Let’s get GROWing: Toronto Rehab Bickle Centre’s “Garden Rehab on Wheels” kicks off their 4th growing season!

Hi everyone:

Guest blogger Amanda here, reporting on “GROW: Garden Rehab on Wheels” from Toronto Rehab’s Bickle Centre!  Despite the cool, rainy spring, we have been hard at work getting things ready to GROW for our fourth season!

Planning started in April before all the snow had melted and gardening felt a million years away, when we set up a booth in the lobby to see what our patients, families and staff wanted to see growing this season.  We tried to get a good number of “wish list” items in different categories: legumes, roots, leafs and fruit-bearing, so that we could attempt some basic crop rotation from last year, which helps to grow better crops this year based on how last year’s plants left the soil.  Pretty cool, right?  We also wanted to add some flowers for the natural pest repelling that they do (and their beautification of the garden, of course!).  Shout-out to garden volunteer Mahnoor Muqeem, who then took on the mind-boggling task of putting our garden wish list into a specific planting plan.

We officially kicked off the season in May with colleagues from far and wide.  An awesome group called Nourish Healthcare caught wind of our garden project and asked to come for a visit, with a group of healthcare leaders across the country, as part of their Food For Health Symposium May 15.  (If you haven’t heard of Nourish yet, be sure to check them out–   https://www.nourishhealthcare.ca/  –they are doing amazing work around innovations to make hospital food more sustainable and nutritious).   When they first called me to ask if they could come, I said yes, but…. “Do you realize that our garden will be unplanted and not very pretty looking that time of year?”  And, “do you realize that we are enthusiastic champions of gardening we are not expert urban growers?” (See: https://talkintrashwithuhn.com/2017/09/19/in-respect-of-farmers/ )  Their response was so encouraging: YES, we realize all of the above, but we still think your garden project is pretty cool and want to see for ourselves what you’ve been doing!

So, on May 15, a small bus pulled up to Bickle, and 24 symposium-goers from Haida Gwaii in BC to Montreal and everywhere in between piled off, eager to chat with us about the GROW program and snap some pictures of our wheelchair-accessible garden boxes.  We were also joined by the amazing Ed Rubinstein who chatted about UHN’s environmental and sustainability initiatives.  It was a great afternoon of idea sharing and collaborating (and the weather cooperated just enough to allow us to stay outside for half the session!)

In June we finally felt confident that the weather was good enough to let us get outside and going, so the real hands-on work began!  We replenished the boxes with some of our own home-grown compost (putting those lunch-time apple cores to work) as well as worm castings (which is less glamorously known as worm poop, but regardless works like magic for helping plants grow), and then got planting.  We are looking forward to some GROW favorites like lettuce and zucchini, and are excited for a few new-to-GROW crops like purple sweet peppers and rapini.

The finishing touch was our garden box signs, specially designed with pictures for those who are unable to read English or have aphasia (a communication disorder that can affect one’s ability to comprehend words).  It is always fun to see these being used as conversation starters between patients and their loved ones.

The garden was planted just in time to be able to be enjoyed by patients, families and staff alike as part of Bickle’s annual garden party social, and even got a makeover for the day with some beautiful fresh flowers!

Now, time to wait for those seeds to sprout and seedlings to grow: as we wrap up Spring, we have lots to look forward to in the summer.   I for one am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labour, with one of our famous salad potlucks, complete with fresh vegetables from the garden and toppings to share from home.  Cheers!

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