Rock honoring veterans paves way for therapy garden at Des Moines VA

DES MOINES —  When a new rehabilitation and therapy garden at the VA Central Iowa opens in 2018, visitors will be greeted by a rock painted by Ray (Bubba) Sorensen, the artist behind Iowa’s Freedom Rocks, at its entry.

The rock, which will be officially dedicated on Dec. 17, is one of dozens Sorensen, a mural artist from Greenfield, Iowa,  has painted around the state. Following his first Freedom Rock  in Adair County in 1999, Sorensen set out to paint one in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Each rock depicts a message and image specific to its location.

Though, not an official Freedom Rock (there can only be one in each county), the rock at the entry to the therapy garden, with images of veterans and their caretakers, will be the first VA rock.

The therapy garden, funds for which are being raised by the Knights of Columbus, will be an outdoor space for patients to build mobility skills, practice transition changes,  and encounter changes in elevation and terrain. Raised beds for gardening will offer opportunities for practicing fine motor skills; a putting green and a potential shuffleboard court can be used recreationally while also working on balance and coordination. A variety of seating throughout the space will create opportunities for therapeutic practice sessions related to getting into and out of different kinds of seating, such as rockers, benches, and Adirondack chairs.

The garden will be universally accessible in its materials and design. Conceptual designs allow for pathways that will be at least 6-feet-wide to allow the patient and therapist to be side-by-side at all times. Raised bed planters will be high enough to reach from a seated position. Signage will indicate when terrain — used in therapy — instead of a paved way might be more difficult to navigate by a wheeled-device or walker.

In addition to the Freedom Rock, the garden will include a water feature and a bird feeding/bath area.

In addition to raising funds for the project, the Knights of Columbus are also coordinating all labor. Final design will be complete by Feb. 1 with construction expected to start in April 2018.