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Marin Ventures plants seed for well-being

  • Marie Narlock
  • "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." — Robert Louis Stevenson

    It's a sunny morning at San Rafael's Marin Ventures, and the garden is abuzz. Cathy waters a row of climbing beans, while Bill harvests plump blackberries off a thornless cane. Dena pulls up a clump of carrots, and Greg snips spinach after helping himself to a few blueberries off a nearby shrub. Jennifer tugs out a weed and checks to see if there are any ripe tomatoes before plucking a sweet strawberry. Satisfied, these gardeners take a seat together under the grape arbor and enjoy a well-deserved break.

    "Marin Ventures' clients have developmental disabilities," explains executive director Jami Davis, "but this certainly doesn't stop them from participating in the garden. On the contrary, we see the garden as integral to our goal of providing therapeutic and calming opportunities for our clients and staff."

    The official term for what's happening at Marin Ventures is "horticultural therapy," the use of plant-related activities to achieve personal goals such as increased socialization, relaxation, improved motor skills, and a general sense of well-being. Sound familiar? Yes, those are some of the reasons why we all garden, regardless of our physical and mental abilities.

    Designed and built with Master Gardener know-how, Marin Ventures is a prime example of an adaptive garden. Paths are straight, wide and flat to accommodate people using wheelchairs. Planting beds are raised for easy access. All plant selections are nontoxic and chosen specifically for sensory delight: lambs ears for softness, rosemary for scent, bright spots of flowering color for visual appeal, an overflowing bounty of edibles for taste. Seating and shade are plentiful. Tools are lightweight and easy to use. A fountain emits calming water music as birds swoop in for a drink.

    If this sounds like your dream garden, then you're not alone.

    "I love having lunch in the garden with our clients," says Marin Ventures program director Pete Konicek.

    "This area was a strip of concrete before it was transformed into our outdoor haven," he says, adding that the garden has become a focal point for the facility and serves as a gathering place for meetings and celebrations. If you would like to visit the Marin Ventures garden, please call 472-4961, ext. 106.

    Marin Ventures is not the only therapeutic garden created by Master Gardeners. In Larkspur, the Brain Injury Network of the Bay Area garden provides many opportunities for brain-injured individuals and their families and caregivers to flourish. Master Gardeners Pat Compton and Karen Halvorsen have spent countless hours turning an arc of land surrounding the facility into an eclectic garden.

    "The therapeutic benefits that our garden has on our participants and visitors is profound, says BINBA operations manager Therese Jacobson. "It creates a sense of calm to those who wander through it."

    On any given day, those wanderers include up to 30 brain-injured participants. Some choose to plant seeds or transplant sprouts. Others make garden crafts to sell or find expressive ways of describing the garden through painting or writing.

    The BINBA garden also serves as a multifaceted demonstration garden. Interested gardeners may find inspiration in the recycling and reuse sections, the succulent garden, rain catch area, dry creek bed, and native hedgerow. The public is welcome to drop by the garden at 1132 Magnolia Ave. or to peruse the educational materials on the fence.

    "This garden serves our brain-injured population first," says Compton, "but, like all gardens, it benefits us all."

    Like plants, gardeners come in all shapes and sizes and possess myriad unique traits. Marin Ventures and BINBA meet the specific needs of their clients while offering a lovely setting for family, friends, and other interested gardeners.

    If you would like to learn how to contribute to the community by becoming a UC Marin Master Gardener, please join us for an information session in Ross on at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 in the Marin Art and Garden Center's Livermore Room at 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Ross Applications can also be found online at www.marinmg.org.

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 473-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.