For many patients whose condition has made them passive and dependent, nurturing plants creates a role reversal: Gardening allows patients to become caregivers. It provides exercise, fresh air, and relief from stress and boredom, and is a good way to relearn skills and accept responsibility for one's actions.
"The plant needs water and if you don't give it what it needs, then it won't grow - and it's the same thing with you," says Fried, also the coordinator of the Horticultural Therapy Program at the New York Botanical Garden.
The Glass Garden consists of four small gardens.
The first, The Conservatory, was built in 1959. It was considered the first garden anywhere to be designed for people in wheelchairs. Located at Rusk's main lobby, it features a pond, cockatoos and parrots, ferns, orchids, and palms. It's a year-round oasis for patients, hospital staff, and visitors.
The Alva and Bernard F. Gimbel Garden, located near the elevator, is a formal garden built in 1969 with funds donated by the Gimbels of department store fame.
The Perennial Garden, built in 1991, is located to the south of the Conservatory and features wheelchair-accessible raised beds, built-in seating, a barbecue and a secluded arbor. In warm weather, it also serves as a classroom for horticultural therapy groups. It, along with the Conservatory, was funded and given an endowment by Enid A. Haupt.
To the north of the Conservatory is the 5, 500-square-foot children's PlayGarden, built in 1998 by landscape architects, a team of physical, occupational, and horticultural therapy staff, and teachers from the pediatric unit at Rusk.
It provides a safe place for kids to explore and practice activities that stimulate curiosity, promote independence, spontaneity, and creativity.
The PlayGarden also provides fun for patients, disabled preschoolers, and all types of kids from the community who are invited to play through Glass Garden outreach programs. An annual Community Festival takes place each June, and includes farm animals, a petting zoo, nature crafts, gardens tours, and pot a plant and take it home!
The PlayGarden features different types of topography and surfaces helping children exercise all their muscles by running, crawling, sitting, turning, swinging and jumping. The pathways orient children as they climb over bridges and under arbors. The grassy hill is great for tumbling, rolling and stretching in the sun. A slide, stepping stones, playhouse climbing roof, hanging walls and a hammock all foster motor-planning, balancing, body positioning, spatial awareness and a range of gross motor and coordination skills.
"We have swings so that kids who can't stand up can still go on a swing; we have rocks around the sandbox instead of just a border and that's great for risk taking," Fried points out. "Children who are disabled should be able to take risks just like other children. Everything in the PlayGarden is there for a reason."
The Glass Garden at Rusk Institute, located at 400 East 34th Street, is open to the public Monday and Tuesday from 8am to 3pm; Wednesday through Friday from 8am to 5:30pm; and on weekends and holidays from noon to 5:30pm. Children must be supervised by an adult. For more information, or to volunteer at the garden, call (212) 263-6058.