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During the summer of 2012, an important project began on the grounds of Orchard House, the smaller of two units comprising McLean Hospital’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute (OCDI). Next to the house, which is home to eight OCDI patients, a humble, yet thriving vegetable garden has been created that has served needs beyond the obvious throughout this summer and last. Fresh and resourceful in its approach, the project also harkens back to McLean’s early years when the hospital was a self-sufficient community with a working farm that provided eggs, milk, and produce.
Inspiration and initiative from OCDI Community Residence Counselor Daniel Lamanna is the key for the ongoing success of this wonderful new resource. Lamanna clarifies that he has been able to introduce gardening as a coping strategy for OCDI patients to use when they are anxious.
“I’ve been gardening for three years,” says Lamanna, “and found that the benefits of growing food go far beyond the bounty. At the OCDI, we encourage patients to find something meaningful to do with their free time and to practice remaining mindful and focused on the present moment during times of heightened anxiety. Gardening is a great vehicle for accomplishing this goal.”
Lamanna explains that turning the soil, weeding, and planting are jobs that involve a lot of focus on a single task, much like meditation, and that the work of gardening is actually great exercise as well. Another benefit the garden can offer is opportunities for exposure for individuals struggling with fears of contamination. The OCDI garden is organic and utilizes composted vegetable and animal matter for fertilizer, which presents a challenging, yet meaningful way for patients with contamination worries to expose them to this fear and learn to conquer it.
Maintaining the OCDI garden requires a lot of effort and involvement from the patients in the program. In addition to the help patients provided in constructing the fence and getting the whole project up and running last summer, Lamanna continues to enlist support from OCDI patients with the tasks of planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and harvesting the garden’s produce. “When I have a resident working with me,” he adds, “it gives me a unique opportunity to build a connection and get to know them a little better.”
Of course, since the garden has begun to flourish, another obvious benefit the patients of Orchard House regularly enjoy is having fresh, organic herbs and vegetables included in their meals. Enjoying the produce from the garden provides an opportunity for staff to discuss balanced and healthy eating habits with OCDI patients and creates a context for exploring the connection between physical and mental health. Lamanna went on to add “I hope that if our patients make a connection with the OCDI garden similar to the connection I found during my first gardening experience, it will inspire them to garden when they go back home.”