The city’s best-kept-secret garden could not have found a better hiding place: NYU Medical Center’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Midtown Manhattan. Tucked in the corner of the hospital lobby, the garden is easy to miss. It has no sign, nothing pointing to the 1,700-square-foot conservatory known as the “Glass Garden.”
For those who stumble in, it’s plant paradise. Plants hang from wooden trellises and aluminum bars, while others adorn long tables like fashion models on the runway. Big-leafed giants crowd around the garden pond, their stalks and stems rising up to and swaying from the ceiling of the greenhouse. Meanwhile, two rubber tree plants — at least 14 feet tall — guard the narrow entrance.
It’s considered a small botanic garden, explained Gwenn Fried, a horticultural therapist who has worked at the garden for 16 years.
Named after its benefactor, Enid A. Haupt, the garden has been used since its opening in 1959 to help treat patients recovering from strokes, brain and spinal cord injuries, amputations and other physical and emotional traumas.
“We use horticulture as a modality for therapy,” said Fried of the internationally recognized therapeutic garden. “We work with patients to rehabilitate physical and cognitive functions and to foster a sense of accomplishment.”
The garden also creates what Fried describes as a “normalizing environment” for patients and their families. “When children visit grandma,” Fried said, they don’t need to see her in a sterile hospital room.
Buried in the garden is a small room — the Horticultural Therapy Center — where patients and other groups participate in horticulture workshops. In addition to hospital patients, staff members work with special-needs school children and social service organizations throughout the city.
The secret garden, in fact, is no secret at all. It is open to the public seven days a week, receiving an estimated 80,000 visitors annually.
On an early spring morning, a handful of visitors and a few men and women in wheelchairs toured the garden.
“Look at those orchids,” said one man in a chair. “Aren’t they beautiful?”
Zazu – one of several exotic parrots and birds there – startled the visitors with his unexpected “hello.” And Solomon, an old salty parrot, liked whistling as women went by.
The whistling and bird banter, combined with the swishing of sparrows in the taller plants and trees, helped create an alternate reality for patients and visitors alike.
But the oasis might be coming to an end. Earlier this month, the hospital announced a plan to demolish the Glass Garden, along with a children’s garden and two additional garden outdoors, as part of its relocation to a new facility – the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Pavilion. It’s expected to close within 12 – 18 months.
“I hope that when they rebuild they make a space for this,” said Fried.
Caption for photo above: A 1,700-square-foot Glass Garden in NYU Medical Center’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine is used to treat patients recovering from physical trauma. The hospital announced plans to close the longtime therapeutic garden within 12 – 18 months.
Entry filed under: Community Gardens, Urban Agriculture. Tags: Enid A. Haupt Glass Garden, Gwenn Fried, horticultural therapy, NYU Langone Medical Center, parrots, rubber tree plants, Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, therapeutic garden, Zazu.