United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Veteran's Healing Garden — Inspiration and Rehabilitation
Man tending to raised-bed garden
A Veteran at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC) in White City, OR, plants a new bed of flowers in the Healing Garden.

A Veteran at a VA clinic stood in the middle of the hallway, stared out the window, and asked, "What do you see?"

Dr. Charles Moore, the target of the question, replied, "A swamp."

The Veteran said, "I see a perfect place for a garden for Veterans to grow food. It would be a good experience for the day program patients to cultivate the land, and those with low incomes could help and take food home."

The doctor took the Veteran's advice. In 2002, Veterans, staff and volunteers transformed the patch of muddy land into what is best described as a "Healing Garden." The energies of countless participants allowed the garden to flourish into a place of inspiration, relaxation and rehabilitation.

Dr. Moore is staff psychologist and former coordinator for the day treatment program at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC) in White City, Oregon.

"Farming is pretty intensive, and I would say at least ten to twelve Veterans are actively involved in planting and watering at all times," Dr, Moore explained.

Man hosing down a raised-bed garden
Veterans choose which fruits, vegetables and flowers they'd like to cultivate throughout the growing season.

Gardening to Overcome Depression

Veteran Dan Stevens has worked in the garden for three years. He came to the facility as an inpatient in 2001 at a low point in his life. He is now an outpatient in the Day Treatment Program and keeps active in the garden to help him stay well.

"I suffer from depression so I'm very active to get ahead of it. Gardening started as a class and it captured my interest," said Stevens.

The SORCC serves as a mental health rehabilitation and recovery center that serves Veterans with PTSD, drug and alcohol addictions, and serious mental disorders. The Day Treatment Program is designed to help Veterans stay active and improve their mental health.

Several program classes have incorporated use of the Healing Garden, including a horticulture class, a cooking class that utilizes food grown in the garden, and a tai chi class set outside by the waterfall.

The waterfall, as well as the greenhouse, gazebo, mosaic stepping-stones, and several plant beds, are hand-built features found in the 7,700 square-foot haven. Veteran patients and other helping hands aided in the completion of these garden projects.

"The greenhouse is great because Veterans can grow a plant starting from a seed. We see a lot of enthusiasm and excitement they get out of that," said Dr. Moore.

The time and effort put into the garden over the years has allowed Veterans like Stevens the opportunity to connect with the earth and reap the benefits of their hard work.

Grid of square mosaic tiles on the ground
Mosaic stepping-stones in the garden were created by Veterans in a SORCC day program art class.

Eat What You Grow — A Great Reward

"I think the garden is really good for therapeutic reasons and I can get lost out there when I'm not feeling well. You can spend three or four hours playing with the plants, weeding, watering, and you don't even notice how much time has passed," Stevens remarked.

Each Veteran has the opportunity to choose which plants to sow each season and then reap the rewards of the finished product. Over the years, Veterans have grown produce such as squash, watermelon, artichoke, corn, raspberries and Stevens' favorite, tomatoes.

Last year, Dan grew 200 pounds of tomatoes and gave the majority away to others who would enjoy the nutritious fruit. "It's rewarding for me to share in the bounty. It puts a smile on someone's face," he said.

And the benefits he gains from the garden don't stop there. "The garden is also useful for volunteering," Stevens said. He volunteers as an escort to take Veteran inpatients to community performances. He often attends these events for free, and in return uses the flowers and vegetables from the garden as a "thank you" gift.

A garden can offer rehabilitative value in addition to the plants that flourish at the VA's Healing Garden, proving the Spanish proverb, "More grows in the garden than the gardener sows."

By Megan Tyson, VA Staff Writer