Plant Therapy

Adults with developmental and physical disabilities find community and purpose at GROWERS, an education and work program at the Edgerton Park greenhouses.

GROWERS participants are involved in the daily operations of a retail greenhouse. Photo Credit: Matthew Higbee

In late 2010, the doors were about to close on the Greenbrier Greenhouse Program. For more than three decades, the innovative social enterprise had provided jobs at the historic Edgerton Park Gardens and Greenhouse to adults with autism and other developmental and physical disabilities. Tending plants and helping customers was therapeutic to participants, having the effect of brightening the personalities of individuals with depression and difficult behaviors. But Easter Seals/Goodwill Industries, which managed the program, said they could no longer sustain the operation.

Instead of looking for a new job, Scott Hickman, the 15-year manager of Greenbrier, decided to act. He and a partner formed the nonprofit, GROWERS, Inc. and took over the program.

"I'm not a psychologist; I'm a horticulturist. But when people are working with living things and talking to customers who say, 'What a good job you're doing,' it is transformative. Parents and guardians tell me it's unbelievable the changes they've seen in the people who come here," says Hickman. "So, I had to keep it going."

GROWERS reached an agreement with the Connecticut Dept. of Social Services to continue funding the program and took in donations from individual supporters. They also received the blessing of the Edgerton Park Conservancy, which manages the use of the park.

"A lot of people wanted to save it. We received great support from the community," says Hickman. "For so many people here, it has been a life changing experience."

Now in its seventh year, GROWERS serves 26 participants who come from towns throughout Greater New Haven. The program has reached capacity in Edgerton Park and is seeking to expand in other locations. Hickman says that the state has a shortage of work settings for adults with developmental disabilities.

In addition to caring for plants in the greenhouses, GROWERS workers also do landscaping in the park and tend their own vegetable plots in the gardens. The work is more than just a job, says Hickman. It's an opportunity for people to have fulfillment and purpose.

"I love working here and taking care of the plants," says Stephen, who came to the program over the winter.

Edgerton Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its Sarah T. Crosby Conservatory was restored in the late 1990s with a matching grant from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

To learn more about GROWERS, Inc., visit its profile on

Did you know? Edgerton Park Greenhouse is open for plant sales 7 days a week.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.