicate regularly with key decision-makers and Sunnybrook management on the value of an organic land care approach to promote restorative healing and wellness.
  • Build a common understanding that landscaping is not about a ‘war on pests’ but rather caring for the welfare of plants, and that soil health is the key to healthy plants
  • Focus landscaping goals on long-term success and sustainability

Host Public and Community Events to Build Support

Host annual activities, such as on National Tree Day, to bring staff, caregivers, patients and partners together to appreciate the grounds and engage in activities such as tree planting

Share information with the wider community on the value of nature to human health and wellbeing, and how healthy, ecologically sound landscapes contribute to healing and wellness.

Collaborate with partners such as not-for-profit organizations, designers, horticulturalists, researchers, politicians and government officials to bring additional resources together to achieve mutually defined goals

Invest in Groundskeeper Staff Training and Institutional Knowledge

  • Invest in staff training and sensitization so staff have an understanding of ecological land care principles and land care practices
  • Provide training opportunities so staff have the knowledge and the expertise to carry out on-going monitoring and iterative decision making
  • Monitor results, track progress and publicize results
  • Follow principles that lead to long-term sustainable and regenerative landscapes
  • Continue to seek ways to reduce waste and recycle materials


Rohan Harrison, Lead Groundskeeper, Sunnybrook Health Centre Environmental Services, as well as two other staff, are graduates of the Organic Land Care Accreditation Course from Gaia College. The professional course is designed for those who have previous landscaping experience. The course covers transitioning landscapes to organic care, soil biology and soil system management, water management and health within ecosystems.

The 30-hour Organic Land Care course is delivered on-site for groups of 10 or more, typically delivered over 5 days, spread over a 3-week period. Gaia College also offers the course online.

Diverse Plantings

Ecological Turf Management

More Information on Sunnybrook Health Service Centre’s grounds:

Grand Trees Climate Solutions: Sunnybrook’s Arboretum 

Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care 263 Deschamps Ave. Ottawa, ON K1L 5Y7
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