Digging the benefits

The sun was beating down, the air smelled like spring, and the worm was wiggling on the 5-year-old’s muddy palm.

“I got a lot of worms. Maybe six or 17,’’ she said later.

The petite gardener with pink wire-frame glasses loves working in the plot at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton. It reminds her of her grandmother’s garden, where her dog Tinkerbell sometimes gets into trouble for stepping on the plants.

Franciscan Hospital, which treats children with a variety of special needs, is among a number of American hospital systems, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers that maintain gardens that patients can work in. So-called therapeutic gardening helps patients feel better, recover faster and stay healthy longer, according to decades of research, mainly conducted in Europe and Asia.

Of course, you don’t need to be in a hospital to benefit from gardening.