By Jake Donofrio, Riverside Community Care Intern
The Neponset River House Garden is constantly growing and changing, much the same as the Clubhouse members responsible for its perpetuation. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, and so many more lively plants develop side by side, mirroring the therapeutic growth of the different members who tend the garden together. This beautiful array of a wide variety of plants is symbolic of all the unique people who came together to bring something life-affirming into this world. Just as there is no garden with only one flower, the Neponset River House Garden is a collaborative effort between colleagues that couldn’t exist without every person who participates in its inception and maintenance.
How Did We Get Here?
Clubhouse members participated in Zoom meetings in April to help plan this year’s garden. The garden changes every year, and so do the Clubhouse members designing and cultivating it. The first Friday of each month was dedicated to deciding which vegetables to plant, and what had to be done in order for the garden to flourish. These meetings were filled with laughter, energy, and great ideas. Everyone’s voice was heard, and the garden became a beautiful reflection of all the members. After planning comes planting, and everyone was equally involved in that activity as well. Clubhouse members then worked hard together cultivating all their produce; every aspect of caring for the Neponset River House Garden is collaborative.
What’s in the Garden?
The sweet, tangy aromas of oregano and mint greet you as soon as you approach the Neponset River House garden. Bright red tomatoes peek out from their leafy vines, and three different colored pepper plants demand your attention as well with their vibrancy and boldness. Little stalks of broccoli wave in the wind, and zucchini reaches out. The beans huddle close together while the parsley and other herbs shoot up through the organic soil. The Neponset River House Garden also boasts two gorgeous pear trees, planted with love by Clubhouse members and staff in honor of the colleagues they lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. All these plants come together to become something greater than the sum of their parts, emblematic of the Clubhouse members responsible for their care.
What Comes After Gardening?
Clubhouse members don’t just work together in the garden, they also collaborate in the kitchen, deciding as a team what dishes to cook with their freshly grown vegetables and herbs and working with each other to prepare them. They work side by side by side in the garden, in the kitchen, and in recovery. Favorite dishes of the members and staff include chocolate zucchini bread made with homegrown zucchini, and veggie omelets filled with their own peppers, tomatoes, and more. Iced tea with fresh mint is a cool hit on a hot summer day and members always look forward to spaghetti with homemade sauce made from the garden’s oregano, basil, and tomatoes. As delicious as these meals would be anyway, they always taste better when prepared and eaten together.
Therapeutic Benefits of Gardening
Gardening isn’t just great for Mother Earth, it’s also beneficial to the gardeners. Gardening as a group improves the bonds between colleagues and encourages closer relationships. Spending time outdoors has been linked to improvements in mood, mental health, and emotional well-being. Additionally, anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health conditions can be eased by going outdoors and interacting with nature. Soaking up the sun while gardening also improves health as the Vitamin D you absorb is essential for bone growth and regulating the immune system. Furthermore, gardening is great physical exercise and produces delicious and healthy vegetables to eat. “This is as healthy as it gets,” longtime Clubhouse member George exclaims passionately. There are absolutely no chemicals or pesticides, just delectable produce as Mother Nature intended.
A Garden Like No Other
The Neponset River House Garden is truly a labor of love. “We are a beautifully interesting bouquet of flowers with different colors and shapes,” says dedicated Unit Coordinator Trudy Bauer. The Clubhouse members grow with the garden, and grow with each other.
The Riverside Clubhouse model offers people with mental illness hope and opportunities to achieve their full potential through employment and recovery. Clubhouses go beyond programs or social services in that they give members the opportunity to be part of a successful, stigma-free community that is restorative while building self-esteem and dignity. For more information, visit our website