Bright sunshine illuminates blue balloon flowers, red impatiens and other brightly colored perennials. Garden-gloved hands press rich soil to feed hungry roots.

Recreational therapist Jamie DuVerneay is helped by three of her patients on a recent sunny day. Together they bring color and life to the Spectrum Health Center for Acute Rehabilitation‘s rehab garden.

“So many of our patients want to return to yard work and gardening and this space makes that possible,” DuVerneay said. “We are providing an opportunity for our patients to do therapy in a natural setting without them knowing they are in therapy.

“It’s a way we treat the whole person,” said DuVerneay.

Patient Barb Feist added, “I like being outdoors but I also like the plants and gardening. It feels good after being cooped up inside to just get outside.”

“Patients come to [the center] following surgery or unexpected trauma or events such as a stroke. The garden is one place we can take patient’s to work on therapy goals but not have it “feel like therapy” because they are doing something they enjoy in a beautiful outdoor setting,” DuVerneay said.

The rehabilitation garden stemmed from a collaborative idea from the center’s occupational, physical and recreational therapists. The space, a small courtyard within Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, was previously unused by patients or staff. Now in its first full year, the garden is utilized by therapists to work on goals including standing endurance and balance, walking on uneven surfaces and improvement of motor skills in the arms and hands.

 The rehab garden space has also been used by the center for Tai Chi classes and picnics for patients during the summer. This winter, DuVerneay hopes to add lights for an eye-catching “Festival of Lights.”