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Recovering from a brain injury involves a great deal of hard work, and some of that work includes finding ways to enjoy life again. 

Thanks to a new 1,700 square foot greenhouse, Special Tree clients at the NeuroCare Center in Romulus are discovering joy in the therapeutic qualities of gardening.

“Working with plants has been shown to release stress and it really improves your ability to focus on what you’re doing,” said Greenhouse Coordinator Linda Davis. “Doing work with the plants and the greenhouse is a nice change for clients. A lot of the physical and occupational therapists bring clients out to work on motor skills, but the benefits are more than just physical– it’s really rewarding to use helping plants to help people.”

The clients find it rewarding as well. Dan B, a client in Special Tree’s vocational program, spends time in the greenhouse every week doing a variety of tasks. He originally started frequenting the greenhouse when it was still new on the campus, just because he had a free day to fill, but now says he wouldn’t miss a visit.

“Every day is different,” he said. “We transfer plants, we cut herbs and put them in a closet to dry out, we strip them down, crush them and will put them in jars when they come in. The goal is to eventually sell them. I’ve built a shelving unit and done other stuff in there too.

“What I tell other clients is to keep going because there is something for everybody. Even if you don’t enjoy what you did one day, the second day is going to be totally different.”

Dan added that he enjoys learning new things about horticulture and that any way he can learn new skills will only add to his skill set and help him find employment in his community.

“My goal is to get a job someplace, someday, and if I go and get a job somewhere they may need someone for maintenance or they may need someone for a greenhouse, and now I have that covered,” he said.

The final touches to the newly constructed facility were made in September, and from there Davis and the Special Tree therapists hit the ground running. Activities are frequent and varied, such as a Lady Bug Release Party in October, Glass Painting classes, and “seed tape” construction in March. But often, warm air and sunlight are the real draw.

Activity Assistant Kari Webster said that having the area is a big benefit to clients if only because it offers a “different atmosphere. “Especially during winter months, having a place that is sunny and warm is a kind of instant mood elevator. Having all those plants in there too really gives a change of environment,” she said. “One client went down one day and planted a plant that she took back to her room. Later, when it was time to return, she was excited to bring the plant back and show Linda how big it had gotten.

“Just caring for that plant and taking ownership and pride, it gave her a sense of accomplishment. It may seem small, but it’s huge for our clients. There may naturally be letdowns they go through during recovery, but this is always something positive.”

Balmy weather and thriving plants are nice during the winter, but according to Davis, the summer is when the greenhouse will truly shine. A wheelchair accessible raised vegetable garden will get underway this spring in the area adjacent to the greenhouse, and there are even plans for a palm tree when the weather will support it. Once the plants are started, they will be moved inside for the colder months. Davis said that the larger tropicals like the palm tree and a banana plant (which will grow to eight feet in three years) will help fill the high ceiling of the enclosure. She mentioned that tomatoes and trellises could also be used to fill the space.

The greenhouse isn’t just for looks either. Herbs and spices—grown using only organic sprays and natural pest controls like the lady bugs—will be packaged and sold. Produce such as kohlrabi, beets and turnips will be used in the meals created at the NeuroCare Campus’ fully outfitted kitchen. Starting in June, a farmer’s market is planned on the campus for every second Friday until October, giving locals, clients and their families a chance to sample the harvest.

Visitors are welcome to tour the greenhouse and campus weekdays if arranged in advance. For details contact Jack Richert at 734-341-5604 or at jackrichert@specialtree.com.