Bob and Gladys Hunt have enjoyed watching the therapeutic garden grow at the Washington County Health Center.
During Hunt’s visits with his wife, the couple would wave and blow kisses to the Penn State Master Gardeners of Washington County as they faithfully monitored the progress from the windows that overlook an interior courtyard.
Now, the Hunts are enjoying the delightful sights and sounds – and enchanting aromas – of the therapeutic garden from the outside, where Hunt often takes his wife for a stroll in her wheelchair, always stopping by their favorite spot to listen to the soothing sounds of the water fountain in the pond.
“Oh, we love it. We love to sit here,” said Hunt, pointing to a garden swing, complete with a ramp that can easily accommodate his wife’s wheelchair.
Hunt even spotted some doves that were calling back and forth in a nearby maple tree.
“It’s great,” Hunt said. “We enjoy sitting and listening.”
The community will get its opportunity as well to experience the sensory paradise when the Master Gardeners and the health center host an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 14.
“It’s remarkable when you realize it was nothing but grass,” said Cindy Zubchevich, activity director at the health center. “It’s like a TV screen that’s live. It’s more than we ever, ever expected.”
The ambitious project was spearheaded by Gardening Partners, a committee of the Penn State Master Gardeners of Washington County; designed by local artist Jeffrey Moyer; and chaired by Kathleen Madigan, a longtime educator and artist who has been working on gardening projects at the Washington County Health Center for more than six years.
The team of Master Gardeners also received substantial community support, including a $12,000 donation from Washington Community Arts and Cultural Center, not to mention manual labor provided by inmates at the Washington County Jail and volunteers from Washington & Jefferson College.
“It’s been a great community project,” said Madigan, whose original gardening venture at the health center was building elevated garden boxes that are wheelchair-compatible to allow residents to have access to the plants and raised beds.
“It’s just evolving,” Madigan added. “We are hoping we can launch more things. We want sustainability.”
A therapeutic garden, Madigan said, is designed to promote and improve people’s well-being, both mentally and physically, as gardening recalls lifelong behaviors that are familiar and reassuring.
“When I did the research two years ago, I found they are popular in New Zealand and England,” Madigan said. “It was a substitute for some of the medications. We tried to activate the senses as much as possible.”
The therapeutic garden at the health center is accessible to, or viewable by, long-term care residents, including those suffering from some form of dementia, and Zubchevich said residents will be encouraged to visit the garden with supervision.
Work on the garden began in mid-October 2016, when Master Gardeners planted 11 ornamental trees. Trees planted include:
• Kwanzan cherry for the beautiful spring flowers;
• Flowering crabapple for the spring flowers, followed by bright fruit, which will attract birds;
• Japanese tree lilac for the fragrant flowers of early summer;
• Laceleaf Japanese maple, weeping white pine, weeping copper beech and river birch, chosen for their interesting conformation or appearance.
“It’s like going to an outdoor art show,” said Madigan, who was an educator for 40 years, including 20-plus years as a science teacher. “As the garden developed, it changed a little. Our mission is to teach horticulture.”
Madigan is hoping to use the centrally located circular addition in the garden as a classroom, where both children and adults can learn about nature. She said the garden also would be a perfect place for artists to express their creativity.
“We have a lot of possibilities,” Madigan said.
In addition to the trees, there are container gardens with vegetables, including tomatoes and basil, which caregivers are encouraged to pick – and eat – and a variety of flowering plants, such as hydrangea, phlox, butterfly bush, peonies, Rose of Sharon, spirea and lavender.
Debbie Burtoft, who has been a Master Gardener since 2010, said the lavender plant has not produced many blooms, but “even if you walk by and it rubs against your sock, it will smell.”
The Master Gardeners also are responsible for the community garden at the LeMoyne Community Center, the history garden at the John White House and several other gardens at the Washington County Fairgrounds, plus the children’s garden next to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.
But Laura Delach, Master Gardener coordinator with Penn State Extension, said she is particularly impressed with the therapeutic garden at the health center, especially since everything had to be transported by wheelbarrows because of the garden’s location.
“They had to wheel everything in. It’s not like they could use a truck and dump it,” said who has a degree in horticulture from Penn State and has been a Master Gardener for 17 years.
“It is beautiful,” Delach added. “They put in a lot of work and time. The earth you can smell, and the wind chimes you can hear.”
What: Open house for the Therapeutic Garden at the Washington County Health Center, 36 Old Hickory Ridge Road, Washington
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 14
Why: To experience the space created by the Penn State Master Gardeners of Washington County for residents, family members, staff and community