Don Rosenblitt looks at a tomato seedling and sees a teachable moment for children, a lesson not just of biology and agriculture but of love.
As director of the Lucy Daniels Center, Rosenblitt has worked with thousands of troubled children who struggle with anger or depression.
And a frail seedling is a way to help those children understand and master their destructive impulses
“They may want to tear the plant up or stomp on it,” he said. “But if you ask the child to think about what the seedling needs, the child wants to make sure the plant has a happy life. This is an opportunity for them to put something good into this universe, to give it love and to see it nourish and flourish.
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On Saturday, Rosenblitt and a small gaggle of dignitaries cut a ribbon to open one of the state’s first therapeutic gardens: an assortment of raised beds, compost heaps and a greenhouse all designed to be a component of psychological therapy.
The garden is part of a growing movement that harnesses horticulture to health care. Therapeutic gardens can be used in occupational or physical therapy for patients with physical disabilities.
The Lucy Daniels Center is not the first to cite gardening as a tool in treating the mentally ill. In 1848, Dorothea Dix petitioned the N.C. General Assembly for money to build a the state’s first hospital for the mentally ill.
Dix wrote that “it is well to combine both physical and mental occupation. Active exercise in the open air, moderate labor in the gardens, pleasure grounds, or upon the farm, afford good results.”
While far from a farm in size, the Daniels Center hopes the garden will be a new tool in its quest to treat the emotional troubles of young children. For 25 years, the center has provided mental health services to children and their families, and is the biggest nonprofit in the Triangle to provide mental health treatment for children.
The demand is far greater than supply. The center has a waiting list up to 6 months for services and says it turns away two of every three applicants.
Former Gov. Beverly Perdue, whose daughter taught at the Lucy Daniels School, gestured to sparkling blue sky and trees bursting with fresh green foliage.
“You put a little sunshine and a little of God’s green earth, and you make it beautiful like this therapeutic garden, and you can transform the emotions and the feelings of these children,” Perdue said.