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Homestead Therapy Garden

by Barbara Abita

What do prison inmates and nursing home residents have in common? They share a garden. The Sheriff's Work Assistance Program was among the many community members that came together to build a barrier-free garden at the County - owned Homestead Nursing Home in Frankford Township, New Jersey.

Landscape designer, Barbara Abita of David Wright, Landscape Architect in Branchville, New Jersey was approached by the local garden club to donate a design for a horticultural therapy garden. The design criteria included amenities for the residents comfort and safety as well as meaningful therapy for both the body and mind.

Staff assist residents at raised flower beds. The gentle slope of the walk allows diverse heights for horticultural therapy.

The garden was sited in close proximity to the entrance for maximum accessibility and protection from the ceaseless winds. Staff and visitors alike find themselves admiring the flowers, birds, and butterflies as they pass through the space, which serves as a transition from the parking lot to the entrance. Areas of warm sun and cool shade were needed in the manageable 25 X 100' space. Arbors, shade trees and sunny open areas offer residents a choice. Grade changes were used to advantage by providing various degrees of height in the raised beds, accommodating wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Cedar planting tables, accented with copper were built by County Facilities. They are comfortable for both sitting and standing and provide storage for tools. Niches along the smooth paver walk provide built-in cedar benches for visitors to sit with their loved ones. Sound and movement is provided by windchimes and songbirds attracted by feeders and birdhouses. Sound enhances the comfort of disoriented residents by providing an audible reference point.

The planting plan encompasses the many wants and needs of the elderly and disabled. Intense color and fragrance stimulate fading senses. Flowers planned to evoke memories has one resident reminiscing, "I used to work summers taking care of my Uncle's roses," Vegetables proved to be very popular, almost everyone remembered their 'victory gardens' and all enjoyed the harvest. Herbs were requested by the Homestead chef and not only enhance the garden experience, but the palette as well. Fresh cut flowers adorn the lobby and rooms throughout.


Residents visit with their loved ones, just steps away from the nursing home entry way.


Mary Lou Schnurr, Homestead Administrator comments, "The garden's first year has been a great success and its future is bright." The Arts & Heritage Council featured the newly planted garden on its spring tour and solicited an army of volunteers from Master Gardeners to school teachers. The Homestead Auxiliary, having successfully raised the money to build the garden, continues to raise funds for maintenance and other garden programs. Local garden clubs, landscape suppliers, and garden centers continue their strong support and interest.

Abita concludes, "Gardens have a way of bringing people together. As I look around, I see the leadership of the County and Administration, the labor of the S.W.A.P. inmates, and the talents and compassion of all the volunteers, but mostly I see real, meaningful therapy happening for the residents."

Joy, an articulate writer and wheelchair bound resident is usually busy writing her autobiography. Today, she is at the potting bench working on a basket of petunias. "I never thought I would ever be a gardener," she says. "I've been having trouble writing the ending to my book, but now, I think I finally know how to end my story."

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June 18, 2019, 8:37 am PDT

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