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Greenhouse helps patients at Utah State Hospital grow

By Shelby Slade daily Herald - | Apr 19, 2017
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Greenhouse manager Mark Van Wagoner poses for a portrait on Friday, April 14, 2017. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

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Greenhouse manager Mark Van Wagoner poses for a portrait on Friday, April 14, 2017. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

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Greenhouse manager Mark Van Wagoner poses for a portrait on Friday, April 14, 2017. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

In the two greenhouses at the Utah State Hospital in Provo, the flowers are blooming in careful rows next to vegetables that are growing taller.

Each day patients from the Utah State Hospital come down to the greenhouses and get an opportunity to work with the plants and help them grow — it’s an opportunity that also helps the patients as they receive treatment.

“It’s cool because they (the patients) come down walking like this,” Greenhouse Manager and Instructor Mark Van Wagoner said with his head hanging down and his shoulders hunched. “They get in here and they start smelling the plants, they get their hands in the dirt, they start planting and you can see their whole demeanor just perk up.”

“By the time they leave out the door, they are happy, they are smiling,” Van Wagoner added. “The whole time they are going back to their units they’re all positive and they talk about the experiences they have down here.”

That’s something everyone (who interacts with the patients who get to work in the greenhouses) has noticed.

Jeff Turner, recreational therapist at Utah State Hospital, said he has the opportunity to take patients to the greenhouse several times a week and see the difference it makes for them.

“Some of the benefits I’ve see are it’s given them a sense of reward and accomplishment,” Turner said. “They are able to start the plants from a seed and take care of it and watch it grow and produce fruit and flowers. Then the public is able to come in and they see them receive the item they worked on.”

The program, which now includes two greenhouses, several dozen grow boxes, areas for growing other plants, and space for trees, started about two years ago as a partnership between the Provo School District and the Utah State Hospital.

While the greenhouse was built by the school district, it is on the State Hospital’s land and is staffed by someone from each organization, Brad Saunders, administrative director on pediatrics at the State Hospital, said.

This partnership makes it possible for all the patients — rather than just the pediatric patients attending the school at the Utah State Hospital — to use the greenhouse.

“It needs to be an equal force for it to be successful,” Saunders said.

Van Wagoner said the patients work in the greenhouse year round planting seeds, transplanting the seedlings to containers, designing arrangements for pots and hanging baskets.

“Basically everything that’s out here in each greenhouse, the patients have helped with,” he said.

They also plan to start growing sagebrush for habitat restoration and working with other organizations to help grow items to be transplanted at different locations, Van Wagoner said.

“It’s a great way to start their day,” Saunders said. “When they get up and they are looking for that first activity they go down into a relaxing environment and I think it helps them get their emotions stable for the rest of the day.”

Saunders said the patients told him the greenhouse gives them a chance to learn things outside of just reading from books, relaxes them and makes them feel like they are at home rather than in a hospital.

Dennis Meyers, principal of the school at the State Hospital, said the pediatric patients he works with at the school come in from working in the greenhouse early in the morning excited about the day.

“They go down there and work and I hear them coming in the building and they will say, ‘Dennis, I got to do this today. I got to work on that,'” he said.

After the plants have taken root and started growing, the public can then come in and purchase the flowers and vegetables the patients have worked on in late April through mid-June. Meyers said that connection with the community is important.

“People who bought plants and flower baskets last year have already been contacting me and people who didn’t know about it last year and found out by word of mouth have already been contacting me saying, ‘When are they going on sale?'” he said.

“Sometimes we have students in the greenhouse helping the customers get their stuff and carry it out to their car,” Meyers added. “The kids absolutely love it. Some of them come here thinking I can’t do anything and then it’s like, ‘Hey, I like going down to the greenhouse and working there.'”

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