Posted on October 10, 2018

Gardening-as-therapy helps Betty bloom

Betty Wustman loves tending to the flowers at her Byron Center home … bountiful roses and hydrangeas, beautiful flowering baskets and beds, and a house full of African violets.

“I love, love, love flowers,” said Betty, 74, who came to Mary Free Bed after being diagnosed with polymyositis, an uncommon condition that causes muscle weakness. Betty’s love for flowers is why her recreational therapist, Katie Harrington, incorporated gardening into her rehabilitation plan. Because her condition affects muscle strength, working in the hospital’s Recreation Therapy Courtyard enables Betty to work on therapy goals while doing something she enjoys.

“It’s so relaxing,” Betty said. “I love getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine.”

Tucked between the Main Building and the Bernedine Keller and Barbara Hoffius Center, the therapeutic garden space features adaptive beds bursting with flowers and vegetables. It also includes a variety of seating areas for patients and families to enjoy.

During her recreational therapy sessions, Betty prunes and dead-heads flowers to improve her fine motor skills and uses a watering can to strengthen her arms and upper body.

“The therapeutic gardening area is beneficial for our patients, because they recognize their abilities to continue to engage in what they love,” Katie said. “Gardening can be healing in more ways than one, from physically boosting our self-esteem to providing stress relief and more.”

The garden is part of the Mary Free Bed Foundation’s Therapeutic Healing Gardens project that provides restorative spaces for patients. The $1.3 million project is funded by donations from the community. Located throughout campus, the outdoor gardens will be either newly created or vastly improved with plants, paths and tranquil spaces.