Helipad transforms into a teaching garden for patients

Kirsten Thompson in the garden
Kirsten Thompson in the new garden

With a nationwide spotlight on fighting childhood obesity since obesity prevalence among kids and teens in the U.S. has almost tripled, it’s important we find ways to instill healthy lifestyles in today’s youth to prevent them from developing health issues down the road.

At Seattle Children’s, dietitian Kirsten Thompson found a unique way to teach kids and their families about making healthy choices by transforming the hospital’s old helipad into a teaching garden for patients and families.

Thompson, whose master’s thesis was about gardening with kids, began looking for a place to plant a teaching garden when she joined Children’s in 2008. The opportunity finally arrived this spring when the Building Hope expansion was completed and the helipad moved to a site near the new Emergency Department.

Every Wednesday, Thompson works with Children’s patients in the garden for an hour to teach them how to raise vegetables. They then head inside to the hospital’s Eat Well Be Well studio to prepare healthy, garden-inspired meals.

“The goal is to encourage and empower kids and families to eat healthy,” Thompson said.

The local Whole Foods store brings groceries each week to supplement what the garden provides. After families cook, they take the leftover groceries and all they can harvest from the garden so they can prepare nutritious meals at home.

Becoming a green thumb

Ayden in the garden
Ayden picking tomatoes in the garden

Thompson was working with patient Ayden Mages, 9, to help him control his high blood pressure when she invited him this summer to lend a hand in the garden.

Ayden was hooked from the start.

“I like planting, watering, thinning and weeding,” Ayden said as a smile bloomed across his face. “It’s been fun to learn this stuff.”

Although Ayden likes growing veggies better than eating them, he eats more of them since he started working in the garden.

“He realizes now where vegetables come from and he at least tries them,” said his mom, Trisha.

Getting the garden up and blooming

The garden is a community effort. A master gardener from the neighborhood designed the garden, volunteers built the beds and the Bloom for Children’s Guild maintains it on the days kids aren’t there.

A number of Thompson’s colleagues at Children’s from Nutrition Services, Grounds and Sustainability and Transportation also helped her get the project off the ground.

The Bloom for Children’s Guild was started a year ago by Aileen Kelly, executive director of the Guild Association. Gretchen Stronks, senior administrative assistant in Facilities and the guild’s secretary, says that she loves how the garden has brought different groups of people together.

“I love that this garden is a collaboration between Nutrition, Grounds, our guild and our neighbors,” said Stronks.


  • Seattle Children’s Nutrition Department
  • Seattle Children’s Obesity Program

If you’d like to learn more about the garden or would like to arrange an interview with Kirsten, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at [email protected]