by Elana Ashanti Jefferson

February 11, 2011

ENGLEWOOD -- Among the physical, emotional and financial hurdles facing people with spinal-cord or brain injuries, learning or re-learning to garden may seem low on the list of priorities.

Craig Hospital cares exclusively for such patients. And as it turns out, gardens and gardening go to the heart of its mission to enable people recovering from crippling physical traumas — including car accidents, serious falls, sports injuries and violence — to live independently and recapture as much of their original lives as possible.

The hospital's long-standing horticultural therapy program has expanded significantly in recent years thanks in part to Colorado Garden Show Inc., the organization that produces the annual Colorado Garden & Home Show.

This year's show begins today at the Colorado Convention Center and runs through February 20th. Proceeds from every ticket sold are awarded in horticulture grants and scholarships like those that have gone to Craig.

"The Colorado Garden & Home Show was very instrumental in helping to upgrade and create brand new gardens on the Craig campus," Susie Hall, the hospital's horticulture therapist, said earlier this week after wrapping up a topiary class with a small group of patients. "We now have a variety of sunny areas, shady areas, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs along with lighting and plant-ID tags.

Craig Hospital's terrain park was the dream of one of its physical therapists. Just before it opened in 2009, another physical therapist, Stephanie Laube, above and at right, jumped in a wheelchair to give the park a test run. (Photos by Todd Kreinbrink for H&L Architecture)

The terrain park includes vines growing up columns and grasses for year-round interest. It's one of a few outdoor areas at Craig Hospital that benefitted from grants from the colorado Garden & Home Show.

Hall's practice focuses on using plants and planting activities to enable patients to address physical and emotional needs. She said it's not unusual for patients to come to horticultural therapy withdrawn and disconnected. But once they begin working with plants and soil, and learning about adaptive gardening solutions such as planting tall containers, patients tend to come out of their shells.

"There's just something about working with live material," Hall said. "I see so many people come out of a very quiet place once they have an opportunity to connect with plants. Nobody is telling them what to do or pointing out their weaknesses."

Even on a brisk winter day, the large garden outside the hospital's northwest entrance is aglow with golden grasses and dark-green shrubs punctuated by kinetic sculptures. This has become a spot for patients and families to spend time together. Neighbors also pass through to take in the garden's serenity and solitude.

Another outdoor area on the Craig campus that's blossomed with help from Colorado Garden Show Inc. is the 2-year-old terrain park. Formerly an area plagued by overgrown weeds and unkempt bushes, today the park is a series of ramps, stairs, curbs, bumps, cobblestone and gravel surfaces where patients become proficient with their wheelchairs

"We tried to incorporate as much plant material as we could," said Ann- Marie Srivastava, one of the landscape designers with Colorado's H&L Architecture who conceived the look of the terrain park.

"Patients had been going all over the city to find specific instances to practice with their wheelchairs," she said. "Our mission was to design a space with all the elements they needed to practice on — stairs, curbs, ramps and different surfaces."

"Working with the staff at Craig Hospital is very inspirational ... the strength that they have, and the attitude that they take toward recovery," Srivastava said. "There's no sitting around and moping."

Tickets for the Colorado Garden & Home Show at the Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th St., are $10-$12; kids 12 and younger are admitted free. Discount tickets are available through Tickets West outlets at King Soopers. Details at Elana Ashanti Jefferson: 303-954-1957 or