A once-barren spot at a Texas hospital is now a garden where people gain strength and hope.
“I had one gentleman stand for the first time” in the garden, said Amy Parker, recreational therapist and coordinator of the horticultural therapy program at Harris Health Quentin Mease Community Hospital in Houston.
The gentleman wanted to see a plant more closely, leaned forward in his wheelchair, and then pulled himself up and stood for the first time after having a stroke. Now he is using a walker, according to Parker.
The garden helps people emotionally as well as physically, Parker said. The garden is for people dealing with disabilities from strokes, heart attacks, amputations, and traumatic brain injuries, according to Harris Health.
Being in nature has a richness that indoor rehabilitation does not offer, according to Parker. “Everyone talks about how calming it is. We have folks who are highly agitated because they have a brain injury,” said Parker, adding that they are able to become calm in the garden.
The process of grasping a hose to water plants or digging with a trowel builds strength and dexterity, and adjusting the settings of a hose and observing and nurturing living things has “lots of cognitive benefits—improved memory and concentration,” said Parker. Watering is especially nice, because in the hot Texas weather, you hope to get a little side spray from the sprinkler, she added with a chuckle.
When she brings groups of people into the garden, they interact with each other as well.
Everything is adaptive, from ground-level plantings for the most able-bodied to shin-high raised beds and giant pots for those who can lean over. People using wheelchairs can pull up to the pots and touch a plant.
“Gardening is fun for my soul and makes me feel good to know I’ve accomplished something good.”
— Garfield Gibson Jr., stroke patient
“A lot of our patients are homeless; they have no family,” said Parker. For those, the friendships and warmth that develop during gardening with her and with each other are especially healing.
A designer donated her services to create the Quentin Mease Horticultural Therapy Garden, and the 28 by 44-foot space has benches, trees, and wide flagstone and concrete paths.
The garden is financially supported by the Harris County Hospital District Foundation and private donors. Lowe’s Home Improvement has been generous, giving plants, seeds, and tools, according to Parker.
The garden is bordered with fragrant jasmine.
The space was once bare and ugly, and hospital staff, patients, and visitors ignored it, according to Parker. But now the space is a place for gathering.
People who were not gardeners before “start finding a new joy,” as in the case of a lady who had a stroke that left her unable to speak or walk. She cut off a little piece of spider plant and potted it. According to her daughter, she brightens and becomes happy watching the plant thrive, said Parker.
Garfield Gibson Jr. was already a gardener, but a stroke made the 58-year-old unable even to sit for long in his wheelchair, much less stand. Now he can stand for long periods of time, and he credits that to working in the garden.
“I’m able to stand more and comprehend the tasks in front of me,” Gibson said, according to Harris Health. “Gardening is fun for my soul and makes me feel good to know I’ve accomplished something good.”
The hospital has been growing cherry tomatoes, basil, and lettuce, which patients get to eat.
Right now, cool-weather plants such as broccoli are in season, and the garden includes a beautiful flower from Canada, which they cool by watering with ice water.
“I have a lot of weird looks” about that task, said Parker with another chuckle, but the process of handling the ice is fun and therapeutic, too.
According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy helps people build strength and agility as well as fine-tune motor, emotional, and cognitive skills.
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