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

2017 Spring Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: The Peas Are Up!

By Rebecca Haller, HTM

RLH headshot EDITEDI hope that you are having a wonderful spring, and embracing the weather shifts and swings so prevalent this time of year. If you would like to help your HT participants make connections and notice the exciting seasonal happenings, include the study of phenology in your sessions. Notice and record the timing of natural life cycle events such as migrations, leafing out, blooming, etc. You may even want to share your observations with groups that have created databases of these natural patterns. Read what others observe. Contribute to the knowledge base of changes to climate and how living things may respond over time.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5fcbGardeners are naturals at this sort of thing. Think about the conversations you have with friends, family and colleagues about the timing of blooms, etc. in your respective communities. It’s a good bet that you talk about the earliness or lateness of the lilacs, peonies, etc.

Most likely you also take cues from nature for timing garden plantings – and don’t strictly rely on the calendar to guide you. For example, northerners know that dandelions begin to grow when the forsythia blooms. It is relatively safe to set out tomato plants when the oak leaves have unfurled, or when the tall bearded irises flower. Clean up beds and prune woody plants when the crocuses begin to bloom. Native people and those who have gardened a very long time in the same area are good observers, and pass down these bits of advice. The advice is usually spot-on for accuracy and beats following dates for timing garden undertakings.

Make connections. Become a good observer and encourage your groups to do the same.

Returning to the East coast for Fall Fundamentals of HT class

P1100595Join a community of learners and embark on your own horticultural therapy journey, by earning an HT certificate. Enroll today in one of the three Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy classes offered across the country in Colorado, Atlanta and Massachusetts . This class is offered for academic credit and only offered in the fall.

The Institute will travel back to Perkins School for the Blind to offer the Fundamentals of HT class once again. This class will be offered Nov. 16-19, 2017 and enrollment is open now.

The one year AHTA  accredited program’s format allows students to live anywhere and come together for only four classes –about once a semester, while completing work back home. Join the leaders in Horticultural Therapy education and learn how to combine a passion for gardening and helping people through the innovative field of horticultural therapy. The Institute has offered HT classes for nearly 15 years and the faculty is experienced as practitioners as well as instructors.

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 2018 in Colorado and North Carolina. For a full class schedule go to

Oct. 19-22, 2017 Deadline: Sept. 19, 2017HTPics2 align=
Anchor Center for Blind Children
Denver, Colorado

Nov. 2-5, 2017 Deadline: Oct. 2, 2017
Skyland Trail
Atlanta, Georgia

Nov. 16-19, 2017 Deadline: Oct. 16, 2017
Perkins School for the Blind
Watertown, Massachusetts

Horticultural Therapy Tips for Practice: Dream Greenhouse

By Beth Bruno

A group of younger adults enjoy some time in our Kings Mountain greenhouse.

Life Enrichment Center is an adult day program that serves a diverse population of adults with a variety of diagnoses, from physical and developmental disabilities, to dementia, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s and stroke. The mission of Life Enrichment Center is to provide safe and stimulating day programming and health care for adults that enable families to stay together and participants to stay in their homes. We have two locations in Cleveland County, North Carolina; Kings Mountain and Shelby. I created the horticultural therapy program when I began my internship while still a student at HTI, then became the full-time horticultural therapist when I graduated from the program.


Horticultural Therapist Beth Bruno assists a participant with a planting activity in the Shelby greenhouse.

In the 4 years I have been the HT, we have expanded our outdoor gardening opportunities to include raised beds, accessible paths and arbors for shade. We have butterfly gardens, wildflower meadows and cutting gardens. A greenhouse has always been in the back of my mind, but mostly it was a far-fetched dream. In the winter, we garden indoors, but as our population has grown, it has become more and more difficult to garden indoors in shared spaces. I began to look at our ‘dream” of a greenhouse more seriously and approached my Executive Director with the idea once again. Because she is fully supportive of the HT program and sees the real benefits for our participants, she said “Let’s do it.” We launched a fund raiser and because of the generosity of our community, we were able to build a greenhouse at our Kings Mountain location. We dedicated it in January of 2016.

We immediately began to see the magic that a greenhouse can create for our participants, especially ones with advanced dementia who were agitated and trying to elope. I could take such a person into the greenhouse and almost immediately they would become relaxed and engaged, taking in all the sights and smells and settling down to plant or fill pots with soil. When we saw the power of just such a plant-rich environment to positively affect our participants, we decided that we needed to offer our Shelby participants the same opportunity.  This time, we were able to write a grant to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and we were awarded the Brodsky Innovation Grant for $25,000.


A participant who was agitated finds a place of calm and solace in the greenhouse.

By this time, I had spent enough time in our current greenhouse to know what I wanted to do differently in our new one. We dedicated our second greenhouse In February 2017.

I have learned a lot about the benefits of practicing HT with the use of a greenhouse and I have also learned some lessons along the way about what you should consider if you are lucky enough to be able to build one.

  • Size matters! Think about how many people you would like to be able to serve at one time in your greenhouse and plan accordingly. Our first greenhouse is 16×18 and when it is filled with plants and a table and chairs, I can only comfortably accommodate 4-6 people. If they are in large power wheelchairs, the number goes down. While I appreciate the intimacy of working with small groups, it makes it difficult to get around to everyone on my 2 days each week at that center. Our newest greenhouse is 16×30 and I can get 10-12 very easily into the space. When we hosted a tea party for the Herb Society we had 20 people in that greenhouse!
  • Flooring is an important detail. In our first greenhouse we did not have the funds for a concrete floor and we chose to use rubber ring mats over an aggregate subfloor. While this works well enough, having the floor open to the ground creates lots of opportunities for insects and weeds, and the mats have taken a while to lose their “rubber” smell. In our new greenhouse we poured a concrete floor and I chose a heavy brush finish so there would be no danger of slipping when the floor is wet. I would always choose concrete over any other surface if at all possible.
  • If you want to use your greenhouse year round and you live in a temperate climate, always pay extra for an evaporative cooling system. It’s amazing how efficient this type of system is for cooling the house on a really warm day. Shade cloths are also a must if people are your focus and not full-scale plant production. Most tropicals are ok with the lower light levels afforded by a shade cloth, and it definitely makes it more comfortable for people, especially as older eyes tend to be more sensitive to bright light.
  • A handwashing station is a nice addition, making it easier to clean up after playing in the soil. An inexpensive utility sink is all you really need and you can use the hose or you can plumb the faucets. Either way, it makes it nicer when they are leaving the greenhouse to head in to lunch.

Enter a greenhouse in the winter and you cross the threshold into a warm, fragrant oasis filled with life.

Choose a reputable company if you want your greenhouse to last for the duration. While there are much fancier greenhouses than the ones I chose, there are none that are more well-built or more reasonably priced. I use the Atlas Greenhouse Company and have been extremely pleased with the practicality and usability of my greenhouses.

  • While my work is about the people, not the plants, the plants are my tools and I need them to be healthy. Although my participants LOVE to water, I control the watering in the greenhouse more closely because over-watering is the number one cause of disease and insect outbreaks in your greenhouse. Better to prevent these than have to deal with a wholesale outbreak. When we are outside I hand them the hose and let them go, but in the greenhouse I have lots of other activities for them to do to prevent over-watering.
  • Stand back and let the magic happen! A greenhouse is a warm, fragrant oasis filled with life and it can make all the difference in your practice. One of my participants said it best. “This is where I belong” she beamed. “When I am here among all of this life I feel like I am home”.

Beth Bruno is a graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Institute and the full time horticultural therapist at Life Enrichment Center in North Carolina.

HTI Program Profile: An HT Internship Perspective

By Marcia Bartczak

In August 2016, I packed my car with my books, papers, plenty of pens and pencils, and my lap top. I was on the way to my horticultural therapy (HT) internship at Skyland Trail Residential Psychiatric Facility in Atlanta, GA ( But let’s back up a little and talk about how and why I decided to go to Atlanta.

Back in Florida, after completing my Horticultural Therapy Institute certificate program, I asked myself, “ Now what?” I was determined to find an internship and complete it in 2016. I wanted to feel confident and gain hands on experience, with supervision, in a dynamic and collaborative environment. To finally be around patients and a team of professionals was very exciting to me. After a year of classes with HTI and college classes for extra credits, it was time to play in the dirt with a clinical purpose.

Skyland garden First, I spoke to several colleagues to hear about the positives and the negatives of their internship experiences. These valuable conversations helped me clarify my priorities when searching for the HT internship program. After much reflection, deliberation, and research, I nailed my top three priorities: daily supervision and easy access to a senior HTR (registered horticultural therapist), participation in a multidisciplinary team, and a constant and diverse patient population. I believe participating in clinical review meetings and interacting with other professionals enhances our ability to care for patients. When a HT has pertinent information about diagnosis, patient history and, desired outcomes we can create meaningful activities, goals, and objectives. Our observations of patient’s behavior and demeanor, in sessions and in the gardens, are valuable contributions to the team and patient’s recovery. As horticultural therapists we have a place at the table and have a lot to contribute to the patients’ recovery.

After calling a long list of centers providing internships and asking them about their services, one location stood out, having all elements to make my experience there meaningful for both myself and those I would be serving.

I felt a visit and a formal two-way interview was necessary. In February 2016, I flew to Atlanta to meet Libba Shortridge, HTR, director of the HT program at Skyland. We met in the greenhouse on a very cold day. I knew immediately the greenhouse was a social hub for staff and patients alike. During my visit I observed patients coming in to chat with the HT staff, walk around, look and water the plants. Staff members brought in their sick plants and left them at the greenhouse to recover. How can I explain Libba? She is the soul of the program and is fully committed to HT and her clients.

From left, Libba Shortridge, HTR and Marcia Bartzak

From left, Libba Shortridge, HTR and Marcia Bartczak

Her previous experience as a landscape architect and artist shows in every corner of the gardens and in every session with her patients.

During the interview, as I met some of the staff and saw all the gardens, residencies, and inpatient and outpatient facilities, I knew I had to apply and hope for acceptance. In May, I learned that I was accepted and could start my internship in the summer. I was on my way to becoming a registered horticultural therapist. I felt lucky, young, and excited on my way to learn and spend my days working in beautiful gardens. In August, a week after my daughter’s wedding, I left Florida.

Skyland Trail is a residential and outpatient psychiatric facility for adults 18 years of age or older. It offers residential, outpatient, and vocational services, intensive psychotherapy for outpatients (day treatment), coaching, life enrichment, and alumni programs.

Today, Skyland Trail has four campuses, four therapeutic gardens, and two greenhouses. They offer horticultural therapy , which has been traditionally offered since 1989 when its first facility was opened.

The HT program at Skyland Trail fosters socialization, wellness, and empowerment. The goals of the program are to reaffirm self-esteem, instill positive metaphors for recovery, and foster social re-integration.

HT interns experience the value of a comprehensive therapeutic approach while working at Skyland Trail. HT interns have the opportunity to be a member of and collaborate with the adjunctive therapy team, which includes recreational, horticultural, art, and music therapy, as well as psychotherapists, volunteers and members of the Atlanta community. HT interns are required to attend weekly clinical reviews of patients in the dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and dual diagnosis (wherein patients have both a drug addition and mental illness diagnosis) tracks. On Thursday afternoon, a senior psychiatrist lectures to interns and staff. Some of the themes discussed included suicide prevention guidelines, effects of testosterone use in the brain, making a psychiatric assessment that includes history, mental status examination and risk assessment.

My first week was but a “Taste of Skyland.” I participated in several group therapy sessions, music and art therapy classes, and clinical meetings. I also observed several HT sessions with Libba and learned to enter our session assessment reports in the computer. Interns are required to complete  reports for the majority of the sessions. The horticultural therapy team’s contributions were valuable and clinically relevant. As time went on, I felt more comfortable sharing my observations or contacting a psychotherapist when a problem seemed urgent.Zinnias

I arrived around 7:30 a.m. every day. This way, I had a chance to complete some of the gardening duties before all the patients arrived. However, I soon realized another advantage of being there in the greenhouse so early. Some patients also arrived early, and on many occasions I was able to engage them and spark their interest in horticultural activities. Often, they joined me as we completed daily chores, such as watering plants, washing tools, tidying up the greenhouse, weeding, or walking the gardens to see if anything needed attention.

At the beginning of the internship, it took me a lot longer to get ready for a session. It takes time and consideration to learn the best setting for each group or activity. The setting can help you achieve different goals and objectives, provide a soothing experience, or increase social interaction. Having a supervisor with a lot of experience pointing this things out was terrific benefit. As patients come in from other talk groups, it is good to greet them with an organized and uncluttered work area. These patients have enough chaos to sort through.

Patients participated in a number of scheduled HT groups every week. Before coming to our sessions, they needed approval from their therapist who added them to the roster. After a few weeks observing and assisting in sessions, I was responsible for the planning and leading of a few groups. The diversity of focus and of goals of each group is a huge benefit for an HT intern. It gives the intern the opportunity to create activities that are compatible with the overall goal of each particular group. Patients participate in all groups during their stay at Skyland Trail, consequently it is important to provide diverse and meaningful HT activities.

Descriptions of Skyland Trail HT Activities ProgramGreenhouse skyland

  • Inspired by nature explores the cycles, diversity, and resilience of nature. Through nature-based activities, we create opportunities for patients to explore courage, flexibility, resilience, and enhance self-esteem.
  • Campus Caregivers fosters socialization and nurturing through having patients participate in purposeful and rewarding tasks and activities that benefit and enhance both the Skyland Trail community and the larger Atlanta community.The focus is for the client to recognize that caring for others enhances self-care and self-esteem.
  • Harvesting Hope closes the circle of planting, caring, and harvesting. Patients learn to prepare meals. This process brings joy and a sense of accomplishment as they enjoy the fruits of their labor.
  • Nature as Healer introduces patients to all the different ways gardening and time in nature are therapeutic and playful. Insights will arise from these activities as we work through some of the metaphors.
  • Photography in the Garden A volunteer professional photographer spends time teaching and taking photographs with clients all over our gardens and greenhouse.
  • Green Team is part of the horticultural vocational program. The program is designed to enhance self-esteem by empowering clients with meaningful work. The program encourages ownership, leadership, and commitment. The clients that excel are offered a paid part-time position.
  • Wonderful Wednesdays was created to engage clients at the end of the day as they return to the South residence.This program was created in collaboration with the recreational therapy intern

The activities always include a physical activity, such as games or walks, and a horticultural activity with the goals to decompress, socialize, listen to music, and spend time outside.

Libba Shortridge, HTR in the greenhouse

Libba Shortridge, HTR in the greenhouse

  • Community Meeting Once a week, patients and staff meet to go over news and schedules. It is a time to congratulate graduating peers and to voice appreciation to one another when someone makes a difference in their lives.
  • Life Enrichment Adult Program (LEAP) Every Wednesday, patients come back to campus to exercise or spend time in the art room or greenhouse. It is a time to socialize and play.
  • Alumni Program Throughout the years, alumni participate in several meetings. The theme and subject always changes. Several times a year, they will participate in HT activities. The goals are to provide alumni with the opportunities to socialize and support each other.
  • Community Outreach Several events and collaborations with the community happen every year. These aim to increase mental illness visibility, reintegration of patients and fundraising.

During my internship, I collaborated with several volunteers. I was able to observe how Libba and the facility related to each volunteer and managed their schedules, allowing them to share their gifts and talents.

Luckily, I came to Skyland during the budget season, so all departments needed to make plans and put together costs for 2017. Participating in this processes was an added value. Preparing budgets, fundraising, and many other activities are some of our other responsibilities.  In addition, I participated in the preparations for the Fairies in the Garden (a collaboration between Skyland Trail and Woodlands Garden in Atlanta ([]). This is a program created to reintegrate patients and increase awareness of mental illness in the community. Skyland clients work for months creating each fairy home and much more with exclusively natural materials. Most of the materials are gathered by Libba and her family as they hike the woods every year. The attention to detail, texture, shape, and smell of these plant parts was a creative exercise in itself. Two days prior to the festival, clients and staff spend a day installing these homes into carefully picked sites in the woods. On the day of the fair, 1,200 people, mostly children, dress as fairies and  walk up the streets of Atlanta and searching for fairies in 12 fairy cities. It is a beautiful sight. Skyland patients, when they feel able, participate and standing by their work and receiving praise and congratulations. The community has a chance to see the faces of mental illness as capable, intelligent, gentle, and creative people. To top it all, I was the HT intern who got to participate in the inauguration of Skyland Trail’s newest campus.Skyland hanging baskets

The opening of the Rollins Campus, a 32 bed outstanding facility for young adults ages 18-25, was planned for October. The preparations began in September with cuttings placed in small pots for each guest, planning of flower arrangements, and planted pots. Patients were fully involved in every task. The staff had an afternoon in the greenhouse to help us complete the guests’ planted pots. It was a momentous day for the mental illness advocates, therapists, staff, interns, donors, parents, and patients. The Skyland community has built a residential facility for young adults that promotes healing, and is safe and beautiful.

Libba and I had weekly meetings. Throughout the internship shared her experience as an HTR for 10 years at Skyland trail. During this time Libba created and implemented the designs of several gardens and a curriculum that benefits both, patients and interns. She supervised many of my sessions the first 2 months and enabled me to collaborate with volunteers and create several new activities. I was happy she trusted the HT intern, me, enough to take a vacation close to the end of my internship.

Upon completion of over 600 hours, it was time to go. I wish Skyland Trail great success and thank each and every one there for an outstanding internship. I promise to pay forward their generosity and kindness. This experience left me feeling optimistic and with a “can do” attitude as I look for jobs in South Florida. I have no reservations when I tell to you to consider Skyland Trail for your internship.

Marcia is an HTI graduate and Skyland Trail is the site of the fall Fundamentals of HT class Nov. 2-5.