At Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, garden provides temporary reprieve from institutional life

Horticulture EP HenryEWING - Surrounded by mulch, some flowers and a wheelbarrow or two, Ken Gough, 56, said last week he has found a way to escape from the cares of life temporarily in a gardening program at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.

"It's nice to get out of the closed unit," said Gough, a patient at the institution. "It gives me a chance to get out of myself for a little while and not focus on what I'm up against."

The small farm, consisting of a greenhouse and several rows of crops, has existed since the hospital's foundation in the 1930s, and clients have always been involved, benefiting from the therapeutic nature of gardening.

However, in the last year the program has expanded its vocational aspects with the hiring of instructors and by developing broader options for work. Gough is one of the patients involved.

A recent day found him out on the hospital grounds working to repave a section of the campus, a project that involved working with a representative from the "hardscaping" company EP Henry, which is cooperating with the hospital. Gough said he had never done paving work before and was excited to learn.

The skills he learns will give him extra confidence in his own abilities and add to his marketability when he leaves TPH, which is what officials at TPH hope will happen for all of those involved.

"We put all their work into a portfolio," said Craig Dupée, an instructor. "When they get discharged from the hospital they can use the portfolio to show prospective employers the types of projects they've done."

Dupée and Jon Hoagland were hired this past year as institutional trade instructors. Both men bring 30 years of experience in the horticulture business that they're eager to share with patients at TPH.

Dupée explained that the overall program teaches a wide range of horticultural skills including gardening, equipment operation, plantscaping, hardscaping and floral design. In addition to learning new skills, he noted that clients receive monetary compensation for their labor.

Client Jonathan Post, 29, began the program a few weeks ago. He enjoys the tranquil atmosphere and views the opportunity as a way to learn new skills that he can continue to use after he's discharged.

Earlier in the day he had been learning how to use a professional-grade lawnmower.
"I'd only ever used a push mower," he explained. "When you first try something new, you can be a little hesitant, but here you know it's a safe environment. It's exciting to learn."
"Jon and Craig are just really good people and nice to work for," added Gough.

In another recent project, a local funeral home donated their used floral offerings, which patients used to learn floral design, creating their own arrangements to decorate the facility. They also go on field trips to professional horticulture companies to speak firsthand with professionals.

Hoagland said that the next step is to work out programs to refer clients to potential employers such as Home Depot or Loews, where they can put their skills to use.
"The program is a nice therapeutic process that helps them with recovery," said Hoagland. "But, they're also learning the skills they need to get a qualified job when they're discharged."

In the meantime, much of what the patients are doing could be described as real employment. The TPH farm operates a greenhouse store open for limited hours on weekdays. The store is open from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Friday.

Anyone interested in visiting the greenhouse should go to 100 Sullivan Way in West Trenton and ask security for directions to the greenhouse, which is less than a mile down the road from the hospital itself.

TPH will also be selling patient-made wares at the craft fair at Capitol One Plaza in Trenton on June 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.