Flowers that lure hummingbirds and butterflies. Shade trees. A gazebo and a clothesline. These are some of the features of a unique physical therapy garden that Merwick Care & Rehabilitation Center is building.
The new physical therapy garden will not only be beautiful but will include practical objects to ensure patients practice real life skills to regain their strength and flexibility. These include paths of sand, gravel, brick and asphalt to give patients practice walking on various surfaces during physical therapy. There will be benches of differing heights, raised planters where patients can garden and a putting green to practice their golf skills. The gazebo will feature a door so patients can practice opening a handle. There will even be a parked car so patients can relearn how to get in and out of a vehicle.
“We’re very excited about the new therapy garden,” said Michael Jacobs, vice president of Windsor Healthcare, Merwick’s parent company. “We try to have our patients outside as much as possible. We’re dedicated to healing.”
The 7,500 square-foot garden, which will be completed next month, will allow patients undergoing rehabilitation to enjoy nature as they receive physical therapy. A panoramic view of the garden will be available to patients through the two-story glass wall at the state-of-the art therapy gym at Merwick. A fountain will add to the ambience.
“Many of the things that happen inside can happen outside,” said Jack Carman, a landscape architect with Design for Generations who devotes his practice to designing therapy gardens. “Nature is a positive distraction. You accomplish so much more being out in the garden. It’s a value to the patients, as well as the community.”
The Merwick therapy garden will be the only one of its kind in the region, Carman said.
“There’s nothing else in the area of this size and magnitude,” Jacobs added. “This outdoor rehabilitation park gives patients a lot more to do. Coupled with the indoor gym, it’ll offer patients the best option to regain their strength and stamina.”
Dr. Cheryl Landry, PT, regional director of Select Medical Rehab Services of Kessler Core, said the new therapy garden will have “almost every obstacle a person can encounter,” which will help patients reach their goal of getting back to their homes.
Patients will be distracted by the setting and won’t realize they are getting therapy, said Landry. Meanwhile, as a patient walks, sits on a bench, or hangs clothes on the clothesline, the therapists will assess their gait or note if they have a foot drop, she said.
Studies have shown that patients who can see nature from their hospital room heal faster and feel less pain than patients who don’t have a window, Carman said. Looking at nature lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.
The new physical therapy garden will bring the patient into a lovely natural setting, replete with flowers and trees. The flowers, chosen to bloom throughout the spring and summer, include butterfly bushes, black-eyed susans, cardinal flower, day lilies and roses, a familiar plant, Carman said. Red bud trees will bloom in the early spring and four different crepe myrtles will flower through the summer.
The Luxor Pavilion at Merwick offers short-term rehabilitation for patients recovering from illness, injury or surgery. Many of the patients are in their 50s or 60s and come in after knee or hip replacement, said Landry.
Merwick is part of Windsor Healthcare, a family-owned business. It offers person-centered care in a building designed for comfort with amenities that could be expected in a five-star hotel. The 200-bed facility overlooks the Millstone River near the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro hospital.