Salt Lake Tribune: Freedom Garden helps troubled women sowseeds of confidence and happiness
- Subject: [cg] Salt Lake Tribune: Freedom Garden helps troubled women sowseeds of confidence and happiness
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- Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2006 07:31:28 -0500
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Freedom Garden helps troubled women sow seeds of confidence and happiness
By Judy Magid
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
I always knew gardening was a stress-reliever
for me, but I didn't realize how much therapy
was being planted.
When her life gets complicated, CarolAnn Parkin heads over to the
Freedom Garden at the Volunteers of America Center for Women and Children
"Sometimes I just sit in my car and look at the garden until I feel
better," she says.
The attraction is deeper than brightly blooming flowers, variegated
bushes and a serene fountain.
"My sweat is in that garden. It was hard work digging holes 2 feet
deep, pulling out every rock and hauling dirt in a wheelbarrow with a
flat tire. But doing that made me remember the good part of my life,
working hard with my family. Even thinking about mucking horse poop was
good," she said.
Everyone has a story, and this one belongs to Parkin. Once, she owned
a horse ranch. She is the mother of a rodeo queen. She has been in detox
more than once. She has been sober for close to a year.
"Alcohol cost me a marriage of 26 years. I was homeless. I was in
detox downtown. That was fine with me. I never wanted to come here," she
said, arm extended to the plain building across the street from the
"Just think, living in a place with 30 women. Eewwww," she said with
The Freedom Garden is hedged by trees and bushes on one side and a
street on the other. About a third of an acre, it contains a greenhouse,
a compost section, neat rows of plants in various stages of development
and, at one end, a peace garden with stepping stones meandering through
it. There are names in some of the stones. And ages. Deana, 27; Key, 38;
Catherine, 33; Lori, 42. All had been through the center, but had died.
"These are women who had been through the center, but died because of
addiction," Parkin acknowledges.
A year ago, she did not care much about being sober, and cared even
less about garden work. She did not want to come to the center at all.
"Before I came here, I couldn't make the decision to cross the street.
When I was assigned to work in the garden, I wasn't happy about it."
It was a clinical decision to place Parkin in the detox center. The
garden work to which she was assigned opened a door to possible
Therapeutic horticulture is not a new concept. Recognized for
centuries for calming anxiety, organized therapeutic gardening programs
in America date back to the 1800s. The American Horticultural Therapy
Association was formed in 1973, emphasizing that garden work allows
care-receivers to become caregivers, improves self esteem and builds
But if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to
make a garden.
"Habitat for Humanity built the center. Volunteers of America had
women with no healthy leisure skills coming through the detox center.
There was a piece of land for a garden but no ability to run the garden,"
Mary Van Minde said. A Junior League of Salt Lake City Inc. volunteer,
Van Minde said league members were already teaching crafts classes at the
"The garden was a natural for one of the league's three-year
projects." That was in 2003. While league volunteers still work shifts at
the garden, it was turned over to the VOA in June 2006.
Van Minde recalls speaking about the garden to various community
groups. A check for more than $100,000 from a Florida visitor brought the
advice, "You must have a green house."
There were rough spots.
"The first year, plants in the green house got 'cooked' because it was
too hot. Then we discovered" horticultural therapist Leigh-Ann Morse.
"I always knew gardening was a stress-reliever for me, but I didn't
realize how much therapy was being planted along with the garden work,"
Van Minde added.
Morse did not start out as a gardener or a therapist. In the tragedy
of her son's cancer diagnosis at 2 months old, and his death six and a
half years later, her focus was on doing what had to be done to get
through the day.
"All I did for six and a half years was care for him. When he died, I
still had to get up every morning. You do what you have to do.
"One day, I came in from working in our garden and my husband said,
'You should keep on doing this. It's the first time I've seen you happy.'
And he was right."
Morse became a Master Gardener and then enrolled in a Denver school
and spent 18 months commuting from Salt Lake City to get her degree in
horticultural therapy. The Junior League needed a horticultural
therapist; Morse needed the teaching hours.
"The program is more than physical work in the garden," Morse said.
"Everyone has a story. These residents struggle with addiction, many
have lost [custody of] their kids permanently, as well as their pride. In
the garden, they are given the opportunity to think about planning and
nurturing. Most find they are capable of making something live and thrive
as well as learning how to live and abide by a normal work routine," she
Most residents are weaker when they come from detox, Morse says, and
the physical work is done in 20-minute sets. Sometimes coming off drug
addiction makes it difficult to follow directions. There is a set
"First you fill the bucket with soil and add water. Step two is to use
a soil press to make a soil block and place the block on a tray. Step
three is to use surgical tweezers to put the seed in the hole, and cover.
People think they are just planting seeds. But they are following
directions and making something positive happen. We make metaphors, and
they figure it out," Morse continued.
Van Minde recalls Morse teaching how to stake tomato plants.
"She points out that without support, tomato plants will fall when the
fruit gets larger. Everything needs support.
"There is a leap to understanding that they must have support systems,
Morse is more prosaic.
"Plants die all the time. We look at what we could have done
differently, then make compost. We turn the bin and put the soil back on
the garden. We talk about using the garbage, how you have to weave it
into your life, not just run away."
Morse has seen residents return to detox, but they are happy to get
back into the garden.
"Most love working there. They learn about gardening and they learn
about themselves. Parkin needed a physical task where she could work off
frustrations and anger at where she was. She also had to learn
limitations, acknowledge when her body needed to stop, when she needed to
remove herself from a situation," Morse said.
Parkin is moving forward.
"I have a lot to answer for. I can't ignore the addiction that brought
me here. It walks beside me. Seeing little children come here with their
mothers, seeing the anger and fear in their eyes, is hard. But I have a
job, a place to live and friends for life in the center.
"Still, when things get too much, I drive down to the garden. Somehow,
it makes me connect with my life."
Contact Judy Magid at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8608. Send comments
about this story to livingeditor@ sltrib.com.
To learn more
To contact the Volunteers of America Center for Women and Children or
to learn more about the Freedom Garden, go to http://www.voaut.org and
click on Detoxification Services or call 801-261-9177.
The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
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