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

2015 Summer Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: Encouragement in the Summer Garden

By: Rebecca Haller, HTM

rhaller (1)

Summer! Gardens are growing by leaps and bounds. In order to continue the connections and “ownership” that hopefully began during spring planting, encourage program participants to take on the tasks of garden maintenance throughout the season. One of the best ways to encourage and enable them to be fully involved in the process is to break up a large task into smaller units by only working on a selected area during each session or day.

Find a way to designate an area in which to complete any given task – whether it is weeding, watering, deadheading, harvesting, etc. Breaking up the task into manageable spaces really aids motivation and helps create a sense of accomplishment within what may be a daunting overall garden.

RH photo2

Marking off space in the garden

Try this with stakes and string, or use your imagination for other methods that work at your site. Mark the space with small plastic row cover stakes that are easily removable, small for storage, and relatively safe.

Connect the stakes with bright orange cord used in construction for leveling. It works well and is easily visible. Only use this method if the population you serve is safe with pointed objects. If not, use an old garden hose or a piece of cloth or even upside-down pots to indicate boundaries.

Remember that being an active participant in the outdoor garden provides opportunities for challenges and accomplishments that are hard to duplicate indoors or in more controlled and coordinated sessions. Besides interaction with the plants, contact with a wider natural and social world such as birds, butterflies, and perhaps neighbors or passers-by, results.

Rebecca is the lead instructor at the HT Institute and sole instructor for the upcoming Fall Fundamentals of HT classes.

Horticultural Therapy Tips for Practice: Facilitating Garden Tasks

By: Sandra Diehl

Diehl PumpkinsNestled in Northern California’s Solano County Suisun Valley is Solano Community College (SCC). The Adaptive Horticulture Program at SCC has been serving adults with special needs for the past eight years. The program was developed to provide job training in the horticultural industry for adults with disabilities and has been recognized by the California State Chancellor’s office and UCLA’s Tarjan Center as a model program for adults with disabilities. Students come from diverse backgrounds, various rehabilitation agencies and school transition programs. The site encompasses approximately 2.5 acres. There are raised beds for vegetables and herbs, an orchard with forty seven assorted fruit trees, a 4000 square foot pumpkin patch, full scale operational plant growing nursery and two greenhouses.

Diehl seedingCurriculum includes five eight week courses in Introduction to Adaptive Horticulture, Greenhouse Practices, Nursery Landscape Management, Vegetable Orchard Management and Propagation Practices. It takes one academic year to complete the program and upon successful completion the adaptive horticulture students can join with 300 plus of their peers to participate in the graduation commencement ceremony held annually each May. They participate in the pomp and circumstance by donning a cap and gown, walking across the stage in front thousands of fellow students, their families and friends and receiving a certificate of completion from the superintendent/president of the college.

Not only is SCC providing an opportunity for our special needs students to learn job related skills they are taught the benefits of growing and eating healthy food. Many of them come from homes in neighborhoods which are considered food deserts. It’s been wonderful to see their delight and amazement when they find out tomatoes are not just red but are all colors of the rainbow and in as many shapes and sizes that one can imagine.

The different cognitive and physical abilities has required creating time saving techniques and simplifying typical tasks for working in the garden and nursery settings. California’s educational system has always been underfunded, especially programs for the disabled. When working on a shoestring budget, one has to be creative. The following are a few of the tools I’ve created to help facilitate the garden tasks:
diehl planting templateSeed Dibbles: These were designed to aid the student to plant seeds at the correct depth. As horticulturists we know that if you plant a seed too deep the seed will struggle to achieve successful germination. These were created from bamboo skewers and/or chop sticks and red duct tape. The tape is placed approximate ½ inch from the dibble end and does not exceed inch in width. This allows the student to visually see where to stop when making a hole to place the seeds into. Depending on the size of the seed, the student can determine how deep to make the hole by either using the top or bottom of the edge of the red tape.

Planting Templates: These help students to space seeds or transplants at the correct distance from each other thereby reducing overcrowding. They are constructed from repurposed old redwood fence boards. The spacing is 3 inches, 6 inches and 12 inches on center bored out with 1½ inch drill bit. When planting seeds, the student places the template on top of the prepared soil, places the seed into the hole then covers them with soil. When transplanting seedlings the templates are placed on top the prepared soil bed and used as a guide for planting. Instead of using the hole they dig directly opposite of the hole in the guide and plant the seedling.

diehl tomato cagesTomato Cages: Due to time constraints and many of the student’s ability to recognize how and where to tie a tomato stem presented the need to create a trellising system to eliminate the need for tying the vines. Working with resources available on-site I found an excess of old PVC irrigation pipe.

Thinking about how tomatoes grow, I developed the idea to fabricate a framing system with the pipe in which to lay wire fencing in layers approximately 12 inches apart. As the tomatoes grow upwards they grow through the horizontal layers of wire. This allows harvesting between the wire without the need for tying.

diehl hand and fingersHands, Feet and Fingers: The outdoor nursery stock is organized in rows and blocks by plant genus/species. The challenge has been how to instruct the student to space these plants apart from one another. Using measuring devices such as a ruler presented challenges plus we were always misplacing or losing them. Then I thought, how about using your fingers, hands and feet for spacing plants.

One can never forget to bring these tools along as one always has these tools available. One gallon plants are grouped and spaced three fingers width apart, five gallon plants spaced one hand width apart and the plant groupings are spaced two feet width apart (this allows enough space for a student to walk in between the groups of plants to weed them). When determining soil depth for planting in containers, the students use their knuckle joints as guides.

diehl graduationWhen I was hired for the teaching position I took the HTI program courses to gain an understanding of the needs of special populations and how to adapt basic garden tasks to the abilities of each individual. It was the most important thing I did as it gave me the tools to design and create a curriculum.

From the beginning it has been my intent for every student to succeed in the program. To give them the courage to develop confidence in their abilities and that they too can be productive members of society. To date there have been just under three hundred students enrolled in the program. SCC’s mission statement includes the term ‘Transforming Lives’. If there is anything I’ve learned is that you can never be too be prepared and you must be flexible with the outcomes because you ARE making a difference in the lives of these students!
Sandra Diehl is an  Instructor at Solano Community College and graduate of the HTI certificate program.

HTI Program Profile: Growing Hope Through HT at Skyland Trail

By: Libba Shortridge, HTR and Sarah Tabor

Skyland Trail participant works in the garden

Skyland Trail participant works in the garden

“There are plants that are growing year round that need my help,” former client Tom P. explains. “It gives me a sense of being wanted. When I am wanted, it gives me a good feeling inside.”

When Skyland Trail first opened its doors 26 years ago, the founders understood the impact horticultural therapy could have in a client’s recovery. The horticultural therapy program was established the following year and has since grown into a nationally recognized program that is a key component of the whole person therapeutic approach at Skyland Trail.

Located in Atlanta, Skyland Trail is nonprofit psychiatric treatment organization offering residential and day treatment program for adults ages 18 and older. We help our clients recognize that they are more than their diagnoses dictate, so that they can reclaim, rebuild and reset their lives.

Often referred to as our 3-D therapy, horticultural therapy complements the verbal therapies and helps clients find new ways to express their thoughts and emotions, learn new skills, build confidence and interact with their peers and the community.

“Nature has opened my mind to avenues for healthy expressions,” Skyland Trail alumni, Vadi M. states.

Fairy home at Skyland Trail

Fairy home at Skyland Trail

The goals of horticultural therapy at Skyland Trail include:

  • Instill positive metaphors for recovery and relapse in mental illness by witnessing the plant cycle through hands-on, nature-related activities.
  • Reaffirm self-esteem and self-worth through activities that engage exploration of nature, creative expression, play and mindfulness.
  • Foster socialization, community reintegration and nurturing through purposeful, community-based group activities.
    The goals are met through the variety of groups offered in the horticultural therapy program. From fairy home building to planting a hula hoop garden or zen garden, clients are able to find metaphors in nature throughout the year that parallel their recovery journey.
    “Just look to nature for assurance. It goes through relapse and recovery every year, and comes out on top,” horticultural therapist, Libba Shortridge explains. “There’s no going back in nature. It’s forward moving, cyclical, and chock full of hope.”
    Horticultural therapy mirrors the recovery process of mental illness, from vulnerability to resilience. Through the groups, clients learn to trust the process and delight in the positive outcome. Groups also give clients a break from talk therapy; hands-on activities help them reconnect to a sense of whimsy or feeling of purpose. Nature-based activities include:
Gourds at Skyland Trail

Gourds at Skyland Trail

  • “GOURGeous gourds”: transforming a dried gourd into a colorful cartoon character
  • planting ones initials with seeds in a hula hoop garden
  • building a terrarium in a glass fish bowl with a message written on chalk paint to inspire positive growth
  •  installing a labyrinth with gingko leaves to walk on, and then making one for the fingers
  • creating a fairy beach with all the amenities, including beach volleyball
  • witnessing the metamorphosis of the butterfly and comparing it to that of recovery
  • germinating sunflower seeds in our mouths, then planting them in plastic Easter eggs

The clients’ engagement on campus is integral to their personal recovery. They often identify with nature and the plant cycle as they cycle through their own recovery journey. As clients begin to courageously set their roots through skill-building and grow in their own uniqueness, they are able to balance and yearn to nurture themselves and others. Some clients ultimately adopt gardening, flower arranging or other nature crafts as a lifelong hobby to support their mental health or to connect with others in their communities.

“We all had a lot of fun making projects out of gourds,” one client notes. “It was an exercise in teamwork, creativity, and in working with our hands. The payoff we had in the end was both laughter at seeing the ideas come to fruition, and in the pride we had at what we had made.”

butterflyBeyond our clients, horticulture therapy helps us build bridges to the community. Several garden clubs visit our campus each year to volunteer their time and they learn about mental health in the process. We also partner with local community gardens and retailers for fun collaborative projects like fairy home tours or fall scarecrows. Nature is a powerful bridge than can connect all of us.

Skyland Trail specializes in treating adults with bipolar illness, major depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety disorders, as well as patients who have complex diagnoses involving substance misuse or personality disorders. We offer a unique continuum of care – from residential care, to job coaching and social opportunities for individuals living in the community. Learn more at

(Libba Shortridge, HTR is the HT on staff at Skyland Trail which is the site of one of the fall Fundamentals of HT class. The class at Skyland is also the beginning of the SE certificate series.)

Enrollment begins for HT Institute classes:

2014 Fundamentals of HT class in Denver

2014 Fundamentals of HT class in Denver

Join the leaders in Horticultural Therapy education in one of three new beginning Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy classes this fall throughout the U.S. . Learn how to combine a passion for gardening and helping people through the innovative field of horticultural therapy.

Our mission is to provide education and training in HT to those new to, or experienced with, the practice of using gardening and plants to improve the lives of others.  To enroll in a 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

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

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

Nov. 12-15, 2015 Deadline: Oct. 12
Skyland Trail
Atlanta, Georgia

Kudos to HTI Staff and 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:

Congratulations to the latest HTI students who have received their professional registration credentials through the American Horticultural Therapy Association:

Katrina Fairchild works with a client

Katrina Fairchild works with a client

Katrina Fairchild, HTR,  Atlanta, GA has practiced HT as contractor at various assisted living facilities in California and currently in Georgia, she is the wellness director at an independent living/assisted living community in Duluth, outside of Atlanta. She wears many hats from overseeing the activity directors, creating and planning wellness programs, to watching over the holistic health of the residents.

“My favorite activity is the nature-based class I lead twice a week! The residents enjoy it equally as much. Recently, a Boy Scout completed his Eagle Scout project by building us a raised planter bed; this was a dream come true for me as I had tried to do this so many times over the years as a horticultural therapist but always ran into obstacles. It was so worth the wait!”

Magali Nelson, HTR, Michigan is set on working with the older adults. “I love making their life more enjoyable as they receive the benefits of becoming involved in all type of activities with plants. I have witnessed many positive results and hope to continue bringing happiness to my clients through HT,” said Nelson.

Kudos-Nicole Acordino

Nicole with garden participants

Nicole Accordino, HTR, Chapel Hill, NC works with the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm where the mission is to provide refugee adults and youth access to land, healthy food, agricultural education and micro-enterprise opportunities. The farm provides a cultural community space for families to come together, build healthy communities and continue agricultural traditions in the Piedmont of N.C. Nicole completed her internship at the NC botanical garden and gives thanks to all the support she received there and with the incredible members of the Carolinas Horticultural Therapy Network, where she finds inspiration and hope to continue in the field of horticultural therapy.

Lanae Uinta Academy

Uinta Academy garden

Lanae Garrett, HTR, Utah is currently doing contract work as a horticultural therapist for a treatment center called Uinta Academy, the nation’s leading multi-dimensional residential treatment center for adolescent girls. There are four separate homes where the girls live and receive treatment and she works at all four, She teaches them how to plant and care for a garden, and how to use the produce in their kitchen with meal plans using the fresh produce. “This job has been the most rewarding job I have ever had! The girls love it and I love it!” She also noted that there is a Hollywood movie based on Uinta Academy called “Girl on the Edge”. The horticultural therapist in the movie illustrates how HT can help change someone’s life.

Congratulations to Loredana Farilla, Denver, CO for inclusion in the 2015 AHTA annual conference this fall in Portland. She will talk about her program Jefferson County Open School Horticultural Therapy Program, Happy Dirty Feet: Growing Healthy Minds and Bodies.

Calliope Correia, M.Sc., Fresno, CA has secured funding to continue her HT program called HIP (Horticulture Initiative Program) for young adults with disabilities. She has partnered with Sanger Unified, a local school district to make the program a permanent part of their larger program. She said they loved the HT program and saw how wonderful it was that they’ve agreed to spend $10,000 this summer to build permanent beds, install irrigation and buy tools as well as continue to support the program with funding every semester. They will have about 10-12 students every semester and will have Master Gardeners volunteering to help. “This is a huge success story. without the research study I conducted and the help of HTI there’s no way this could’ve been started on my own. Once again, a huge thank you to helping all along the way and the great classes for direction!”

Kaifa Anderson-Hall, Washington DC, received the 2015 Green Festival Community award on behalf of Washington Youth Garden (one of the longest serving gardening and food education program for youth in the country). She has served as the former program director and current advisory council member at the garden.

Kelly Cunningham, WI, has accepted the position as Experiential Therapist-Horticultural Therapist at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, WI. Rogers Memorial Hospital serves people with behavioral healthcare needs and their families. They have multiple levels of care, all of which have patients participate in a wide range of therapeutic activities. Part of that is experiential therapy and horticultural therapy is the newest addition. The hospital is adding a greenhouse and expanding their therapeutic gardens throughout the property. She said there is great support from staff and HTI graduate Melanie Hammer, who have made a horticultural therapy program possible at Rogers Memorial Hospital. “It is a phenomenal opportunity with unlimited possibilities to grow and expand the horticultural therapy program. The hospital is supportive and would like to see research done on the effects of horticultural therapy and behavioral health. I am honored to have this opportunity and I cannot wait to get started.”

Lucy Pfeffer, Denver, CO 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.


View the recording of a recent live webinar:

Topic: Entering the Profession of Horticultural Therapy

You will learn:

  • What is horticultural therapy?
  • Where is it practiced?
  • Who does it serve?
  • How can you receive training?

View the webinar here


Read the Fall newsletter

Read Here

Read the newest HTI blog

Read Here

Credits available through


Accredited through