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July 8, 2003


Patients and Plants Flourish Through Horticultural Therapy at Wesley Woods Center

ATLANTA ≠ Cuttings of fresh basil, thyme, chives, and sage are scattered across the table as laughter and memories fill the air. The pungent smell of the herbs saturate the room as Annie Rayner and Susan Van House recall fond memories from years past of their own special gardening experiences.

With her hands immersed in the rich potting soil, Mrs. Rayner shares childhood stories of growing sage as she meticulously takes one of the cuttings and plants it in the small pot in front of her. "I love sage. I remember picking it, drying it and then grinding it up with peppers to use in sausage. Now that was good cooking!" This begins another lively discussion of the best ways to grow and cook the herbs lying on the table.

This may sound like a leisurely afternoon at the local gardening club, but in fact both ladies are in the group therapy room at Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital. Rayner, 72, and Van House, 82, are patients in the Horticultural Therapy program at Wesley Woods.

Founded in 1993, the program is a therapy utilizing plants and horticultural activities in the clinical setting to help patients improve social, educational, psychological and physical aspects of their lives.

Just days after suffering from a debilitating stroke, 72-year-old Rayner works toward recovery with assistance from this favorite past time. "I like plants and flowers, they always make me feel better," she says. And thereís truth to this statement, says Horticultural Therapist Kirk Hines, HTR, WWGH. "Working with plants can lower blood pressure and stress levels, and horticultural therapy helps patients stimulate their senses, as well as, regaining their previous level of function."

The horticultural therapy program, which is a component of the hospitalís rehabilitation services department, has a physical structure which is comprised of two courtyard gardens, a greenhouse, an ambulation garden, and indoor fluorescent light units.

The courtyard gardens, located on the psychiatry and neuropsychiatry units, feature sitting and standing height planters, paved surfaces, water features and meditation space. The glass greenhouse is designed with brushed concrete floors for patients in walkers and wheelchairs, sitting and standing height benches, and a climate control system for year-round comfort. On the hospitalís rehabilitation unit and psychiatric unit, portable fluorescent light carts are used for indoor gardening to allow patients to nurture their plants regardless of the weather.

"This type of therapy has been around for thousands of years, since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, but it has only been in the past century that horticultural therapy has flourished as a distinct discipline," noted Hines.

"Working with plants is proven to be a powerful form of therapy for patients with physical and emotional disabilities, and horticultural therapy can be designed to treat specific problems. Simply misting a plant with an atomizer or grooming a plant helps strengthen muscle tone of stroke victims and patients with other neurological injures," Hines said.

Hines is one of six registered Horticultural Therapists in Georgia, and the only one practicing in an Atlanta acute care hospital-based program. "This is a wonderful benefit for the patients at Wesley Woods, a benefit that most donít expect during a hospital stay."

Van House agrees. "When I was first admitted, I saw a group of people working with plants. I wanted to join them, and when they told me I would be doing this as part of my rehab I couldnít believe it. Who thought youíd be able to garden in the hospital?"

Hines conducts group and individual therapy sessions that are held on the units, in the gardens, the greenhouse and at the bedside. "I adapt the sessions to the needs of the individual patients."

Co-treatment sessions with occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech pathology take place weekly. "Once our patientís needs are assessed, treatment goals are established. At this point, I design and implement a horticultural treatment that will help achieve the patientís goal before discharge."

As with Mrs. Raynor and Mrs. Van House, sessions often include planting, sowing seeds, taking cuttings and garden maintenance. Upon discharge, patients take home the seedlings, cutting and transplants they worked with.

"Our patients enjoy working with plants, many times they get so carried away they forget itís actual therapy," Hines noted. "And by taking the plants home and continuing to work with them, itís a way of ensuring they continue their therapy after discharge."

As the therapy session comes to an end and both ladies have pots of herbs before them, the conversation moves to the best way to care for the plants at home. "Iím going to put mine on my front porch with the rest of my plants," says Mrs. Rayner. "And I probably need to go out and buy a trellis soon so all of my plants can grow." With that, both ladies laugh and begin a new spirited conversation on the best places to by trellises. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in the hospital.

About Emory Healthcare Emory Hospitals include Emory University Hospital, a 587-bed hospital located on the Emory University campus in northeast Atlanta, Emory Crawford Long Hospital, a 553-bed, community-based hospital in midtown and Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital, a 100-bed hospital located on the Emory campus. Emory Hospitals are components of EMORY HEALTHCARE, the most comprehensive health care system in Atlanta. Other components of EMORY HEALTHCARE are: The Emory Clinic, the Emory Children's Center, the jointly owned Emory-Adventist Hospital, and EHCA, LLC, a limited liability company created in collaboration with HCA Healthcare.

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