Gardeners take for granted their ability to plant, rake, weed and deadhead. However, when sudden medical problems rob them of the ability to stand, their world turns upside down.
That’s what happened to my 59-year-old cousin Russ Wolters of Mundelein, Illinois. Gout, infection and a broken hip put him in a wheel chair for the last six months, as doctors treat his problems in preparation for a hip implant.
This sudden and colossal change wasn’t going to stop him from gardening. He’s spent his life growing peaches, apples, cherries, grapes, a wide assortment of vegetables and flowers. Gardening is a large part of who Russ is. He gathered containers, gallon milk jugs and hanging baskets to plant a vegetable and flower garden on his deck.
Russ started small with a few pots and hanging baskets. Soon his entire deck was a jungle of plant serenity.
He can wheel himself out to the deck through the kitchen door to water and tend his plants. The living walls of green give him serenity and positive energy. No wonder he spends most of the day and evening on the deck among his plants, relaxing with music, reading the newspaper and just soaking in the positive, green energy.
The most difficult part of wheelchair gardening, Russ says, is hauling all those milk jugs filled with water through the kitchen to the deck garden. Container plants, even ones in big pots, drink gallons of water in the summer heat. He’s doing a good job, though, as his plants are large, lush and produce plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and more. He even has a Money (Lunaria) plant blooming, petunias and geraniums.
Notice all the plastic milk jugs? Russ fills them with water in the kitchen and wheels them out to the deck to water. It takes a couple of hours daily.
History of Healing Gardens
What my cousin Russ created is an excellent example of healing gardens, which have been around for centuries. The Greeks incorporated them into green spaces. Medieval monks grew healing plants in cloistered gardens where their patients flourished just as the plants did.
In the last 30 years, the healthcare industry has begun to integrate healing gardens into their facilities and use them as therapy for patients. They range from AIDS patients to burn victims, recovering addicts, dementia patients, children with cancer and those with life-altering medical problems, permanent or temporary.
Russ Wolters relaxing in his healing garden after picking ripe tomatoes.
Healing gardens are therapeutic sanctuaries that soothe the mind and body and comfort the soul. That’s what my cousin created on his deck, a place of comfort, therapy and delicious tomatoes!
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.