Volunteers Get “Down and Dirty” in SAH’s Therapeutic Garden


Sault Area Hospital (SAH) is developing a community Therapeutic Garden over the next five years on two acres of land located at the southeast corner of the SAH property. Led by SAH’s Outpatient Mental Health Services and a dedicated planning committee, the idea was inspired by the psychological research behind therapeutic gardening and working with soil.

“Research has shown that gardening not only relieves stress, builds resilience, and improves healing, but it can actually slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Judith Virta, Psychological Associate and lead for the project. “Gardeners have an increased zest for life, they tend to cope better, sleep better and have a lowered risk for osteoporosis and diabetes,” she adds. The goal of the Therapeutic Garden Project is to support and integrate patients into the community by providing them with an activity that is engaging and satisfying. “Our hope is that this project will also go a long way to reducing stigma of all medical conditions and illnesses.”

Virta says that the garden is not only for hospital patients, staff and visitors to enjoy but, it is an activity in which the entire community can explore and get involved. “Once completed, the garden will not only provide visitors with a beautiful and calming environment to sit in or walk through, but also offer them the opportunity to garden, whether it be working inside the greenhouse, planting flowers in a garden box or pruning bushes.”

The planning committee for the Therapeutic Garden Project consists of staff across the hospital, volunteers and community partners such as the Horticultural Society. According to Virta, garden volunteers took advantage of the warm weather this summer to “get down and dirty” and do some work in the garden. “We had great volunteers, nice weather and enough funds to purchase some soil so we got started by setting up our butterfly garden,” said Virta.

“We are very thankful to Kathy and Phil Lemieux, owners of Lemieux Composting. Not only did they provide us with a great deal on soil, they are making a generous and ongoing donation to the garden,” she adds. “We also appreciate their collaboration in sharing their expertise and suggestions regarding types of products to use for gravel walkways, structures and raised beds that will be helpful for those in wheelchairs.”

“We have been very fortunate that many people have come forward to offer plants and seedlings, as well as volunteering their time and landscaping expertise,” noted Kim LeBlanc-Turpin, Volunteer Fundraising Consultant for the project. “Next steps include raising more funds to pay for the rental of equipment to excavate the land, the purchase of a greenhouse, benches, flower and plant beds, etc.

Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to contact the SAH Volunteer Resources Department at (705)
759-3434, ext. 5323. To make a donation of plants, soil or equipment, please call Judith Virta at (705) 759-3434, ext. 4614. To make a monetary donation to the Mental Health Fund to help support capital equipment needs in this area, visit www.sahfoundation.com.

For more information about SAH, visit us at www.sah.on.ca.