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Therapy Garden Partnership

A zen garden, a putting green, an amphitheater and a butterfly garden are just a few of the new features that will soon be a part of the rehabilitation process at On With Life, thanks to a unique partnership with Iowa State University and a group of master gardeners and volunteers. The new outdoor therapeutic grounds and sensory gardens, part of the program's capital campaign project Life Forward, will occupy nearly two acres of the program's Ankeny campus. 

"When I heard about the project, I was inspired and felt my Advanced Garden Composition students not only had the expertise to help, but could benefit from contributing to improving the quality of life for people recovering from brain injury," said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and professor of Horticulture at Iowa State. 

As a starting point, students were presented with a wish list of ideas prepared by a group of master gardeners and volunteers, including Cindy Friedrichsen, Kate BensonLarson, Kathy Winter, Kam Stupka, John Snyder, Mark Schneider and Faylene and Jerry Kluver. The list included more than 50 items the group felt were important components of the state-of-the-art outdoor space they envisioned. To further prepare for the challenge, VanDerZanden's class of 11 students toured On With Life to learn about brain injury rehabilitation and the benefits of a therapy garden. 

"Working within this type of outdoor setting helps rehabilitation feel less like therapy and simulates real life situations using functional therapy, which is our ultimate goal," said Dave Anders, director of therapy at On With Life. 

In November 2014, after working on the project for five weeks, the class presented three design concepts to On With Life. The concepts included plants and trees that would stimulate all five senses, walkways and paths that would provide varying levels of terrain, and mulitple interactive activity stations that would stimulate various regions of the brain. 

"We are extremely impressed by all of the work the students put into the project," said Friedrichsen, project manager at On With Life. "They were able to successfully take our ideas to the next level and visualize the space in ways we hadn't even considered." 

On With Life will continue to work with graduate student Alejandra Feliciano to finalize the design and develop a virtual tour of the grounds. The tour will allow donors to see how they can sponsor garden features or equipment. On With Life was proud to receive its first donation for the project from Pioneer Hybrid, which made a $50,contribution in the fall of 2014.