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“Our Garden of Hope Helps Veterans Heal and Grow,” Says 54-Year-Old Mother of a Marine

Gardening helps veterans find peace.


When veterans return home, they may struggle with their mental health. Many of them have suffered multiple wounds — both visible and invisible — for the sake of protecting our country’s freedom. Helping veterans find peace is important, and one mother found an unexpected way to contribute. Anne Marie Mucci’s Marine veteran son had retreated from the world, battling with PTSD. But when he helped her plant a vegetable garden, hope sprouted in his heart — and grew into a mission to help others too. Keep reading to learn more about how the power of gardening is helping veterans find solace.

A Growing Realization

Sun beamed down as Anne Marie Mucci dug her shovel into a patch of earth in her West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, yard. Anne Marie usually planted flowers, but this time, the then-54-year-old was going to try a vegetable garden. As she turned the soil, suddenly, her son, Jason Landry, came up behind her. “Let me do that,” he offered — and Anne Marie couldn’t have been more shocked or grateful.

When, after four years of Marine service in Iraq, Jason had come home, he was a changed man. Struggling with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, he barely spoke. His depression deepened when a Marine buddy of his died by suicide. Jason had a warehouse job, but spent most of his time in his room, sleeping, watching TV, and playing video games.

But that spring day in 2016, as he gazed out of his window, he couldn’t just stand by, watching, while his mom was working so hard. Taking over the digging, Jason was surprised by how calm and relaxed he felt. The next morning, he cranked up the mower and cut the lawn. And the day after that, he trimmed bushes and weeded flower beds.

Anne Marie sent up a silent prayer of thanks. And she got an idea: If gardening could help her son, maybe it could help other veterans too. “If I found a good spot, what do you think of planting a bigger garden — one where other vets could come and grow with us?” she asked Jason. He thought for a moment, then smiled at her, “I think it might work.”

Garden Of Joy

Man in Veterans Garden T-Shirt
Courtesy of Veterans Garden

As she searched for a property, Anne Marie spread the word about her plan for a garden for vets. A friend of a friend had just bought a house in town and, impressed by Anne Marie’s idea, he reached out. “There are 4 acres I’m not using; take as much as you need,” he said.

Not sure what the response would be, Anne Marie bought enough material to fence in a 30-by-40-foot starter plot. Jason and some other volunteers cleared the weeds and tilled the ground, and his Uncle Bobby showed up with several flats of seedlings.

“Now all we need are veterans who want to get their hands dirty,” Anne Marie thought. She printed up flyers and visited veteran centers, the American Legion, and VFW.

One of the first to sign up was former National Guardswoman Theresa Poole. “When I was little, I used to try growing tomatoes in buckets on our porch,” she reminisced. “I’d love to try again,” she told Anne Marie.

When Jason mentioned the garden in a VA support group, Steve Jakaitis also wanted in. He’d lost his house in a divorce. “I don’t get outdoors enough,” the former infantryman told Anne Marie, and soon he was accompanying her to other veterans’ facilities to spread the word. Anne Marie assigned plots to each of the vets and supplied tools they’d need to plant and tend to their gardens.

As more vets signed up, Anne Marie put in a fire pit, tables, and chairs so the vets could have gab sessions and cookouts. “More than anything, I wanted the garden to be a place of healing,” Anne Marie shares.

Life In Bloom

Founder Anne Marie Mucci with her son Jason Landry, a marine vet
Founder Anne Marie Mucci with her son Jason Landry, a marine vetCourtesy of Veterans Garden

Since opening in 2018, Veterans Garden Inc. has grown to nearly 2 acres and now includes a separate garden whose bounty is harvested and donated to a local veterans’ kitchen.

Recently, the group raised money to put in a wheelchair path with five raised beds for easy access. And they’re about to install a greenhouse so they can extend the gardening season and combat the cabin fever that takes hold for many vets during winter.

Just like it was for Jason, for many of the vets, coming to the garden is a first step toward rejoining the world. Anne Marie watched as Jason began venturing out, reconnecting with friends and rediscovering the joy of living. Today, he continues to garden, often with his wife, Tori, by his side.

“I have my son back,” Anne Marie says. “And we’re going to keep growing — in more ways than one.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for Women.

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