American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) was pleased to accept the National
Council on Aging (NCOA), Health Promotion Institute, 2009 Best Practice Award.
Specifically, the prize was conferred in honor of SFA professional education
programs. Also receiving NCOA recognition was the Wellness Garden Program at
Glacier Hills Retirement Community, which brings us to today's special issue.
Serge van der Voo is the landscape designer who oversaw
the installation of Glacier Hills' award-winning Wellness Garden.
serving as Landscape Project Manager, Serge now directs day-to-day operating
maintenance for the entire Glacier Hills campus, as well as new landscape
additions. In March, he traveled to Las Vegas to accept the NCOA award at the
2009 Aging in America Conference. The following text, photos, and illustrations
are taken from the Power-Point presentation that Serge gave during those
The heartwarming story of the Wellness Garden is sure
to give Experience! readers many useful ideas about how to bring nature's
blessings to older adult activity clients. The editors also hope you will enjoy
the colorful pictures of this lively, delightful place!
About Glacier Hills
Hills Retirement Community is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Founded in
1966, it has a 35-acre campus including 26 villas, 200 independent and assisted
living apartments, 160 nursing beds, and more than 400 residents and staff
In 2003, the Wellness Connection of Glacier Hills
established a commitment to wellness integration among residents and staff.
full-service exercise facility was created to enhance resident/staff range of
motion, physical strength, and cardiovascular health. The
following year, Glacier Hills Home Care (a non-Medicare certified home health
care company) was started to provide assistance with daily living activities,
nursing, physical therapy, and social work support.
In 2005, the Wellness Garden was installed, and soon
thereafter a Wellness Garden Program Coordinator was hired to promote and
coordinate Wellness Garden activities with residents, staff, and volunteers.
The Wellness Garden Program
"Embracing the enrichment of the whole person..."
is a goal of the Glacier Hills Wellness Garden. Participants engage in gardening
activities, natural history lessons, walking groups, and intergenerational
activities. Programming is geared toward helping residents maintain and extend
their cognitive and physical abilities, their social and vocational network, and
their emotional and spiritual solace. The garden itself is designed to provide
residents, family, staff, and friends with a backyard setting that pleases one's
sensory modes (smelling, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and remembering).
Its features include:
Automatic entry doors with awning
Curvilinear raised garden beds with water spigots
Adjustable shade canopies
Adaptive gardening tools
Accessible pathways and swing
Vertical planting wall
Seating area nodes
Outdoor sound system
Multi-seasonal perimeter planting beds.
Program Background and Partnerships
The Wellness Connection increased organizational
awareness of the relationships among human health, wellness, and the physical
environment at Glacier Hills. The administration embraced research indicating
that exposure to natural settings has an overall positive effect on human
well-being: psychologically, socially, and spiritually.
Wellness Garden planning
meetings began in early 2003 with the Landscape Project Manager, administrators,
the Care and Rehabilitation resident, and staff members.
Garden design priorities included:
Encouraging spaces utilizing motor skills and
Colorful focal points from inside the building
(reds and yellows)
Smooth curvilinear forms for the walkways and
raised planting beds
Shady seating nodes (at points of intersection)
The experience of sound and motion
Fragrances to attract songbirds and butterflies
through selective plant communities.
Funding for the garden installation in October of 2005,
its tools, and its programming resulted from the generous donations of the Ann
Arbor Branch of Women's National Farm & Garden, resident Ann Edwards, and a
bequest of the Richard Whitker Trust. Since 2006, the Wellness Garden Program
Coordinator has established community partnerships with Ann Arbor Community
Volunteers; local elementary, junior high, and Montessori schools; the Matthaei
Botanic Gardens; and the University of MIchigan's Public Health & Natural
Resources Department (for example, for faculty consultations and student
Currently Glacier Hills' Recreational Therapy
Department implements the Wellness Garden Program. A collaborative effort is
encouraged among the directors of the Wellness Connection, the Rehabilitation
Department (which includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech
therapy), and the Activity Programmers from the independent living areas within
Regular Wellness Garden programs incorporate the
six dimensions of wellness: emotional, intellectual, physical, social,
spiritual, and vocational. They include intergenerational picnics and planting
parties, learning bird calls, botany classes, walking groups, socializing, live
music programs, horticultural crafts, art therapy, and adaptive games.
Plant materials used in the raised planting beds are
determined through focus groups and through written surveys. Tomatoes, peppers,
beans, sweet peas, melons, carrots, spearmint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and
basil have been planted in the raised beds. Residents spend time planting,
watering, and harvesting during Garden Club activities.
Passive activities are considered equally important to
the seasonal use of the garden. These non-programmed activities include reading,
taking a stroll, relaxing on the swing, listening to the overflowing water of
the fountain, or simply watching songbirds gather berries, grasses, or seeds.
Evaluation and Follow-Up
Wellness Garden programs are annually evaluated
by the residents who use the garden. Glacier Hills seeks to enable residents,
staff, visitors, and healthcare garden designers to specifically appraise the
garden's therapeutic design elements. The following garden additions have been
made after receiving valuable feedback:
An outdoor sound system with satellite radio
programming was added after several residents and staff evaluations noted
that traffic and other noise pollution was an issue within the garden.
An overhead retractable awning and automatic
accessible double doors were added once staff pointed out the difficulty of
wheeling residents out into the garden
Indoor and outdoor Wellness Garden signage was
installed after receiving feedback from the Healthcare Garden Design
Certificate of Merit Program at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
After reading several resident evaluations that
expressed the desire to be able to garden on rainy or winter days, the idea
of creating wheelchair accessible indoor planting tables came to fruition.
University of Michigan Landscape Architecture students were asked to design
and build three moveable wooden planting tables for Glacier Hills as a
working project for their "construction methods" course.
Resident Survey Quotes
One survey question for the residents is, "How
do you feel when you spend time in the garden?" Responses have included:
"(I feel) as if I am much better than I am, or
maybe I am much better for being out there. I enjoy every minute. I just
like to be in that place, whatever my condition."
"It's an inspiration to go out there. I feel as
though there is still some beauty left in the world."
"I have to say, homesick, because I would sit
outside at home, and my home is gone now. I like the outdoors -- to be able
to breathe fresh air. I don't like to be cooped up."
"I feel renewed and rejuvenated when I'm out
there. I feel a spiritual connection with God and I feel like I am worth
When asked, "What kinds of things do you like to do in
the Wellness Garden?" residents' responses have included:
"I like to look at the butterflies and know what
they are. I like planting and eating... I've even learned to identify the
plants and I'm very proud of what I've learned."
"I like to walk around and look at what's
blooming, just like I would at home."
When asked, "Do you and your family visit with each
other in the garden?" one resident replied:
"When my son or relative comes to visit, we go out
there and sit and talk and reminisce. I've noticed the changes and the
beautiful flowers. It's amazing and I enjoy it. Every day I see something
More Inspiring Visuals
Below are additional photographs and representations
that demonstrate the charm and practicality of the Wellness Garden at Glacier