HGMH’s therapeutic garden has become a model space for natural healing

By Louise Quenneville, Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital (HGMH)

Louise Quenneville is a Project Manager at Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital (HGMH). With the support of her senior management and hospital board, and working closely with the Dietary Manager and the Stroke Rehab Team, the HGMH garden has grown exponentially over the last five years. Through her work as a Nourish innovator, Louise’s aims to include a substantial portion of fresh food from the garden on every patient tray.

Patients tend to and enjoy the garden at HGMH. 

Patients tend to and enjoy the garden at HGMH. 

We have a garden at home and I’m used to walking out in the garden in the morning and evening.  This garden makes me feel more at home.
— Michel, 75-year old patient

Anyone familiar with the energizing powers of a garden—-the calming scent of lavender, the juicy mouthful of a fresh tomato at peak season—can imagine how its benefits would be even more profound for those who have been through trauma or illness. Since 2011, Hopital Glengarry Memorial Hospital (HGMH) in Alexandria, Ontario, has had just this type of natural restorative benefit.

At HGMH a first grant application revealed the confidence in the garden’s potential: “Stretch Your Limbs, Grow Your Food, Lift Your Spirits.”  The purpose of our garden initiative was to extend the stroke rehabilitation experience of patients to a natural outdoor setting.  For patients recovering from a stroke, the importance of stretching limbs goes without saying. Activities in the garden during the summer months provides an alternative daily exercise that helps to improve fitness, coordination, fine motor skills, spatial awareness, memory, and so much more. It gives stroke patients the feeling of autonomy, the motivation to do something that they were able to do before their stroke, and in some instances may foster a new hobby.

I’ve been here for four months now, it’s good to get out of the hospital and out of your room, see everything grow. Out in the garden here you can smell everything, it’s fantastic.
— Jack, 60 year old patient

Time spent in the garden and the benefits associated with positive clinical outcomes or reduction in a patient’s length of stay in hospital, are complex to measure.  Individual patient diagnosis and possible co-morbidities add to the complexity of such measurement. However, the garden provides an added quality to a patient’s hospital stay and definitely lifts patient’s spirits.

With this program, patients get to grow their own food, and also have the opportunity to eat the produce while tending the garden. Depending on the yield, the produce has had enough abundance to make it into the hospital salad bar and patient meals.

The last two years have been milestones for the hospital garden as a result of partnerships with colleges and universities, which have provided funding for garden expansion and covered student wages for the planning, planting, and harvesting of garden produce. Most recently, an agricultural student has overseen the garden planning and crop rotation, resulting in significant increases in garden yields.

The recipe for a successful hospital garden has many components as well as challenges.  The primary challenge is likely to be securing funding for the initial setup cost of a garden.  Today, with growing awareness of the importance of food in healthcare, supporting research studies and partnerships, and a variety funding avenues can help ease initial costs, making a garden initiative more sustainable and viable.

A flourishing garden on hospital grounds.

A flourishing garden on hospital grounds.

A recipe for a successful hospital garden begins with:

  • Planning ahead with a garden five-year plan
    Start small and grow slowly (We started with four raised accessible planting beds).
  • Getting key support from the hospital board and senior management
    Make sure your garden plan has been established before presentation….
  • Identifying potential funding resources and avenues
    There are numerous avenues such as grants from provincial ministries and university research studies. You can also read out to agri-food organizations for funding, direction and assistance.

Recommendations from lessons learned:

  • Collaborate with universities and agricultural colleges
    Funding may be available for garden expansion and or covering student wages. You can also hire a student from the agricultural sector or connect with the college to see if your garden could be part of the student cooperative experience.
  • Record everything about planting locations, crop rotation and lessons learned in each year
    Note down when the garden planting began, problematic pests and how they were dealt with, how much yield the garden produces, what vegetable gave the best yield and possible reasons why, and weather records.  Make suggestions for improvement for the following year
  • Plan next year’s garden in late fall to early winter
  • Encourage family members to participate in the garden with patients as well as staff to join in programming such as ost a Garden Open House, Market days or a garlic workshop
  • Join organizations that have common goals
    These organizations are wonderful support mechanisms and ideas grow through conversation and sharing experiences
  • Seek sustainability and if this goal is met, share your story!