2015 Winter Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: The Profession Advances…

By: Rebecca Haller, HTM

rhaller (1)The AHTA Credentialing work team has been working for several years now on steps towards creating a stronger credential for horticultural therapists. With long-term goals to develop competency testing and certification, the latest accomplishment is a published job task analysis. A more detailed update to the job analysis published in 1982, the current analysis describes the results of a survey of registered horticultural therapists and reflects job knowledge, skills, and abilities in the profession.

This is an important step to guide future training of HTs as well as the content of a competency exam. At the core, the results show a consistency in the HT profession over time, with a continued multi-disciplinary emphasis on horticulture, human science, and horticultural therapy skills. Published in the December 2014 issue of HortTechnology, a free summary, as well as a link to purchase the full article may be found at

Horticultural Therapy Tips for Practice: Winter Season Plant-Source Ideas for HT

By: Nellie Bhattarai, HTR

photo1bhattaraiThe therapeutic benefit of working with plants is undeniable. Humans have been using plants for cognitive, social, physical, and emotional purposes for millenniums, so it’s no surprise that in an age when people are drawn so intensely to indoor technology-based activities, that we continue to need the natural connection of people-plant interactions.

WAIT! What can we use to serve our populations when there is a foot of snow on the ground, the garden is empty, and all the plants outside look lifeless?!?   Therapy is a continuous process, so horticultural therapists have to be creative in the winter to bring the experience with plants to our clients. These are plant-source ideas I have used in Pennsylvania to serve a population of teenage youth in the corrections system:

Propagation of indoor plants: Most ‘house plants’ are from tropical climates, and bring a welcome splash of green to indoor spaces. They also provide off-season growing materials to inspire those we’re working with. Some house plants can be propagated by vegetative cuttings, like snake plant. Others have adventitious roots that arise from the nodes of the parent plant and give a head-start in the growing process. Pothos, Christmas cactus, jade tree, and other succulents are some examples.

Spider plant is one of my favorites, having baby ‘spiders’ that can be separated from the drooping arms of the parent plant and placed directly in soil OR placed in water to watch the roots grow. Some plants, like aloe, silver squill, and amaryllis, grow young plants from the root base of the parent plant. This offers a good lesson in the iphoto2bhattaraimportance of gentle handling, as we carefully separate the young plants from the parent plant. Most of the plant material I start with comes from plants we have in our home and/or from the horticulture department of a local university.

It’s important to share this part of the story! Where did this plant come from? Who shared these pieces that are allowing us to grow? I have found that it’s important to connect my kids to the recognition that someone else’s care and attention was given for their benefit. It’s a good reminder that our actions go beyond us to impact others, and show that we are all connected.

  • Potted plants: Touching, smelling, tasting, seeing, hearing…using the senses to experience plants is awesome! What do you notice about this plant? Capturing an experience in words can help us sense more deeply and increase our ability to focus, which often helps my kids slow down and move their thoughts from personal trouble to the plant in front of them. Sharing almost any plant I have in pots serves a purpose, however herbs and citrus plants are especially good for this exercise because of their aromatic qualities. Flowering plants give a cheerful array of color. Every plant has details to notice and talk about from the leaf shape and color to the arrangement and texture of the plant. Incorporating potted plants into a lesson is an activity for all seasons, though it’s especially nice in the winter. For safety, plastic pots are encouraged.
  • Fall harvest: Plan ahead. If you grow plants in the garden that can be preserved or have a long shelf life, you can use these materials all winter. For example, I share a lesson with my kids about the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. I bring in popcorn that has been dried in the husk, along with podded beans, and a winter squash, all from the garden.   The squash is fun to pass around whole and prompt observations about. Having a slice cut from a squash allows the kids to smell and feel the squishy inside too. The kids love opening bean pods and husking corn…like the curiosity of opening a gift! This year I saved and dried sunflower heads and used them to talk about healthy food choices and the capacity of Vitamin E to protect brain matter and prevent cardiovascular problems. Connections, connections, connections! Herbs and flowers can be dried and used for teas or potpourri. We don’t have cloves, cinnamon, and ginger growing in our garden, but these spices and others have been fun to introduce to the kids. We recognize these familiar flavors in seasonal gingerbread cookies, but where do they come from and how do they grow? Picking up these plant materials from the grocery store can add an educational element to a session that includes geography and broader awareness of the world around us.
  • Seeds: In recent years in our family garden, I’ve become more involved with saving vegetable, herb, and flower seeds for planting the following year(s). It’s important to save seeds from varieties that are open-pollinated, not hybrid varieties. My personal experiences with this have rippled into an opportunity to share the knowledge (and seeds!) from these experiences, with the kids. There are lovely templates online to create your own seed packets, which is a fun way to store and share seeds, again teaching the lesson that giving is more important that receiving. Collect and dry some seeds in their seed pods (okra, beans, and radish) to open in the off-season. Seeds from avocado, mango, papaya, and citrus may spark interesting observations of textures, shapes, flavors (if paired with a taste of the fruit), and education about regional climate differences and plant needs. Some wildflower seeds, like milkweed, need a period of cold to overcome dormancy, so we start these in January or February and leave the pots outside. I partner the planting with learning about the milkweed plant and the milkweed-dependent monarch butterfly population that is in drastic decline.
  • photo3bhattaraiTrees and environmental connections: Winter is an excellent time to talk about trees. Our forests are an incredible place of diversity and source of program material. In the fall I collect leaves and press them in phone books so that we have a hands-on plant source for our Trees & Virtues series. One lesson a week from November through March, we focus on a tree species, sometimes two, and sometimes a whole family (ie maple or oak). To start the session I bring out leaves, branches, fruit, and bark of a tree species and the kids use field guides to figure out what tree it is. They youth love this detective approach. We use the field guides to share out loud about the trees, learning more together as a group. This is also a great time to incorporate other environmental connections. For example, forests act as a carbon sink that help diminish the effects of global warming, wildlife and plant diversity in different stages of forest succession, the awesomeness of old growth forests, sustainable forestry, and career opportunities.
  • Planning and envisioning next season: Although the winter season is typically a season of rest for a gardener, it can also be filled with planning for the season to come. Keep those seed catalogs from last year, as they are a great source of visual inspiration! A project the kids always like is mapping out a hypothetical garden space with graph paper and dividing the space into blocks of different crops they are interested in planting, then carefully ripping the pictures out of seed catalogs to paste into the spaces of their garden. Planning ahead for a garden is a great connecting point for thinking ahead for OUR futures, so I tie in elements of life planning and setting long-term goals to provide a compass with which to help guide decisions for today.
  • Words of encouragement: No doubt you’ve been inspired by words. Words about hope, dedication, integrity, trust, courage, faith, gratitude…the list is endless! I love sharing quotes and words of encouragement with my kids…and they love receiving them. This adds a bright spot to everyone’s day. Often I incorporate these words into a communal goal at the beginning of the session, in the middle to encourage conversation, and/or at the end to wrap up with a positive take-home message. Having a focus point around a positive ideal can be worked into any lesson!

The off-season is a great season! With all of the plant materials in the above descriptions, I find that incorporating education opens a world of new ideas and understanding for the kids I serve. The more they learn and experience with plants, the larger their pool of helpful ideas grows, and the more likely that their future paths will look different than today. I hope some of the ideas I’ve shared here will help with your programming as you strive to educate and encourage others. In this season, be inspired to think green!

Nellie Bhattarai, HTR works on contract at Central Counties Youth Center and is a past graduate of HTI\

HTI Program Profile: “Happy Dirty Feet”

How are students growing today? The sprouting of the Jefferson County Open School HT program

By: Loredana Farilla, MD

farillaphoto1Transforming negative feelings and behaviors into positive and constructive ones is just one of the goals of the “Happy Dirty Feet” HT garden in Lakewood, Colorado. The Jefferson County Open School (JCOS, or Open School) provides a dynamic environment that fosters the development of the unique potential in each individual by nurturing and challenging the whole person. The curriculum emphasizes self-direction, learning through experience, shared responsibility, and the development of lifelong skills.

The JCOS school garden started developing in 2011 and thus opened a door to the living world by serving as an outdoor classroom. Inspired by Hazel Rah Farm in Lakewood, Colorado, the garden allowed a hands-on experience for students to learn about nature, science, and nutrition. The Open School recently expanded its educational mission in the garden to include the horticultural therapy program, “Happy Dirty Feet,” with the goal of promoting students’ physical and psychological wellbeing. A dedicated website is currently under development, and preliminary information can be found at:


JCOS serves a total of 525 students from preK-12. Approximately 15% of the students are involved in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to address challenges impeding their ability to learn. An additional 10% of students require some degree of assistance to facilitate learning skills (school program 504).

The JCOS horticultural therapy program is primarily intended to help these student populations thrive during their educational growth, but is open to all members of the school community. Students, staff, and families can all benefit from the direct contact with nature through active gardening activities as well as passive observation and appreciation of nature in the garden.

The “Happy Dirty Feet” program, in concert with the school’s curriculum and social and psychological support systems, is committed to improving the well-being of the school community. Through the integration of horticultural therapy activities, students’ learning, experiential interests and abilities will significantly improve alongside their psychological well-being and social integration. By strengthening the general physical and mental well-being of students, a foundation for behavioral health and emotional stability can be established and maintained.

The school garden is designed to simulate an outdoor learning lab environment. The boundaries of the garden plots are fenced with two-rail wood fencing. The entrance is a handmade gate built and painted by JCOS students. Nine 4’x8’ wood-framed raised garden beds are present on the south side of the garden. Smaller beds are to the north, and berry bushes and grape vines have been planted around the perimeter. Paths are in compliance with Federal ADA regulations. A 30’x12’hoop house is currently under construction by garden team members and volunteers from the school community.

Recently, JCOS was awarded a $13,900 grant from the Colorado Garden Foundation. These funds will be used for the construction of a geodesic dome greenhouse complete with an aquaponics system, scheduled to be built in the summer of 2015. The greenhouse will provide an outdoor educational space for horticultural therapy as well as the ability to grow food year-round for the school’s Garden-to-Cafeteria and Youth Farmer’s Market programs. In addition to the outdoor environment, an indoor HT area is being developed to create a dedicated therapeutic “Nature Corner” where horticultural therapy sessions can be performed year-round.farillaphoto2

The concept of “Happy Dirty Feet” was born the moment I saw my daughter and her best friend taking their socks and shoes off during a hot summer day to walk barefoot in my home garden. I heard the sound of a magical laugh generated from that very special and unique contact between humans and the earth. I could almost hear Mother Earth laughing as well! At that very moment, I felt an indescribable emotion from watching the two little girls happily grounded and simply content. Right then, I made the decision to do all I could as a mother, a medical doctor, a horticultural therapist to expand that same sense of well-being to more and more children.

As my wonderful HT internship supervisor Carol LaRoque at the Mental Health Center of Denver often reminds me, it takes a village (or more than one) to make a difference, the JCOS horticultural therapy program wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible support from the entire school community. I simply shared with them all of the wonderful things that I learned from the Horticultural Therapy Institute.

The HT management class was so well design and implemented that by simply following the instructors’ directions, I was able to write a very well-received HT proposal and successful grant. For program sustainability, more grants are currently in progress as well as presentations to the community to increase interest and financial support. “Happy Dirty Feet” made its first baby steps in 2014 and is determined to grow stronger and happier. Future goals of the program include research collaborations with local universities, expanding the program to more schools within Jefferson County, and developing an intergenerational program between JCOS secondary students and local senior centers.

I am profoundly grateful to the Horticultural Therapy Institute, the Jefferson County Open School, and my HT internship site at the Mental Health Center of Denver. By providing me with opportunities, knowledge, and skills, I have strengthened my inspiration to help our younger generations to grow happier, stronger and healthier.

Loredana Farilla directs the HT program at the Jefferson County Open Space School and is a graduate of the HT Institute.

HT Institute announces new fall classes:


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

The remaining three classes in the certificate series will be held in 2016 in Colorado and North Carolina. Dates will be posted by May. Check out the website at for more details or to enroll in a class.

HTI Happenings:

Pam Catlin, HTR current HTI faculty will present: The Growing Difference…..The Power of Connecting Through Nature at the Northern Arizona Alzheimer’s Association Desert SW Chapter’s Conference on March 25.

New Blog connects people with natural world

By: Susan Morgan

susan morganWorking with clients, researching and writing activity plans, doing paperwork and invoicing, marketing services, hunting and shopping for supplies, staying up-to-date on trends in the field…juggling the many hats of a horticultural therapy practitioner can be quite challenging, especially if you don’t have a network of people around for regular support. In response, I created eat|breathe|garden that houses information in one spot and also serves as a creative outlet for my photography and writing. (jump here)

The primary objective of eat|breathe|garden is to connect people with the natural world through the sharing of activity ideas and recipes, interesting publications and links, anecdotes from personal experience, inspiring quotes and other tidbits, and other information relevant to practitioners and others seeking to connect with nature. Through weekly posts, it is my hope to share activity ideas and how I deliver them for clients, talk about my personal experiences as a private therapeutic horticulture practitioner, and host guest bloggers who present their own ideas and experiences. The tone of this blog is intended to be informative yet lighthearted and interjected with humor.

Like the work that we do, eat|breathe|garden is a dynamic and fluid project and will evolve in response to personal whims and the (supportive) feedback I receive from others. Though it has been up and running since the fall, I am still playing with the layout and building content, and I seek and welcome your constructive input as it develops. What burning questions do you have? What kind of information are you looking for? Would you be willing to contribute as a guest blogger or a sharer of interesting information? Please check it out at

Susan is the owner and therapeutic horticulture practitioner at The Horticultural Link ( in Dallas. She is the 2014 recipient of the AHTA Alice Burlingame Humanitarian Award. Contact her at [email protected]


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


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