As disabled Navy veteran Hank Wisner said, this was the kind of day where you want to work with plants. He just never expected to do it at Reno's VA hospital on Kirman Avenue. As he put it, "You forget that you're in a hospital for a moment. It’s those little things that make a difference."
It's a 12 by 16-foot glass, steel and cement structure right on the Reno VA campus. It used to be the “smoke shack,” so they had to take down the “Caution, Smoking Area, No Oxygen” sign. The former smoker’s lounge is now a greenhouse, and it's now ready for our veterans to do some growing. As greenhouse designer Michael Roth, the master gardener at Moana Nursery, told me, "I hope they like their salads. There's going to be a lot of lettuce for them to harvest." And each month veterans will be able to learn from Roth on how to plant, care for, and harvest fresh vegetables year-round.
The building, beautifully rehabbed with pride by the hospital’s ground crew, is equipped with donations from Moana Nursery. Christie Gescheider, Moana Nursery’s co-owner, showed me how "Veterans can sit in their wheelchairs if they can't stand, and it’s very convenient to plant."
Locals know the Reno VA complex has really grown over time. You could say, this was all that was missing. The true gift for veterans who have been through battle, is the calming and therapeutic power of gardening. Roth told me, "It's definitely important. They need to be in touch with the earth and be in touch with the plants. It helps ground people." Added Christie, "Just playing with plants, getting your hands in the soil...it can rejuvenate you."
Hank Wisner, who served on the battleship USS New Jersey, knows that well. He says, “You forget about where you're at for a moment, you know? You forget about your problems, your ailments, your feet, or whatever else is wrong with you."
Hank experienced a lot of noise in his long stint with the Navy. So did Benjamin Hill, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a tank crewman. He says he needs to keep busy, “And have something to do. It’s very grounding to work with the dirt. This gives veterans something else to do besides just sit on their hospital bed and watch TV."
And it's a first for Reno's VA hospital. It’s now the first in the country to convert a smoking shelter into a “veteran’s greenhouse.”