Therapuetic garden helps community blossom
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 20:02
Faith Kuehn kneels upon the soil, meticulously pulling, sorting and placing the withered crops into garbage bags. With the scent of parsley still lingering in the air, Kuehn, an environmental administrator at the Department of Agriculture, says she is beginning the winterization process, which prepares the garden for the upcoming months of inactivity. Despite this inactivity, she says she will continue to brainstorm ideas for the spring, proving the therapeutic garden at Delaware Psychiatric Center is in full bloom year-round.
“For next year, I really want to have a section on edible flowers – just fun things like that,” Kuehn says, environmental administrator at the Department of Agriculture.
The outdoor therapeutic garden of the Delaware Psychiatric Center was conceptualized in 2010 at the Department of Agriculture, and it has since blossomed into a large-scale operation that allows patients, employees and community members to collectively plant, tend and harvest crops. The crops are then sold at the center’s market or donated to the Food Bank of Delaware, which Kuehn says helps create a strong sense of community.
In the past two years, over a ton of produce have been grown, featuring 33 different vegetables and an array of herbs, according to Kuehn. Crops grown range from onions and peppers to cilantro and sage, which together create a palette of green, yellow and red colors. The garden also features Malabar spinach, which Kuehn says is one of her favorite crops.
This sensory nature of gardening is what makes it so successful among the patients, Kuehn says. By allowing them to touch and taste the plants, she says the patients gain more of an appreciation for what they are growing. However, she says the connection created between gardening and the patients runs deeper.
“It connects them with the real world and sort of moves their focus away from all the things that are troubling them,” Kuehn says. “I think it’s really rewarding for people to nurture something and yield a flower for someone to appreciate. It’s a way of nurturing and appreciating – I think everyone needs that.”
Horticulture therapy is only a small component of the garden, plant and soil horticulture professor Robert Lyons says. The garden, Lyons says, is multi-purpose as it also allows staff members to reap the benefits of gardening as well. By having both employees and patients collaborate, Lyons says the community garden is formed.
Community is what helped make this garden possible, Lyons says. Every year, he coordinates the Longwood Graduate Program, in which graduate students studying horticulture at the university work with local groups established in the field. In April, as part of the program’s “Professional Outreach Program,” the students, with guidance from Lyons, picked a service project and create blueprints to help launch the program. In 2010, the students chose to work with the state and volunteers at the Master Gardener Program to create the therapeutic garden.
Many of the concepts of the collaborative plan have been or will be assimilated in the garden, Kuehn says. For this upcoming year, Kuehn says she hopes the garden will have a universal design, which will make the garden easily accessible to those in wheelchairs.
In addition, Kuehn says she hopes the garden will continue to grow, drawing in more people by offering plots to local groups or campuses. By inviting others, Kuehn says the therapeutic gardens can mesh together a community that can share an appreciation for gardening.
Lyons says there is a certain personal connection with gardening that can aid him in stressful situations. He is particularly interested in growing ornamental plants, which are known for their aesthetic qualities.
“When I’m gardening, I put myself in the zone,” Lyons says. “Even though I’m physically working hard at it, it’s very relaxing for me.”
Another plant and soil professor, John Frett, shares Lyons’ sentiments. Frett, who is the director of the Botanical Gardens at the university, also feels as though there are internal benefits to gardening. He began finding an interest in horticulture as an undergraduate and since then has found gardening stress-relieving.
Likewise, Kuehn, also finds a connection to gardening, she says. By growing up on a farm, Kuehn says agriculture is “in her blood.” However, from her involvement in the program, she says she has gained so much more.
“I really like this project because I get to interact with a lot of different kinds of people and you do feel you can reach out to people,” Kuehn says.