HOUSTON – "Pick two daisies and call me in the morning!"
From early recordings of civilization, man has pulled roots and leaves from the earth to help him feel better. However, it is not simply what is ingested that brings healing. Working in dirt or even viewing a landscape has proven to assist healing.
Dr. Roger Ulrich, Texas A&M University professor of architectural landscape and urban development, studied patients recovering from gall bladder surgery. He reported shorter recovery periods, the need for fewer potent pain drugs and fewer negative staff evaluations for patients whose rooms had a view of trees instead of walls.
Three gardening programs conducted in the Greater Houston area by Texas Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers help patients feel better. The Master Gardener program offers advanced education and training in horticulture. After classroom training, participants contribute 60 hours of community service to receive the Master Gardener designation. For more information, visit http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/mastergd/index.html.
The Flower Lady
For more than 30 years, Audrey Chadwick, a registered nurse and horticulture therapist, has studied and practiced the therapeutic benefits of horticulture and floriculture. For the past 10 years, her gentle and consistent work with stroke patients at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital has earned her the nickname, "The Flower Lady."
Once a week, Chadwick, a Master Gardener since 1981, is joined by other volunteers who help patients recovering from strokes select flowers and cut stems to make floral arrangements or do other gardening crafts.
"I particularly like to work with herbs, because it stimulates memory," Chadwick said. "For example, we made paper; we made crowns out of rosemary; we dyed eggs for Easter with natural dyes."
The creativity that patients use in designing stimulates their brains. The use of fine motor skills in cutting stems and arranging flowers is an exercise in coordination that can reinforce other types of therapy. In addition, plants and flowers have a calming effect that improves the patient's overall sense of well-being.
Chadwick told the story of one of her favorite patients, a 41-year-old stroke victim and NASA engineer whom the nurses had asked her to work with one-on-one. She said when he first came in, he was angry from his debilitating condition and told her that he wasn't going to do anything. Chadwick went to work breaking off pieces of eucalyptus for potpourri, and before long the patient joined in.
"When he got ready to leave (that day), he turned to me and said, ‘I feel like I've had a walk in the forest. Thank you,'" Chadwick said. "I didn't cure him. I didn't cure him at all, but I certainly made his moments better."
Chadwick was honored with the Special Award of Merit in 2002 by the Texas Master Gardener Association for the Galveston County Horticulture Therapy Project.
On the Wings of Butterflies
In 1994, Chris LaChance, Extension program coordinator for the WaterSmart Landscaping Program in Houston, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Following two surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy, this cancer survivor said she wanted to share with staff and future M.D. Anderson Cancer Center patients her gardening experience and how her relationship with nature helped her during treatment.
"My own healing began when my spirit was renewed as well as my body," she said. "It was nature, through its life-affirming promise, that gave me this gift."
LaChance, who is also a volunteer Master Gardener, asked for help from her daughter and fellow Master Gardeners in Galveston. M.D. Anderson designated several existing plant beds in front of the R. Lee Clark Clinic, 1515 Holcombe in Houston, to convert into nurturing habitats for butterflies.
"So many of our patients, like Chris, find comfort with the outdoors, and this garden provides a way to be surrounded by nature for a while instead of being confined to the clinic," said Stephanie Young, associate director for development at M.D. Anderson. "Places like this garden are so important to the overall well-being of the patient."
Because of her work with the WaterSmart Landscaping Program, LaChance said she chose native and non-invasive adapted plants that would attract butterflies, yet require less water and not need fertilizer or other chemicals to thrive. This gardening method reduces run-off pollution, which is WaterSmart Landscaping's goal.
"Volunteers named the garden the Chrysalis Project as a play on words, referring to the emerging butterfly - whole and healed - and my first name," LaChance said.
She added that the garden is thriving, despite the ongoing construction surrounding the clinic.
"Caring for and connecting with nature are ways to heal the spirit," LaChance said. " And, I firmly believe the mind, spirit and body are connected."
A Place of Solace
Bering Omega Community Service's Omega House, 602 Branard, is a hospice facility that allows individuals with HIV/AIDS to live out their final days with dignity. There is no physical healing in this home, but Master Gardeners have provided a quiet place of reflection for residents, according to Patty Adamik, Master Gardener coordinator of the Omega House garden.
For more than a year now, Adamik and about eight other volunteers work at Omega House twice a month maintaining the gardens and changing the beds to reflect the seasons.
"The garden has been a welcoming place for the residents, family members and caretakers that come and go here," she said. "It brings a lot of color and connection to the seasons."
She said that residents and their families as well as the volunteers and caretakers who work at the home have expressed appreciation for the beauty the gardens bring.
"I don't think there has ever been a time that I was working in the garden when someone hasn't commented on the gardens," she said. "Someone always says thank you, either because of a bouquet that was brought into the house, or because they've noticed apples on our apple tree or how many butterflies are flying through the garden."
Sandy Stacy, director of the Omega House program, said residents often go to the garden for quiet time or use its lush surroundings as a meeting place for visitors.
"It is a sense of diversion for the families. When things get very, very intense with the terminal process, it's nice to walk out and see something pretty and natural and real," she said. "But also, I think for the patients, it's to be able to see the renewal of life and the plants change and that life goes on with the change in our gardens."
While you may not find a medical degree among the volunteers involved, for the patients influenced by the beauty of these programs, their work is just what the doctor ordered.
Materials provided by Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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