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

2017 Summer Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: Garden Gems at Thrive Headquarters in England

By Rebecca Haller, HTM
RLH headshot EDITEDPerhaps the widest assortment of raised beds I’ve seen in my travels are to be found at the Thrive Trunkwell Garden Project near Reading in the UK. Located next to Thrive’s head office at the Geoffrey Udall Centre, the gardens are actively used by therapists and people with disabilities to build varied skills and vocational qualifications.

During my visit in May, gardeners were busy working outdoors and in the glasshouse on a beautiful cool English spring day. With a range of purposes, the gardens consist of those focused on sensory qualities, food, ornamentals, woodlands, and bees.
Actually, structures and plants to support bees are everywhere in these gardens! The newest additions to the space are five specially designed displays to illustrate garden design ideas for people with specific disabilities.

For example they include one called “hearts and minds” designed to accommodate people who have survived a stroke or heart disease. Another is “out of sight” especially for people who have a visual impairment. More detail is available on the Thrive website

So here are some of the raised beds. I hope you are inspired! And thank you to the Thrive folks who graciously shared their gardens and time.


Fall Fundamentals of HT classes – Enroll Today

Fundamentals of HT class at Skyland Trail in Atlanta, GA

Fundamentals of HT class at Skyland Trail in Atlanta, GA

Join 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, Georgia and Massachusetts . This class is offered for academic credit and only offered in the fall.

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 is celebrating it’s 15th year of offering HT classes 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

Fundamentals class at Anchor Center, Denver, CO

Fundamentals class at Anchor Center, Denver, CO

Oct. 19-22, 2017 Deadline: Sept. 19, 2017
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:
Fascination, Interaction, and Ownership

By Carol LaRocque, LPC, HTR
Editors note: Students attending the Colorado Fundamentals of HT class will have the opportunity to hear from Carol firsthand and visit her HT site.

Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being

Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being

The Horticultural Therapy program at the Mental Health Center of Denver provides individuals, families, and groups with the opportunity to work towards emotional, behavioral, and relational health goals while working with plants and gardens. Our main location, Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being in Northeast Denver, hosts our Horticultural Therapy garden, an urban farm, pollinator garden, raised beds in the Day Treatment and Inclusive Preschool playgrounds, and an aquaponics greenhouse. Several satellite locations host small vegetable, herb, and flower gardens. Ironically, although the gardens draw the most attention during the summer because of the abundant plant growth, many other priorities pull families away from participating in sessions during the warm-weather months when children are out of school. In addition, planting at the beginning of the season, and harvesting at the end, often are favorite activities, and children and parents alike ask “what will we do in between?” I have found that activities which provide experiences of fascination, interaction, and ownership of the growing spaces can provide the motivation for participants to keep coming back.

Mentzelia decapetala, blazing star, is one of hundreds of fascinating flowers

Mentzelia decapetala, blazing star, is one of hundreds of fascinating flowers

Fascination reflects a state of mind of openness, curiosity, non-judgement, and relaxation. The regions of the brain which are activated during states of fascination have few overlaps with the regions of the brain which are activated during states of traumatic arousal, and provide a healing respite from anxiety, doubt, and vigilance. During the height of the growing season, but prior to harvest, we touch, smell, taste, draw, learn the life cycles of, and catch and release as many things in the garden as will fit safely in our hands. As facilitator, I encourage these little discoveries, even if they distract us from the particular tasks of the day. Flowers, insects, immature fruits and veggies, unexpected mushrooms that popped up after the last rain, birds, and other garden visitors are all welcome subjects for exploration. Opening questions such as “I wonder if/how/where…” or “who has an idea about…” allow your participants to engage their curiosity, and show others what they have observed. Making it clear that having the right answers is not the point, also allows participants who might be shy, anxious, or who have low self-esteem understand that they are welcome to contribute.

Exploring insects, even the ones who cause damage, provides opportunities to face the different and the unknown

Exploring insects, even the ones who cause damage, provides opportunities to face the different and the unknown

Interaction, as I’m using the term here, engages the senses and invites participants to notice their somatic and emotional responses. It’s the process of taking exploration to the next step, past “wow, that’s pretty,” or weird, or interesting, to the question of “what do you notice inside yourself?” This process of helping participants notice their responses helps them recognize their own internal states, name them, and tolerate them. Participants who experience depression, for example, sometimes describe themselves as feeling “emotionally numb” and even describe that their sense perceptions become deadened. They report that food tastes less delicious, music sounds like noise, and in some cases, people turn to self-injuring behavior as a way to try to waken their senses again. In the garden, the smell of mint, the feel of a flower, or the sound of a rattling seed pod can be starting points to ask “where in your body do you notice that?” as well as “what is that like for you?” Also, I find that if I suggest a specific craft activity using plant materials, I may limit the creative potential for participants to use plant materials in their own healing ways. There are certainly times when craft activities are useful, but from a mental health therapeutic approach, inviting participants to pay attention to their somatic and emotional responses to the garden may lead them to hold plant materials in their hands, flatten them into journals, bury them in the compost, create a mandala, or other unexpected and beautiful ways to interact with plants.

The many patterns of plants provide sources of interest, and become starting points for creative projects

The many patterns of plants provide sources of interest, and become starting points for creative projects

Cultivating the participants’ sense of ownership of the gardens has been as helpful for clients as it has been for me, allowing me to see the garden from a new perspective and helping me let go of my ideas of how the garden “should” look or what interventions we “should” do. I invite participants to move quietly through the gardens, watching, listening, and noticing, and to choose a plant they feel especially connected to, one which they would like to take care of for the rest of the season. Often this turns out to be a plant they planted themselves, but not always. We may paint smooth stones or plant stakes with colors, symbols, or whatever participants choose, to represent their willingness to water, cultivate, and care about this plant. I use the language of “your garden” deliberately as I introduce that this space is theirs to enjoy now and after our program is over. We also are developing an extensive cutting garden to welcome clients and visitors into the garden to choose and take home some of the garden’s beauty. With a sense of ownership of and investment in the place, children and adults alike feel pride, connection, and willingness to come back to work in and enjoy their garden.

Carol LaRocque is a graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Institute and the full time horticultural therapist at The Mental Health Center of Denver.

HTI Program Profile: Perkins School for the Blind

By: Deborah Krause, HTM
Editors Note: Perkins is the site of one of HTI’s Fundamentals of HT class this fall, Nov. 16-19, 2017

perkins photo (1)Perkins School for the Blind was founded in 1829 as the nation’s first school for the blind.  At the core of Perkins’ programs and services are the school programs on campus for roughly 200 children and young people ages 3-22. In addition, public school students attend short courses and multi-week programs on campus. Educators from developing nations study in the year-long Educational Leadership Program. In the community, more than 650 babies receive early education services in their homes, and Perkins teachers work with almost 300 students in public schools The Perkins Training Center offers in-service training programs to 5,000 professionals from New England and beyond.  Last year our work impacted the lives of over 114,000 people around the world.

 Horticulture at Perkins

Horticulture at Perkins goes back to the school’s move in 1910 to the current 38-acre campus in Watertown, MA. At that time, students tended orchards and gardens that provided vegetables and fruits. The contemporary program of Horticultural Therapy began as a part-time pilot program in 1979. It quickly became a full-time program and Perkins hired its first Horticultural Therapist and coordinator in 1980.

Horticulture benefits Perkins students who are blind, deafblind, or visually impaired with multiple disabilities of all ages from many of its programs –  Infants and toddlers, Early Learning Center, Lower School, Secondary, Deafblind and Outreach Services for Students in public schools.  More than half the school’s 200 residential and day students, ages 3 to 22, participate.  Horticultural Therapy offers a wide range of services including evaluation, sensory exploration, prevocational exploration, vocational training, science classes, recreation and leisure training, on and off campus work experience, and community service experiences.  We consult with individuals and programs in the United States and other countries and currently have two AHTA registered horticultural therapists on staff.  In addition, vocational staff, classroom teachers and other therapists bring groups to horticulture classes.  We also have horticultural therapy and occupational therapy interns and work with over 25 volunteers.

Horticultural therapy for people who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind means satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.  It is a recreational and vocational activity for people of all ages, abilities and needs. The benefits are psychological, social, cognitive, occupational, academic and physical. Plants are chosen to emphasize textures, scents, tastes, sounds, and colors thus achieving a variety of sensory experiences. Assistive devices and adaptive equipment are used with students who have physical disabilities, thus maximizing independent activity in the greenhouse and gardens. This exemplifies Perkins philosophy of helping each child to become as independent as possible. The pride of accomplishment on a student’s face when they grow flowers and then make a wreath to bring home to their family is wonderful.

perkins photo (2)Our on-campus work experiences are varied and always evolve meeting the individualized needs of our students. The work experiences include plant care in the student store and offices.  Students make and deliver fresh flower vases and produce a wonderful array of horticultural crafts. They make centerpieces and other arrangements for special events and participate in off campus work experiences at  a variety of farms and greenhouses.

In 2003, the Thomas and Bessie Pappas Horticulture Center replaced an older greenhouse and teaching center. The Center was made possible by a generous grant from the Thomas Anthony Pappas Charitable Foundation and many other donors. This has allowed the school to greatly expand the Horticultural Therapy program. The 5000-square foot center houses a greenhouse, which includes a sensory garden with tropical plantings and water fountains, and a vocational growing area.  The center also has three classrooms for planting, crafts production, floral activities and science studies. There is a lobby and garden shop with a florist cooler, plant light-stand and sales areas displaying projects made by students which include wreaths, bath herbs, potpourri, herbal greeting cards, catnip toys, balsam and herb sachets and dried flower bouquets.

For several years, in celebration of National Horticultural Therapy Week, we organized our own very special Flower Show on campus which highlights our students and their accomplishments. This event brought people together as a team from all over campus. In addition, recent Fall Harvest, Spring Celebration, Farm To School Fairs, and a Pumpkin Extravaganza, which are designed for all students, have been  popular and successful with accessible hands-on activities for everyone.

Outdoor Gardens

Many of the important elements of our outdoor horticulture activities take place in accessible planters and raised gardens.  These gardens make it possible for students who are blind or visually impaired and in wheelchairs to enjoy the pleasures of working in the garden and to learn about plants, including herbs and vegetables.

perkins photo (3)Due to campus construction, all of our outdoor student gardens with raised accessible planters were moved temporarily to the field next to the Horticulture Center.  When new gardens are established, these planters will be integrated into the design.  Students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities, in all programs on campus, infants through adults, will benefit.  Through active participation in the garden, students will work on reaching their maximum potential and  independence by addressing objectives established in their IEP’s in the areas of communication, behaviors, motor skills, socialization, recreation, academics and daily living.

These planters and raised gardens are used for organically grown produce, including lettuce, kale, chard, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and beans.  Herbs and cut flowers are grown for bud vase work experience classes.  All plants are selected for sensory interest with a variety of colors, textures, tastes and fragrance.  Plants are grown that will produce crops during the school year for students to explore, enjoy, grow, harvest and sell.

Students harvest, wash, prepare and package some of the fresh produce for the local Watertown Food Pantry. They are learning how to give and help others and have this opportunity for community service.  Produce is also used to prepare food in the residences on campus, to promote the importance of using local organic food.  Students may also choose to take garden produce home to their families and to use herbs for cooking and herbal crafts projects during Horticultural Therapy. Students in the Farmer’s Market class sell produce to customers on campus every week.

Perkins and NEHTN and AHTA

Perkins has been closely involved with the New England Horticulture Therapy Network (NEHTN) – formerly Northeast Chapter AHTA – since its founding.  We have hosted conferences and workshops with NEHTN, AHTA (American Horticulture Therapy Association) and MAC (Massachusetts Agriculture In The Classroom).   We were very proud to host the HTI (Horticulture Therapy Institute) course in October 2012 which was the first time it was given in New England.  We are looking forward to HTI holding its November course on our campus again this year.Contact us for further information.

Prepared with assistance from the Perkins Trust

Deborah is the horticultural therapist at Perkins School for the Blind

Kudos to HTI Graduates

Summer 1Past HTI graduate Debra Edwards, HTR was recently elected to serve on the board of AHTA. She is currently the horticultural therapist at Abe’s Garden Memory Care Center of Excellence in Nashville, TN. Her new duties at AHTA will include reaching out to regional colleges and universities, to interest college-aged students in the field. “Generally, I’d like to spread the word to young professionals and expand their opportunities for pursuing HT education,” she said.

Edwards is hoping to start a “southeast regional” HT networking group of those already practicing or interested in the field. She just recently completed supervising her first intern, another HTI graduate, Katie Grimes. Congratulations Debra!


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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