A garden with “healing” powers

A garden with “healing” powers

At the age of 4, little David Zajac loves playing in the garden. But, just one particular garden at Advocate Children’s Hospital-Park Ridge. It’s a garden where David can play in the dirt and touch the plants. And that’s a really big deal because David does not eat solid food. He gets his nourishment through a tube and eats some pureed food.

David was born prematurely at 24 weeks, weighing only 15 ounces. His eating problems are a result of developmental delays. He cannot tolerate the texture of food, but the therapy garden is making a difference for David and other children struggling with physical, speech and occupational delays.

“To eat, you must touch food,” says Margarita Redmond, senior occupational therapist at Advocate Children’s Hospital-Park Ridge. “Whether it is squeezing plants that feel like rubber ducks or smelling the garden’s herbs, like oregano and mint, just being in the garden is helping them deal with daily living challenges.”

“David loves the garden,” says Joanna Zajac, David’s mom. She has seen a difference in her son’s behavior since playing in the garden. “He used to be afraid to touch anything fuzzy, even a stuffed animal. Now that he has touched a fuzzy plant, he is not afraid anymore.”

David is not alone. For some children with physical challenges, just navigating the garden is good therapy. A twelve-year-old boy with feeding issues picked some basil in the garden. That basil went into pesto sauce that he made and ate himself. One little six-year-old brings his watering can from home each time he comes. He feels a responsibility to water a special plant he’s chosen as his own. Carrying the watering can through the garden helps with his balance.

“The garden integrates all of their senses,” says Colleen O’Neill, a speech therapist and program coordinator for pediatric therapies.  “Being outside, playing in the dirt, watering the plants–it helps kids relax, as well as lets them experience and engage with food. We tell parents it’s a great thing, just go with it.”

When the children arrive for therapy, they quickly grab their vests, sunglasses and watering cans. Just recently, a scavenger hunt was added to make the garden even more enticing.

The youngsters must be good little gardeners, because despite the harsh Chicago winters, about 75 percent of the garden’s plants have survived since its first summer three years ago.

“There is something very magical about this garden, something very special,” says Redmond.

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About the Author

Evonne Woloshyn
Evonne Woloshyn

Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!