State hospital patients nurture plants for Salem nursery

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Watch video of the OSH Greenhouse program in action.

The thumbs of Oregon State Hospital (OSH) patients are turning green.

Through a long-standing partnership with 13th Street Nursery, OSH patients learn what it takes to seed, nurture and deliver plants for sale in the community.

long table with tons of little basil sprouts on it inside a greenhouse
Basil sprouts at the Oregon State Hospital greenhouse

This week, OSH staff delivered about 400 young plant starts to the Salem nursery where gardeners can select from tomato varieties (buffalo steak, sun gold, San Marzano, and beaverlodge slicers), zucchini and basil—all grown by OSH patients.

The nursery is owned by Scott King and his wife, Dianna Brainard-King. King says the partnership reflects the nursery’s commitment to serve the community.

“It’s a great program,” King said. “Gardening does wonders for stress, and it’s therapeutic. They’re great plants, so it helps the customers. It’s a win-win all the way around.”

The greenhouse program is one of several OSH job sites where patients earn money while learning skills that will help them transition back into their communities.

In addition to the science and care involved in seeding, nurturing, harvesting and propagating plants, patients learn how to work as a team, show up consistently for work, socialize with others and take and follow direction.  

Michael Taylor, OSH greenhouse program training and development specialist, approached 13th Street Nursery about five years ago with the partnership idea.

“I knew Scott and Dianna were creating a community-centered business and knew it would also benefit patients to learn more about the supply side of working in a greenhouse,” Taylor said. “While they may not be able to work off-site at the nursery, 13th Street can be an anchor to their work. It’s an opportunity for them to see a project through, from planning to delivery. They do everything, even labeling the plants to get them ready to go out the door.”

The program is also two-way street with the community.

“It gives patients the chance to know that their work is out in the community and for the community to be more aware of the work we do here,” Taylor said.  

OSH plants are easy to spot in the nursery. They are displayed on OSH-branded wooden shelving built by patients who work in the hospital’s woodworking shop, also for wages.

Man working with plant sprouts inside a greenhouse
OSH Greenhouse program training and development specialist Michael Taylor arranges OSH plant starts on shelving built by OSH patients.

The greenhouse program reaches far beyond the 13th Street Nursery. Patients work year-round, tending to seasonal gardens on hospital grounds and a wide variety of houseplants including succulents, aloe, begonias, ferns, snake plants and other varieties. The houseplants may end up decorating the hospital halls and common areas, but they are also sold to OSH employees during bi-annual plant sales planned and organized by the patients.

In the summer, the hospital’s kitchen menus call for the greenhouse’s fresh tomatoes, zucchini, basil, garlic, greens, beans, watermelon, Swiss chard and kale. In the winter, radishes and onions, as well as chard and kale, are common.

Overhead screening and shade cloths help create microclimates in the greenhouse that allow patients to experiment with different plants and grow them out of season. These experiments spark conversation and interest as patients learn how light, different soil mixtures and other factors affect plant growth.

“You can see the pride they take in the work they do,” Taylor said.

In addition to the woodshop or greenhouse, patients can apply and interview for jobs in other areas, such as the coffee shop, market, kitchens, groundskeeping, environmental services or library.

On a recent visit to the greenhouse, a few patients excitedly shared the visible success of a new sprout – a small, bright green shoot that jutted out from the stump of a philodendron selloum or tree philodendron.

“I’ve learned more about plants that I didn’t know before,” said one patient. “It’s been therapeutic, too, because at the end of the day, these plants are counting on me to water, give them soil – to survive. I’m learning how to be more responsible in this job.”