Mary Maurer, an 80-year-old patient with a hip fracture at WellStar Cobb Hospital, Austell, Ga, is undergoing routine occupational therapy, and not-so-routine gardening therapy. Other area medical centers such as Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta, Ga, and the neighboring Shepherd Center also weave garden therapy into their programs.

“Looking at four walls all day, this is a welcome change,” says Maurer, still in a wheelchair, but hoping to walk again soon.

Maurer has opted to replace one of her three- to four-hours of therapy on Wednesdays with an hour of outside gardening. For the next hour she “lifts weights” and works on “standing endurance.” Maurer warms up to the weekly garden therapy by rubbing rosemary and lemon grass between her fingers.

Maurer’s occupational therapist, Brittnee Howell, said the garden provides a diversion for patients in the rehab unit (where patients stay on average about two weeks). At the same time, giving patients shovels and letting them pluck flowers, plant seeds, pick blueberries reminds them what awaits them once they’re out of the hospital.

WellStar Cobb’s garden was planted in 1992 under the guidance of Becky Blades, a Cobb County volunteer gardener. Blades said the key modification of the garden was raising the beds off the ground to make plantings easier to reach. Otherwise, the patients use regular tools and hoses. Some of these gardeners reportedly have suffered strokes. Others have fallen and broken bones. Some have suffered an illness and simply need time to rebuild their strength from being bedridden.

[Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]