USO – Metro Hospital Resiliency Gardening Program

A team of GSMG is supporting  USO-Metro Hospital Resiliency Gardening Program at Fort Belvoir with gardening information in the context of their treatment. Each week a group of 16 active duty service members leave their hospital treatment to learn about the many benefits of gardening.   The team stresses  “resilience” as that quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.  Just like many environmental factors — both natural and human made — the gardener experiences an evolution in overcoming many obstacles rewarding us with both beauty and bounty.  It also fills patients with hope and gratitude. The metaphor of gardening as well as the techniques and tasks provide some insight into our own resiliency.  Participants learned that good soil, water, sun and tendering ensure a great result, and so does hope and gratitude contribute a positive force in each of us..

Gardening makes us healthier.  It:

  • Gives us a sense of responsibility
  • Allows us to nurture
  • Connects us to other living things
  • Is relaxing
  • Helps us concentrate on the present
  • Provides physical activity which allows us to vent and/or release in a positive way
  • Is easy when the challenge is to only participate.


Passing the Trowel  

The contributions of the GSMG  helped connect patients to the earth and to each other throughout our yearlong program.  At the beginning of each session they  “Passed the Trowel” symbolizing the connection to each other each week and the shared commitment to ensure continuity in the maintenance of the garden.  They were successful, the plants thrived and the yield reflected that effort and learning.


Gardening is a lot like life, a bit fragile


Throughout the year they learned about gardening by doing and that gardening requires constant attention and care. Sometimes they nurtured seeds to grow into plants; other times they water and weeded so that the plants bear fruit, and still other times we intervene to fight off pests.  Gardens change all year long just like our lives.  As a result of these changes the master gardeners taught technical gardening aspects as well as connected them to many of life’s lessons  and challenges.

The GSMG as a team assembled a garden memory book which has been reproduced 600 times as it is designed to suggest and remind the patients of the positive experiences at the USO garden.  Many of the hospital staff requested copies of the garden booklet as it also provides ways to work in the garden and create simple ways to add to diet and overall wellness.  Gardens provide a place for starting, researching or sustaining a project from growing herbs in a windowsill to full grown outdoor gardens. The booklet is organized by seasons so that the patients may see the whole sequence of the gardening process and use the information for your own ideas, inspirations and guidance. It is purposely not a detailed “how to“  manual but a seasonal road trip containing gardening tips and suggestions. It is also like a journal for learning how to capture and sustain the mental and physical benefits of gardening and growing something you own.

Now a second volunteer team of Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Green Spring Master Gardeners from Fairfax County Virginia is creating another booklet focused on Herbs and their wellness benefits. This second project came about at the suggestion of the patients as they transitioned from hospital to home.  We expect this second booklet to be completed by July and will be reproduced and distributed to future hospital patients.

The volunteers feel that this is an extraordinary experience, privilege and honor to share our knowledge to those that service our country in uniform at this critical juncture in their lives. Our work is inspired by their commitment to their recovery, and in their interest in gardening.

If you are interested in doing outreach to those on the Fort Belvoir Base, please let us know. The visibility of the hospital patients beds have created many inquires from those in the Warrior Transition Unit and families living on base.

Photo of the organic plant markers donated by MCG Biomarkers.

Tomato plants for the USO Resiliency Garden

The plants are now planted into its beds.


One Comment Add yours

  1. What a great read! Seems we have a lot in common 😊 Love the book idea, to see the history of the garden!


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