By Laura DePrado, MAHTN member and HT Student Intern, Rutgers University (SEBS)Member: AHTA, Rutgers NJAES RCE Master Gardener of Somerset/Hunterdon Counties, NJOwner: Final Touch Plantscaping, LLC

Indoor/Outdoor Water feature selected by AH Residents for their newMeditation Garden. Residents chose 14 Bleeding Hearts to symbolize thepainful and courageous journeys of women past, present and future.

Today, the Courtyard at the Anderson House, in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey is transformed. Eight lushgarden plots a kaleidoscope of colors, textures, shapes, and the soothing sound of water. Today, the livesof Anderson House residents and Rutgers Master Gardeners are transformed by the journey in the form of ahorticultural program only 1-year young.

Phase One: Meditation GardenIn Spring 2009, Anderson House residents recovering from drug and alcohol addictions started with the goalof a creating a new Meditation Garden. The garden has sprung to life…alluring and restorative for all who come… a garden now birthing with the arrival of spring.

Under the guidance of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) CooperativeExtension of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, DePrado spearheaded the project as a new one to RCE.With DePrado as team leader, a 15-week horticultural program was successfully implemented at AndersonHouse.

Fifteen Rutgers Master Gardener volunteers delivered the pilot program aimed to educate and inspire theresidents about gardening with the goal of giving them the tools to plan, design, and transform an existingcourtyard into a Meditation Garden: to teach them life skills. In addition, six Master Gardeners came outevery week during the program, and continued to provide an additional 11 weeks of educational supportthrough November 2009: Joan Hoffman, Elke Hendershot, Bobbi Godleski, Gay Orfe, Carol Moersdorf, andDePrado.

Residents defined what would be their new Meditation space, in the first horticultural workshop, as a placeto read, reflect, and be part of nature’s wonders. Residents envisioned the space, using colors, fragrance,wildlife, and the sound of water. With DePrado’s passion and leadership at the helm, the commitment ofresidents, Anderson House staff, and Rutgers Master Gardeners, the courtyard space blossomed into a special garden defined by the residents.

Two field trips were also arranged by DePrado: One to Hionis Greenhouses & Garden Center (NJ) tolearn about commercial plant propagation, and one to Dutchman Fountains (PA) to select a water feature.The program has been life altering for residents and Rutgers Master Gardeners of Somerset and HunterdonCounties as was evident during a Dedication Ceremony held on July 15th in 2009. Residents presented giftsof photos, jarred herbs with personal notes, a poem, entitled, “How Does Your Garden Grow, signed by all ofthe residents.

“No one could have planned or predicted that residents would teach us and inspire us for 25 weeks” saidDePrado. Our relationship with residents and staff grew every step of the way as we worked side by side,”adding that “the connection and the result of putting women (from across New Jersey) in recovery, and plantstogether is natural, full of wonder and expression, and endless possibilities of opportunity and inspiration.”

The Dedication was just the beginning: The Meditation garden was featured in the MAHTN Exhibit at theInternational Philadelphia Flower Show, in a PowerPoint presentation by Kevin McDevitt, which highlighed HTprograms from around the world.

In addition residents pursued vocational opportunities, learned how to garden and how enjoyable it can be, andgained a renewed sense of pride, collaboration, accomplishment, joy, and respect.

Phase Two: Vegetable & Herb GardenOnce again DePrado is spearheading a second project, another 14-week program with new residents, andnew inspirations: This year, the goal is a fenced-in Vegetable and Herb Garden. The project was launched inMarch 2010 with an orientation program facilitated by DePrado, in which Master Gardeners presentedresidents with a 5-sense experience using herbaceous plants, and woody ornamentals. Five classes havebeen held thus far. Residents have started a variety of vegetables, herbs, and annuals from seed and are nownurturing them.

Anderson House Clinical Director, Helen McIntosh,explains the deep connection that exists betweengardening and the hard work the residents do to overcometheir disease. “By nurturing the plants and coaxing them to grow, the women in turn, nurture and grow the creative partof them that has been numbed through their addiction.Like seedlings, they are weak and vulnerable at first. Butover time, they evolve into self-reliant, determined andhealthy beings. The skills and insights they’ll learn with thenew vegetable and herb garden project will take them onestep further toward self-sufficiency and will be a victory inthe truest sense: a symbol of their victory over theirdisease.”

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