Growing' Program Helps Hospitalized Kids

By Christina Elston

'In a rooftop garden at St. Louis Children's Hospital, horticulturist Gary Wangler offers kids who are recovering from serious illness and accidents a healing diversion. Inside the hospital, the children labor with occupational, physical and speech therapists. In Wangler's horticultural therapy program - part of a growing movement in hospitals and rehabilitation centers nationwide - kids can focus instead on the color, feel and smell of plants.

"When they go through these other therapies, they're working," Wangler says. "But I think for that 30 to 45 minutes that I'm working with them, they're in a different world."

It isn't all fun and dirt. Wangler consults with the other therapists working with the young patients and then reinforces what they're doing by incorporating it into the gardening work he does with the kids.

He recalls one 5-year-old undergoing speech therapy, for example. "After working with him for about three weeks," Wangler says, "he was saying 'germination' and 'horticulture.'"

Any child can benefit from gardening, Wangler insists; his therapy program helps kids build motor skills and learn colors, shapes, vocabulary and other concepts. "And," he notes, "it's fun," something kids confined to a hospital probably don't get enough of.

For a list of "healing gardens" in hospitals and health centers nationwide, visit

 Christina Elston is the contributing health editor for United Parenting Publications.

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