After a bad experience with tonsillectomy as a child, Leonard Gloeb had an aversion to hospitals. Lucky for him – and lucky for Children’s – Leonard got over his fear. For the past 27 years, Leonard has been volunteering his time and talents as a master gardener to provide horticulture therapy to our patients and their families in St. Paul.
Horticulture therapy is the purposeful use of plants and plant-related acts to promote health and wellness for all people. Its use dates back to ancient times, and today, it is widely accepted as a beneficial and effective therapy to help build and improve cognitive, physical, psychological and social skills.
Leonard visits Children’s twice a week to perform a variety of plant-related therapy activities with patients. The program he has helped develop, called “My Little Green Friends,” consists of 35 different activities, including planting, seed art and aromatherapy, to engage patients in the healing benefits of working with and/or enjoying plants. In the past, Leonard maintained the Children’s greenhouse and now donates plants he grows in his personal greenhouse for his activities with patients.
“The project started as a way for me to get in my volunteer hours required for the master gardener program,” says Leonard. “But it has turned into a real passion and a commitment to the children.”
With more than 15,135 volunteer hours now under his belt, Leonard is a familiar face at the St. Paul campus. He works closely with the Child Life team to schedule his visits in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and surgery playrooms, third and fourth floor inpatient units, the short stay unit and the epilepsy unit.
“Leonard brings a lot of smiles to the kids he visits,” says Tom Marsolais, child life associate. “He’s a kind and gentle man, and the kids pick up on his calming influence. The horticulture therapy he does with them is a good distraction during their time at the hospital and provides a learning experience for them to discover more about plants and nature.”
Leonard has seen his work come full circle, with some former patients now returning as parents who still have the plants he gave to them years ago. Those, and some of the stories that stand out the most, are Leonard’s “little miracles” – the examples of how horticulture therapy has improved the care or life of a child.
“One of my favorite success stories came after a planting activity with a group of children in a playroom,” Leonard recalls. “A little boy picked up his potted plant, turned to his mother and said ‘Look mom, my plant.’ It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but I found out later that those were the first words he had spoken since coming to the hospital five days before. It was a tremendous impact with little effort on my part. One time, a doctor told me that the work I was doing was more important than his,” he continues. “I thought he was crazy at the time, but after seeing events like that one, I realized that what I was doing really does make a difference.”
Throughout the years, patient families have asked Leonard if he gets paid for the work he does. “I tell them ‘I get paid more than any CEO.’ Even if I wasn’t a master gardener, I’d still be here. It’s one of the most rewarding projects there is.”