Getting in touch with nature and plunging hands into soil helps patients and plants flourish. That’s garden therapy.
By: Rachel Atkins, PT, DPT, CBIS
So our Dallas rehabilitation location (Villa Creek) created a bit of garden therapy by partnering with the local Farmers Branch Community Garden through the Farmers Branch Parks and Recreation Department to adopt a garden plot.Here at Pate, we frequently have patients who have personal goals of returning to gardening and yard work.
It’s a great way to help people in rehabilitation for brain injury or stroke get reacquainted with their love of gardening while enjoying the outdoors and peaceful setting.
The Community Garden is less than 5 minutes from Pate at I-635 and Webb Chapel Rd. We’ve adopted a raised plot, perfect for standing at a supportive surface. Patients who are in wheelchairs, but are able to stand with assistance, are able to garden in a comfortable position rather than being required to reach and bend as in a traditional ground-level garden.
The plot next to ours is at an accommodated seat height for those who are unable to stand. Since it is a community garden, we are allowed to participate in gardening at any height plot in the garden, including those at ground level (for our patients who will be returning to this type garden at their home).
Garden therapy has been a great opportunity for Pate patients, families and staff to partner with our community while gaining therapeutic benefits. Patients shop for seeds and seedlings (which incorporates money management skills as well as planning), plant, water, till, fertilize, weed, harvest and even craft frost-cages (from PVC pipe when the occasion calls for it).
Zucchini bread, pepper jelly, salsa and salads are a few of the dishes our patients have made from the fresh produce they’ve harvested. The garden also offers a variety of surfaces which is great for practicing walking and balance. Gravel, wooden decks, grass, mulch, concrete, steps, soil and even a labyrinth are among some of the challenging terrain we use for therapeutic opportunities. Therapists work with patients on ergonomics and adaptive ways to accomplish their gardening goals.
Part of the goal of the Farmers Branch Community Garden is to not only increase community awareness of sustainability through recycling and composting, but also giving healthy produce to those in the community in need.
At least 20% of all produce is given to local charity Metrocrest Services for the benefit oflow-to-no-income families. Our patients take great satisfaction in being able to coordinate these donations.
Garden therapy isn’t just working on the community plot. Farmers Branch organizes other events associated with the garden such as weekend work days, pot lucks, educational presentations on composting, and nature photography classes. Guest speakers, who are expert horticulturists, frequently present on topics such as floral arranging, working with roses or vegetables, and making birdhouses out of gourds.
We have a bulletin board dedicated to “Pate’s Garden” which includes updates on planting seasons, education information, and photos of recent outings and happenings at the garden. Patients love the opportunity to get outside, get their hands dirty, and enjoy the fruit of their labor. Many of them tell us it makes them feel normal again.
Here are some fantastic resources on therapeutic benefits from and recommendations for gardening: