Stellenbosch University
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Vegetable garden nurtures rehab patients
Author: Birgit Ottermann
Published: 27/09/2019

The therapeutic benefits of gardening and spending time in a green space are well-known, and now the Bishop Lavis Rehabilitation Centre, a student-driven primary care facility on the Cape Flats, is starting to reap the rewards of its own vegetable garden that was established early this year.

“A lot of our patients either garden as a leisure activity or as an occupation and we needed a garden to use in therapy with these patients," says Maatje Kloppers, senior occupational therapist and joint manager at the Bishop Lavis Rehabilitation Centre.

The rehab centre offers occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and speech-language and hearing therapy, as well as dietetics and primary health care in collaboration with the Bishop Lavis Community Day Centre, and the majority of these services is provided by students from Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, with supervision from staff.

According to Kloppers, the vegetable garden was started by two male volunteers, who are former patients of the Bishop Lavis Rehab Centre. “John Jackson and Adam Solomon are avid gardeners and initially tried to set up a garden on the outside of the rehab centre with grey water during the Cape drought. Their efforts were thwarted, though, when most of their produce was stolen before they could harvest. So, as soon as there was some relief from the drought, we started setting up a container garden in the quad of the rehab centre in January this year," Klopper recalls.

Jackson and Solomon use pallet wood to build planting containers in different sizes and heights (to accommodate patients in wheelchairs and patients that cannot bend down) and are very proud of their harvests.

 “Gardening has many benefits for patients with disabilities," says Jackson. “Together with Adam, I enjoy showing the patients all the skills that they can perform using their hands. I am grateful that I can live out my passion for gardening and at the same time help others at the rehab centre."

Kloppers explains that the garden is used for individual patient treatment. “The occupational therapy students teach the patients adapted ways of gardening after a disability. The engagement of our patients, once they see that it is a real garden, and their spontaneous ideas of how they can make adaptions at home is how we know we have a good thing going," she says. “What is good to see is that the students also learn from the patients, who often have a wealth of knowledge on gardening. This results in a true team effort to gain more independence for the patient."

Kloppers adds that gardening has been included in the occupational therapy (OT) curriculum as part of activity study for the first-year OT students. “We are collaborating with the Ukwanda Rural Clinical School in Worcester where their gardener presents a morning lecture to the class and they come and garden in Bishop Lavis in smaller practical groups. Half of the class has had the experience so far and their response was amazing – they are so engaged with the activity and enjoy the interaction with the gardeners with disabilities, as part of the experience."

Besides providing a green therapy space, the garden also offers fresh produce that is used to make soup for patients during winter. “Producing our own veggies saves us from having to fundraise for the ingredients," says Kloppers. "It is our dream that the garden produces enough food to feed all of our patients when they attend an appointment at the centre."

Kloppers hopes that the garden can be used for all professions at the rehab centre in the future, either as a treatment space or as an activity to improve patients' skill in gardening.

"We also envision starting a garden club with community members interested in gardening – a group led by Adam and John to exchange ideas, seeds and veggies, and to encourage community members to produce veggies themselves and strive towards food security," she adds.


Photo caption: Students, personnel and pasients work together on the garden at Bishop Lavis Rehabilitation Centre.

Photo credit: Wilma Stassen