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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Greenhouses as a Therapeutic Tool in Veterans’ Homes and Hospitals

Proposed greenhouse for Veterans Administration, March 15, 1949. American-Moninger Greenhouse Manufacturing Corporation Collection. Archives of American Gardens.

The American-Moninger Greenhouse Manufacturing Corporation Collection at the Archives of American Gardens includes architectural plans and drawings of greenhouses designed by the firm dating back to the 1920s.  The plans in the collection include three designed for United States military facilities: Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey in 1936, the U.S. Navy Yard in Charleston, South Carolina in 1941, and the Veterans Administration in Fort Custer, Michigan in 1949. While we do not know for certain the nature of their use, it is likely that the greenhouse designed for the VA in Michigan may have been intended for therapeutic use by veterans recently returned home from World War II.

The first use of horticulture in the treatment of psychiatric patients in the United States took place at what is now Friends Hospital in Philadelphia.  Founded by the Quakers and first named The Asylum for Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, the hospital built a greenhouse in 1879 to be used by patients.

The rehabilitative needs of war veterans in the 1940s and 50s helped to spur the further growth of horticultural therapy and to solidify its place among the therapeutic options for veterans.  Through gardening, wounded soldiers engaged in a form of physical therapy that simultaneously provided them with skills to help ease their transition into the civilian workforce.  Others who suffered from what we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were aided by the calming orderliness of gardening in conjunction with other forms of treatment.  Greenhouses were (and still are) used to enable year-round gardening and thus continuous therapy.

A February 2015 article in reported an upcoming program in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that seeks to help rehabilitate veterans suffering from PTSD and other problems through horticultural therapy.  Veterans to Farmers, a program in Denver, Colorado, gives returning veterans a chance to gain viable skills while providing a peaceful environment in which to learn and work. Similar programs exist elsewhere, including the Veterans Greenhouse and Gardens Program, part of the VA Boston Healthcare System.

These are just a few examples of many such horticulture therapy programs throughout the U.S. The healthful benefits of gardening and greenhouse production have long been acknowledged and continue to be employed today in the healing process for our veterans.  The American-Moninger Greenhouse Manufacturing Corporation Collection of greenhouse plans here at the Archives of American Gardens offers a glimpse into the history of this long tradition of healing.

Katie McLain, 
2015 Graduate Research Assistant, Smithsonian Gardens
Master of Arts Candidate, History of Decorative Arts, 
The Smithsonian Associates-George Mason University

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