Garden Journal

Healing Power Grows in the Garden

Doreen G. Howard

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!


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Thank you Ms. Howard! I had a

Thank you Ms. Howard! I had a stroke 2yrs ago and also have mobility challenges. I was talking with my parents just this evening about the gardens they had over the years. I remember when my son was a toddler he'd make his way out to the garden,HARVEST WHAT EVER DAD PLANTED and sit down in the middle of the garden to a feast.(we never figured how he got out of the house) What a wonderful memory. I decided I will plant my healing garden this year. Happy gardening cousin Russ!!

LeoD, congrats on your

LeoD, congrats on your positive attitude, and I wish you bountiful harvests and gorgeous flowers. I remember stealing green beans off plants and eating them in the garden as a young girl. My Dad found me one day and showed me how to wash the beans with the garden hose before I ate them. I progressed to stealing peas and Bell peppers!

My dad also gardens from his

My dad also gardens from his power chair. Since he lost the use of his legs, he now gardens from pots he has lined up in his garden. He is also 86 years old. Keep up the good work Russ!

My cousin Russ is overwhelmed

My cousin Russ is overwhelmed with all your messages of support and understanding. We gardeners always find a way to grow, don't we? And, the process is soothing and healing. Good luck everyone, and enjoy!

Patio gardening is lots of

Patio gardening is lots of work and fun to. It products alot of good tomatoes and cucumbers. I know from experience from living in apartment. I love to dig in dirt in pots. I can stand very long and use a walker to get around.
God Bless and enjoy your gardening.



I had a similar experience

I had a similar experience after breaking my ankle last summer. Then I started a nonprofit called Healing Gardens, Inc. to bring back the gardening experience for those who are disabled, elderly and living in low income housing. Check out our web site:

Perhaps Russ might consider

Perhaps Russ might consider running a hose out to the deck from either the kitchen sink or a faucet installed on the deck itself. But perhaps he likes the meditative qualities of the watering process.

I can truly identify with

I can truly identify with your cousin Russ, as I am also limited in my ability to stand and walk. However my wife and I have a small market garden as well as many potted plants on our deck. We grow many verities of vegetables and wild flowers. We both love gardening. I enjoy sitting on my rider....which doubles as my wheal chair, in our back field admiring our work and just watching the plants growth over the days and months. This truly is a healing experience for me, it keeps me alive from the joy of the fruits of our labor. Russ I wish you many years of joy with your gardening and a speedy recovery with your surgery.

On a daily basis, I miss my

On a daily basis, I miss my garden the smell of the earth, the sun's caress,the awesome miracles that happen are just some of the joys that my garden gave to me. Oh God just to get back there again, soon I hope and pray. And to all you that still have these blessings don't take them for granted, not for one second!