EDMONTON- Several people who have taken part in a unique gardening program at an Edmonton hospital say it has literally saved their lives.
Alberta Hospital Edmonton is helping patients with mental illness by putting them to work with plants through the Horticulture Therapy Program, an initiative that’s been affectionately dubbed a “Hidden Gem” by patients.
The hospital greenhouse produces a variety of flowers and other plants and even includes a banana tree.
“It actually pulled me out of my darkness,” Ed Brown said. “I lost 85 pounds and I didn’t know who I was – I thought I was a monster.”
Brown has suffered from both bipolar disorder and acute depression in the past. At his family’s request, he was first brought to the Alberta Hospital Edmonton by police when he hit rock bottom. After a psychiatrist treated him with medication, an occupational therapist suggested he try working in the hospital greenhouse.
“Immediately, I found a sense of belonging, a sense of peace, a sense of purpose – things that I was lacking in my life,” Brown said.
Despite being discharged from the hospital over two years ago, Brown continues to volunteer at the gardening program to help the people he credits with keeping him alive.
Betty Schick is a rehabilitation practitioner at Alberta Hospital Edmonton. She says about 1,000 patients have completed the gardening program since it first began in 1999.
“They all have an understanding of what mental illness is,” Schick said. “They all have an understanding of what they’re going through. They’re compassionate toward each other, empathetic towards each other.”
According to Schick, the program can benefit patients in a number of ways. For some, manual labour relieves stress or anxiety. For others, it’s simply helpful to have a specific task to focus on.
The program also offers patients a chance to work as a team and to gain valuable work experience through gardening.
Shirley Bray credits the program with providing her with the confidence to look after her four grandchildren.
“I feel like they’re safe with me, like I’m not a danger to them in any way.”
“People change here,” Schick said. “They come in here and they’re sick and slowly I watch them turn into themselves again.”
Hospital staff say they hope more Edmontonians will support the program by coming to buy plants and produce from the garden.
Alberta Hospital Edmonton is located at 17480 Fort Road.
With files from Su-Ling Goh