Rehab Center Uses Gardening to Grow New Skills

Garfield Gibson Jr at Quentin Mease Horticultural Therapy Garden

Garfield Gibson Jr. waters broccoli stalks he helped plant as part of a rehabilitation session with recreational therapist Amy Parker in Harris Health System’s new Quentin Mease Horticultural Therapy Garden in Houston, Texas.

If you’ve recently had a stroke, heart attack, amputation or traumatic brain injury, you might get a little more than you bargained for next time you go to rehab. Today centers such as Harris Health System’s Quentin Mease Hospital are implementing creative strategies to help people cope with illness and regain lost skills. The Quentin Mease Horticultural Therapy Garden is one such method, which uses horticultural therapy at its 28-by-44–foot outdoor space.

Following a stroke, Garfield Gibson Jr. could hardly sit in his wheelchair and could not stand. But horticulture therapy changed that. Through this therapy, Gibson is now able to sit for 30 to 45 minutes for therapy and stand for long stretches of time.

The American Horticultural Therapy Association reports that gardening can actually help people regain cognitive skills such as memory, language and cognitive reasoning. In addition, typical gardening tasks, such as planting and watering, help strengthen muscles to build endurance for sitting, kneeling and standing. Handling small seeds and weeding can also improve motor skills in hands and fingers.

“Seeing them stand, develop communication and social skills while enjoying the calming effects of gardening is pretty remarkable,” says Amy Parker, recreational therapist and coordinator of the program at Harris Health Quentin Mease. “Therapy only works when a person is really engaged. For some patients, gardening is the way to encourage effort and positive strides.”

The garden produces tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, carrots and spinach, which are used by patients in occupational therapy learning to cook.