Garden Therapy

Molly and Clark (the dog)
Meet our guest community garden blogger for this week…Molly Kimmel! Molly is an occupational therapist at St. Patrick Hospital and a community gardener at the ASUM garden. She earned her  masters in occupational therapy from University of Washington in Seattle. Right after school, she moved to Missoula and quickly fell in love with a smaller town lifestyle. When not working, Molly likes to travel, spend time on any of Montana’s many rivers, and of course, tend her garden plot at the ASUM garden.  

In addition to the ASUM garden, Molly also actively participates in the Providence Garden – a different kind of community garden — where plots are rented out. This particular garden provides a communal space for St. Patrick’s patients, staff, and the surrounding neighborhood to enjoy and to provide a place of respite from hectic work and life schedules. The Providence Garden is located behind the Providence Center, which is a part of the St. Patrick hospital system and is a partnership between St. Pat’s and Garden City Harvest. Garden City Harvest garden coordinators (with lots of help from interns) manage the space and most of the produce grown at the garden gets donated to the Missoula Food Bank (over 1,000 pounds have been donated so far this year!).

Meet our wonderful 2015 garden intern, Brenna!

We (Patrick and myself) sure enjoy working with staff and patients in the Providence garden and learning about garden therapy from a therapist’s perspective. In Molly’s blog post below, she writes about how she uses the garden as a therapeutic space for some of her patients.

(And for more information about another initiative taking place at the Providence Garden, check out this Missoulian article about prescriptions for veggies!)

Raised beds at the Providence Center Garden

When Michael started sautéing fresh onions, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes, and carrots for his pasta sauce, I knew it was going to be a good day. Not many people get a homemade meal cooked for them at work, but I have one of the best jobs on the planet. As an occupational therapist at St. Patrick Hospital, I work with people after illness or injury to help them regain their prior level of function with everyday activities. We try to make therapy patient-centered, functional, and meaningful, so when I heard that Michael used to work as a chef in a restaurant and enjoyed gardening, I knew I wanted to take advantage of Garden City Harvest’s Providence Garden as part of his plan for therapy.

When the Providence Garden was getting underway this spring, staff reached out to the different units in the  Providence Center (PC) to see how the space could possibly be used for staff, visitors, and patients. Since the garden is fully accessible with crushed granite paths for wheelchair users and beds of various heights for standing/sitting/kneeling, I knew immediately that it would make an excellent space for patients during therapy.

Up on the 4th floor of the PC at the St. Patrick Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility is where Michael was sautéing his veggies, as well as receiving intensive occupational, physical, and speech therapy, along with 24-hour rehabilitation nursing services, to help him recover from a stroke. Prior to this summer, when I wanted to put together a cooking task with a patient, it meant a trip to the grocery store. Now, thanks to the Providence Garden behind the PC, I had a built-in produce department right in our backyard.

The day before Michael made me lunch, we walked down to the garden to procure our harvest. In doing so, we were able to work on maneuvering over uneven terrain, kneeling down to gather items, interacting socially with the staff at the garden, and getting back to one of Michael’s favorite leisure pursuits: gardening. For other patients, the garden can serve as a place to work on fine and gross motor skills, sensory integration, item identification, or simply as a place to get some fresh air or socialize with family members.

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Every Thursday morning of this summer, I have taken 1-4 patients to the garden for a therapeutic group. Everyone enjoys their break from the therapy gym and their time outside, whether they are hunting for the ripest tomato or sampling herbs to decide what will best accompany their upcoming lunch. Then on Friday, we often use what we harvest to make a simple appetizer or light lunch while practicing meal prep skills and kitchen safety. When we begin cooking, not 5 minutes go by before other staff, patients, and family members come walking into the kitchen saying,   what smells so good?

The garden itself has become an invaluable extension of our unit and our therapy offerings – allowing patients (and staff!) the chance to spend time outside, gather healthy, fresh produce, and get back to “normal” life. I am incredibly grateful to the staff at Garden City Harvest for their hard work making this garden accessible and I look forward to our continued partnership in the seasons ahead. For more information about St. Pat’s Inpatient Rehabilitation, visit our website or call 406-327-3260.

Many thanks to the kiddos in the adolescent  outpatient program who made these beautiful signs for the garden!

{If you’re interested in checking out the Providence Garden for yourself, join us for a Garden Party this Thursday, October 8, from 4-6pm. The Clove Cart will be selling pizza slices, there will be liquid refreshments and live music. Come celebrate the season with us!}