The play deck at CHOP’s Children’s Seashore House had been greatly underused for many years. Attempts had been made to make it accessible for patients, but those efforts had not been fully realized … until now! April 2012 was the culmination of three years of work. Under the direction of Alison Marx, operations officer, Pediatrics, and the creative expertise of Groundswell Design Group, a landscape design firm that donated its time and talents, the play deck was transformed into the cheerful, peaceful and colorful Sea Garden.
The Sea Garden was designed to reflect the healing and calmness embodied in the sand and sea. The theme is integrated throughout in the decorative scrims and a recording playing the sound of waves and sea gulls calling. Numerous mobile planters have been installed that enable patients to participate in horticulture activities, offering a hands-on connection with the natural environment and the life cycle.
Patients participate in fruit and vegetable plant selection, planting, watering, weeding and harvesting — and then prepare and cook the food both in individual and group sessions. The benefits of working with plants are numerous: education in nutrition and the health benefits of plants; advancement of gross and fine motor skills; increased endurance and mobility; and promotion of cognitive skills such as sequencing and organization. It also helps patients feel excited, motivated and invested in their therapy.
“When a patient starts to realize that they can still garden and still work with their hands, which they thought they could never do, their entire outlook changes,” says Linda Neil, an occupational therapist on the Rehab Unit.
Caring for the Sea Garden is a total team effort, says Tami Konieczny, M.S., O.T.R./L., OT team leader for Rehab. Kripa Dholakia, P.T., M.S., P.C.S., PT team leader for Rehab, consults with the Philadelphia Horticulture Society and monitors what foods need to be harvested and when. She conveys that information to the Rehab team for use in patient treatment sessions. Jen Sciolla, M.S., C.C.L.S., Child Life manager, assists with operational coordination and development efforts, and Natalie Virgilio, special programs coordinator for Child Life, spearheads bringing special Sea Garden events to the larger Hospital population. A past seasonal event was the creation of mini-scarecrows, called “Care Crows,” which patients made for placement in the garden. And it’s not uncommon to see Mary Markov, R.N., Rehab nurse manager, pulling garden weeds herself! Even CHOP’s chef gets into the act with cooking contests. The recent Best Tomato Recipe Contest was a huge success, with the winning recipe making it onto Galaxy 57, CHOP’s closed-circuit TV and radio station.
But it is the patients themselves who make the Sea Garden truly come alive and who benefit most from participating in the gardening activities. The Sea Garden offers innumerable outdoor therapy options for children and teens at CHOP not available before. We are grateful to those who funded, planned and contributed to this project. Thanks to their support, we will be harvesting optimal therapy outcomes for many years to come.