Left to right: Richard Steenson, occupational therapist; Clara Mann; and Jim Poore, physical therapist assistant

Clara Mann welcomes a sun-kissed day in Hendersonville, North Carolina, reminiscing about her youth.


She eagerly propels her chair in the new therapeutic vegetable, herb and sensory garden at Life Care Center of Hendersonville.


Song birds greet Mann with their calls as she gleefully shares, “Instead of computers and television, Father would teach us kids to identify birds through sound and song.”


In this garden, purposeful activity, self-worth and occupational performance serve as catalysts to recovery from a dispiriting femur spiral fracture.


With a little help from a friend, Life Care Center of Hendersonville’s horticulture management program recently sprang to life. Mason Gempe of Boy Scout Troop 61 organized and assisted in the development of three raised garden beds. He is also the son of one of the facility’s nurses, Ronda Gempe.


“The most meaningful moment was the act of putting the boxes together,” he said. “I enjoyed building and painting and found it relaxing to put something together with wood. There is no greater feeling than that of seeing something you create help someone who needs help.”


Richard Steenson, occupational therapist, believes purposeful connections between gardening, occupation, socialization and universal design improve health and promote recovery. Three days before gardening, Mann was able to stand for one and a half minutes. Once she started this personally meaningful activity, she said, “I am not sitting until this last plant is in the dirt!”


Through this meaningful task, Mann was able to stand for six minutes and use functional reach skills, focused more on achieving a task and less inhibited by the discomfort of her injury.


This advancement rendered Mann the confidence to attempt (and succeed!) with a new activity of daily living, allowing her more independence with her other daily routines.


“The progress Ms. Clara and other program participants demonstrate is the prosperity of therapeutic gardening,” said Steenson. “On this campus, we embrace the benefits as growing independence blossoms from seed to root, sprout to fruit, much as the progress of our patients.”


“I have spent four months at Life Care,” Mann said. “I have been pleased with their therapy program. I am able to walk again! All the therapists are very patient and capable, and I appreciate how they’ve helped me.”


Mann even wrote a poem about her time in the horticulture program:


There’s a nook beyond the wall

where roses bloom and birds call.


We set tiny plants to grow

in the furrow’s shallow row –

lavender, mint and thyme,

favorite fragrances of mine.


I love the time I spend there,

savoring breezes of fresh air

among the lilies of brightest gold.

What memories we have to hold!


Mann completed her therapy program and returned home on July 20, 2018.