Wheelchairs wend around the accessible planted beds at Abilities United, their occupants fussing over flowers and vegetables, watering and harvesting carefully tended crops.
Gardener Maria Elena Arreola took over her usual spot at the flowerbed picking flowers and carefully arranging them into a bouquet, which she later gives away.
Nearby in the tactile bed, participants use their senses, with fingers reaching for different textures such as the soft, wooly lamb's ears. Noses burrow into foliage, taking in the scent of rosemary and geranium; eyes close in pleasure at the taste of fresh, ripe strawberries and blueberries. The ambient soundscape includes the whirring of garden-ornament pinwheels and the cheeping of visiting birds.
The therapy garden at Abilities United provides fresh fruits and vegetables and the sustenance of soul that nature offers, but also enhances the cognitive, social, psychological and physical needs of its clients, according to Dina Gibbs, a founder of the garden with Suzanne Redell.
In the garden, clients learn to work independently, follow increasingly complex directions and improve attention spans and concentration, she said. Anger and aggression can be relieved through physical activities in the garden, Gibbs said.
The gardeners are also exercising their memories, remembering past projects and tasks, Wendy Kuehnl, Abilities United marketing director.
And better social skills develop when the gardeners interact with and teach each other.
"They use teamwork. One person fills the watering can while the other waters the plants," Phipps said.
Clients also benefit from exercise, which many of them may not get otherwise, Kuehnl said. Gibbs added that through the garden, clients are out in the fresh air, using their bodies and adapting to physical changes in a non-threatening environment.
Overall, gardening gives a sense of purpose and accomplishment, according to Kuehnl.
"They have received so much nurture in their lives and this lets them nurture something else," she said.
Gibbs and the other therapists also teach the gardeners the quality and value of eating the food they grow.
The gardeners also share their extra produce with the community. The community benefits from the garden in other ways, such as the garden parties Ability United holds.
A recent $3,000 grant from the Garden Club of Palo Alto for the garden and Milestones Preschool will allow Abilities United to purchase a garden cart for the Adult Services program. According to Gibbs, the cart will be easier to use than a traditional wheelbarrow. A child-sized teak bench has already been purchased for the Milestones preschool, she said. Garden Club members Laurie Jarrett and Mary Doten nominated the two services for the grant.
"Watching our gardeners proudly enjoy their organic home grown strawberries, lettuce and tomatoes makes it all worthwhile for us," Gibbs said.
This story contains 499 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.