Therapeutic Pearson Gardens

George Pearson Centre sits on an unusually large site of sprawling lawn, considering the price of real estate in the City of Vancouver. And that will soon change, as land owner Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) recently sold most of the site to developer Onni.

Back in 2008 that underutilized land and the hospital-like nature of life in a care facility inspired a few determined people to bring therapeutic gardening to the residents of Pearson. We managed to convince the then-manager of Pearson to allow the building of community gardens and a small urban farm on the site. It is likely that the close working relationship CARMA had with the manager was a critical part to this being accomplished, as many garden proposals prior had been rejected. VCH allowed us to use the land, but was otherwise uninvolved in the development of the gardens. At least they didn’t stop us.

And so began Farmers on 57th. The support of the DABC (then the BCCPD) and a grant from Vancity in January 2009 enabled the initial build. Friends and family members contributed their sweat equity. The snow that fell in March that year didn’t help, as a few of us struggled to roll up wet sod!

Preparing land for the Market Garden at GPC in March 2009
Preparing land for the Market Garden at GPC in March 2009
Friends & Family help build the Pearson Therapeutic Gardens in 2009
Friends & Family help build the Pearson Therapeutic Gardens in 2009

The project has grown in scope and strength since then, adding a CSA program, programs that reach out to isolated community members, links to the Community Kitchen and more. The GPC administration now funds the residents’ weekly gardening program. The Recreation dept staff are important to bringing Pearson residents and volunteers together to garden, make flower bouquets and share knowledge. And once the harvesting starts, we juice the fresh fruits and veggies — sadly fresh produce is rarely part of the meals served at this facility.

Gardening is therapeutic for so many reasons. Many residents here have limited physical abilities to garden, which makes the experiences of smells and the visual stimulation of bright colours all the more impactful.

This image depicts a basket of lavender
The smell of fresh lavender is therapeutic

Simply being outdoors amid the plants cannot be understated as incredibly important to health and well-being. See a recent Georgia Straight article which speaks to this. They interviewed the wonderful Aimée Taylor, who helped coordinate the Pearson Garden program in the earlier years but has since moved on to a full time job, spreading her knowledge throughout the community.

Living in a hospital-like setting isn’t a normal human habitat. Plants are, in contrast, normal. The gardens provide a balance to the call bells, medical equipment and procedures. Growing plants is beautifully unpredictable and chaotic in contrast to the routines of living in a care facility. The first time I’ve seen some people smile has been in the gardens, with an armful of smelly lemon balm or a clutch of colourful sweet peas. The therapeutic power of plants on humans continues to inspire me.

This image depicts a residents reading in the garden
Finding Balance in the Gardens