Treatment for many patients at the West Central Georgia Regional Hospital now includes growing a variety of plants in a new greenhouse.
The hospital's activity therapist Pam Ligon, who leads the gardening program, said the psychiatric facility can only do so much for the patients with group sessions and drugs.
These sort of non-traditional activities are needed.
While some gardening has been done before on the campus, Ligon said the addition of the greenhouse allows planting vegetables and flowers at times other than the spring and summer.
"We are giving our clients life skills they can use when they are released," hospital administrator John Robertson said. "We are building confidence here."
The greenhouse is part of a planned campus beautification program in which hospital patients build planter boxes near walking paths.
The greenhouse belonged to Columbus resident Robert Gilliland who donated it to the hospital.
David Eaton, a Hardaway High School student, took bringing the greenhouse to the hospital campus as his Eagle Scout Project.
He raised $500 and then he and members of Troop 2, which is associated with St. Matthew Lutheran Church, disassembled the greenhouse, transported the parts by truck and trailer to the hospital on Schatulga Road and rebuilt it.
Ligon said the project began in July and the 20x12 building was ready by the beginning of October.
Eaton said the benefits of building the greenhouse go beyond achieving his Eagle Scout rank, saying it was "the opportunity to create a positive impact on the hospital, the people it serves and our community."
He said it was "very hard work."
Robertson said, "The clients we serve at West Central have so many talents, whether in music writing or gardening.
"Any opportunity that we have to build on their strengths is a big plus."
He said that society doesn't understand mental illness.
There are some great, smart people who don't live a normal life because mental illness gets in their way, he said.
"We teach them how to cope," he said.
Ligon said when the gardening program began, it was assumed that, eventually, there would be a greenhouse.
It came sooner than expected.
It now stands near the hospital's fishing pond.
She said the items grown include cabbage, turnips, cucumbers and tomatoes.
"We cook them. We make salad," Ligon said. "There's nothing like a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich made with a tomato you grew."
She said the women tend to like growing flowers more.
Ligon had loved gardening for quite awhile, saying that it was her therapy.
Recently she participated in the master gardener program offered here by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.
The master gardener program is a volunteer training program designed to help the extension service staff transfer research-based information about gardening and related subjects to the public by training home gardeners.
All aspects of gardening and the environment are studied.
"I have not done much in a greenhouse before. I gained a lot of knowledge. I learned about temperature and lighting. I would never have thought to test the soil," she said. "I feel better prepared to lead this gardening program which I expect to grow."