Making Connections Editor: Christine Kramer, Program Manager, HT Institute

2015 Spring Newsletter

Horticultural Therapy is making an impact on people’s lives. Read more about how it’s happening.

HTI Director’s Note: HT Program Energy

By: Rebecca Haller, HTM

Ah – spring! It is hard to ignore the amazing bursts of life and energy that arise this time of year. What a perfect season to find ways to bring that energy to your HT program by engaging in the gardening process fully. For those of you without a greenhouse growing space, you may have found that during the winter months your HT sessions revolved around plant “projects” and using plants preserved from the previous summer. These can be very effective, yet there is nothing like actual gardening for helping participants connect in many ways. Connecting with nature is enhanced, group and social interactions are encouraged, and feeling a part of the larger community may result. Active participation in the whole process – from planning, planting and tending – reaps wonderful benefits. Apply your skills in adaptation and modifications – be creative. Believe that participants can be part of every aspect of the spring awakening. Now is the time to focus the program on those activities that are real.

Horticultural Therapy Tips for Practice: Warming Up to Spring at Rikers Island

By: Sarah Schluep (photos courtesy of  Lindsay Morris)

It’s been a long, cold winter in New York City and we are all anxiously awaiting the warm sunshine and promises of renewal in the garden. Here and there we’ve begun to see the first signs of spring with golden, purple, and white crocus patches appearing and daffodils and tulips pushing through the earth. We latched onto the songs of the birds and the early pronouncement of the witch hazel saying, “See, it’s coming. Spring is coming!” However excited we all are for the rising temperatures and longer days, the transition from the slower, more introspective, studious time of winter to the active and time sensitive reality of spring can be met with some resistance by our students.

At the GreenHouse program on Rikers Island our participants’ ages range from 18 to 65; they come from different walks of life, with varying levels of education and physical ability. We have a rolling admission and the length of stay in the program varies greatly. Therefore, we have many students in the spring that have only experienced the GreenHouse program inside the classroom and glasshouse. Since January we’ve been studying botany, plant reproduction, indoor plant care, seed selection, maple tapping and propagation techniques. We’ve been active in our minds but our bodies have been still; however, the spring gardening tasks can’t wait so we need our students to get up to speed quickly.

We began priming the students for the active spring garden slowly, starting in February by selecting seeds. Seed selection provides the opportunity for the students to plan ahead and imagine a spring and summer garden. Flipping through seed catalogs, salivating over hot peppers, sweet tomatoes and delicious watermelon pictures excites even the inexperienced gardener in snowy, frigid February.

Once the seeds arrived the task of seed starting began. Indoor seed starting provides a couple of involvement options for the students. We ask all of the students to choose 5 seeds, annuals or perennials, to start themselves in the greenhouse. Some students take readily to the tedious and methodical activity of seed starting, while others enjoy making potting soil. A select few take on the important task of watering the newly planted seeds, and all are encouraged to observe the daily changes of seedlings.

Another early spring activity to begin prepping participants for a more active program is garden walks. On these walks we observe the changes in the garden, the budding of trees, the sedum laying low and green, and the various bulbs popping through the earth. We also tapped our maple trees, which required on-going attention and gets students outside interacting with nature even when the temperature is cool. Turning in cover crops, making cloches out of recycled materials, and rose pruning are a couple of our other early spring activities that give our students opportunities to ease into a more active time of year. Each of these activities prepares the garden for the blossoming of spring yet is not excessively laborious or time-consuming. Therefore, we get outside, use our bodies and gradually transition into the gardening season.

It can be challenging to motivate our students into action during the shift from winter to spring. Some of the students are anxiously awaiting more active tasks while others are perfectly happy to sit and talk. Our responsibility as a horticultural therapist and vocational instructor is to find the “in” with each individual and to balance their needs with the needs of the garden.

Sarah Schluep is a Greenhouse Instructor & Horticultural Therapist at Rikers Island, NY and a past HTI graduate

HTI Program Profile: Growing Gardens Horticultural Experience

By: John Fields

As it has in most all of the United States, spring 2015 has taken its own sweet time arriving in South/Central North Carolina. We’ve had cold, rain, snow, and then…more of the same. There has however been plenty of garden and farming work to do at GHA Autism Supports, Carolina Farms facility. GHA Autism Supports is a 501c3 non-profit agency which currently supports more than 80 individuals in over 25 programs. GHA offers residential, vocational, educational, community and in-home services to individuals from across North Carolina, who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In June of 2003, GHA began construction of Carolina Farms, a 39 acre, rural residential community program. This unique endeavor was developed over the course of the next 2 years, through grants, gifts and donations, and has grown to currently include 3 resident homes serving 15 individuals diagnosed with Autism, a licensed day services program known as the Potting Shed, a Community

Supported Agriculture Program, as well as gardens, greenhouses and other horticultural amenities that make it an excellent facility to conduct horticultural therapy (HT) activities. “GHA Autism Supports is recognized as a model community for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and hosts visitors from all over the world who are interested in using similar practices in their native countries.” (GHA)

This year, work at the farm began in early January. Trees, bushes and vines were pruned, greenhouse supplies were organized, landscape areas were mulched and composting of discarded limbs and debris was begun. Raised beds in one of the farm’s two greenhouses were cleaned out and prepared for spring planting. We were very busy in February making soil blocks, hand planting thousands and thousands of vegetable seeds and carefully watering and tending to the seedlings in preparation for the spring planting process. March, while still wet and cold, allowed opportunities to get outdoors to start weeding raised bed gardens, and all of this was done with the involvement of members of GHA’s resident community.

As the weather continues to warm, work in the CSA gardens has begun. GHA’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Gardens Program was established in the spring and summer of 2010. This innovative venture was put in place in order to develop an in house, vocational opportunity for individuals served by the agency. This program is unique in that, in addition to an Agricultural Specialist and agency support staff, GHA employs 6 individuals, diagnosed with Autism, who receive services from and live in group homes operated by the agency. These people are actively involved in every aspect of the agricultural program, which currently supplies 58 shareholders with fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers and eggs throughout the summer and fall growing seasons. Seeds & plants come from various sources, and all vegetables are hand sown in hand made soil blocks or plug trays, on site in greenhouse #1.

Residents living in GHA group homes also have opportunities to garden. Whether in-town residents or those living on site at Carolina Farms, opportunities currently exist for any and all residents receiving services through GHA Autism Supports, to engage in horticultural activities of planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and consuming farm fresh produce in their designated garden areas. Up until 2015, this work did not meet the criteria of a true HT program. “Horticultural Therapy is a professionally conducted client-centered treatment modality that utilizes horticulture activities to meet specific therapeutic or rehabilitative goals of its participants. The focus is to maximize social, cognitive, physical and/or psychological functioning and/or to enhance general health and wellness,” (Haller & Kramer 2006).

Since completing training through the Horticultural Therapy Institute, GHA’s Director of Operations, John Fields, has worked to develop a true therapy based horticultural program for the participants and the agency. With 22 years of health and fitness program development experience, extensive clinical services training and recent completion of the HT certificate requirements, John brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to this exciting new agency wide program.

The goal is to incorporate horticultural therapy into the existing botanical based programming, to coincide with the mission of GHA, which is to “create environments where people of all ages with Autism Spectrum Disorder are understood, valued and given opportunities to grow individually as well as contribute to the community.” (GHA) In keeping with the mission and vision of the American Horticultural Therapy Association, this unique treatment program has been specifically designed to complement and enhance each participant’s current individual support plan goals, interests and outcomes.

Activities for this HT program have been designed to follow a seasonal structured schedule, with the initial focus of structured HT activities including planting, caring for, growing and harvesting vegetable, and ornamental, flowering and fruiting plants. Horticultural processes such as watering, weeding and fertilizing, harvesting, and pruning have been incorporated into each participant’s program goals as appropriate. Program specific activities include work in greenhouses and resident garden environments, assisting with the development of an Autism Specific Sensory Garden at Carolina Farms, work on the development of Hugelkultur gardens, as well as residential annual and perennial vegetal landscape management and care. Going forward, the vision is to increase client participation in the program, to include more vocational opportunities in the development of a sellable quantity of seedlings, flowers, bedding plants and houseplants. This will help solidify each person’s overall involvement in the HT program and its sustainability initiative, provide participants with greater opportunities for enhanced self-esteem through meaningful, noteworthy employment and give GHA another unique, value added service feature to add to its extensive list of person centered offerings. For more information on GHA Autism Supports or Carolina Farms, or to schedule a tour, please visit our website

John Fields is Director of Operations with GHA Autism Supports & 2014 Graduate of HTI.

Enrollment Begins for HT Institute Classes:

2015 Spring Newsletter

Three new beginning Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy classes are scheduled for the fall with a new location in Kirtland, OH. The schedule is as follows:

Oct. 15-18, 2015
Herb Society of America
Kirtland, Ohio

Oct. 29-Nov. 1, 2015
Anchor Center for Blind Children
Denver, Colorado

Nov. 12-15, 2015
Skyland Trail
Atlanta, GA

To enroll in class or for questions contact 303-388-0500 or [email protected] The remaining three classes in the certificate series will be held in 2016 in Colorado and North Carolina. For a full class schedule go to

Kudos to Past HTI Students:

The American Community Gardening Association’s annual conference will be held in Denver this summer and feature our very own Rebecca Haller, HTM and past student Fred Conrad. Fred is the community garden manager at Atlanta Community Food Bank and he and Rebecca will co-present “Linking People and Plants through HT” After an in-depth introduction to clinical horticultural therapy and the many participating populations and settings in which it is conducted, they will explore the intersection of the community garden world and the world of people facing issues that can be improved by gardening. Prepare to be inspired! For more information on the conference and to attend go to:

Lucy Pfeffer, a recent HTI graduate is beginning her HT internship this summer at Craig Hospital and Denver Botanic Gardens. She will be working with a diverse group of people in the community as well as patients at Craig. Congratulations Lucy.