It was raining steadily the morning I visited Wild Acre Inn, and the entrance didn't look too promising.
From Highland Avenue, all I saw was the sign for 50-52 Percy Road, a wooden fence, and a small sign reading “Plant Sale Today 10am-2pm.” But not every morning is sunny, and not every entrance can be grand, so I went on in.
Once I parked my car, I saw a jumble of nasturtiums and tables full of flowers: brilliant red begonias, floppy frilly petunias, blooming coleus, snapdragons, brown-eyed Susans. Nearby was the garden with orderly rows of triumphant-looking lettuce, and the greenhouse. It's the latest in a series of greenhouses tended by Steve Tracy, Wild Acre Inn's director of Rehabilitation and Vocational Services, and the clients he helps to heal.
In 1900, Wild Acre Inn really was an inn, with a genuine wild acre where vacationers could frolic and rest. Since the 1970's, Wild Acre Inn has been the site of an adult mental health residential program for clients who are grappling with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and other serious mental illnesses.
Over the last three decades the Wild Acre Inn program has expanded to several other Inns around Boston, but all share a commitment to providing a continuum of care, allowing clients to stay in one place while they move from highly structured treatment to independent living.
“Some of our clients stay for six months, some stay for ten years,” Tracy said.
Currently eleven clients are staying at the Inn. Every day, some of them work in the garden or the greenhouse. They may also work maintaining the trails through the Inn's current wild four acres, which are mostly wetlands.
The greenhouse and garden aren't there just to give clients something to do while they're in treatment. At the most basic level, the garden gives Wild Acre clients a hands-on way to pay attention to something that doesn't involve the endless talking and analysis of group and individual therapy.
“It's a place that's safe to come to every day,” Tracy said. “Doing basic things that help them get grounded.”
It's relaxing. That's important when you're having feeling so bad that that it's hard to say anything.
For more independent clients, the garden offers a chance to develop job skills, from basic skills like attending to a task and following directions to working with customers and planning plantings. Some of Wild Acre Inn's clients have gone on to start their own businesses; other work at Mahoney's, or Home Depot.
One of the places the Wild Acre Inn clients hone their skills is at the , where they sell 28 varieties of herbs and other produce on Thursday afternoons. They get to talk about what to do with chocolate mint (make tea!) and take pride in their work, in growing plants that other people value.
Not all the Wild Acre Inn gardeners live on site. Some come for the day, often from their parents' houses.
Even in Lexington, not every child grows up to go straight to their Ivy-League business school. Some need time, and help, to get what they need, and find a life's work that sustains them. For some people, growing things—flowers that blossom, herbs that smell sweet, salads that nourish their customers—helps them to stay connected to the life they want, and to not be confined to present-day struggles.
Steve Tracy's goal is to have Wild Acre Inn's garden stand become “your neighborhood greenhouse.” Some mornings at Wild Acre Inn aren't sunny, and some mornings a resident may be too overwhelmed to even walk from the house to the garden. But every weekday you can come to the stand, buy sweet-smeling herbs and flowers and appreciate the work they have done to make the world more beautiful.
The Wild Acre Inn garden stand is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday through October. Tracy says they'll be stocking chrysanthemums in the fall. For more information, call 781-643-0643