Making Connections Editor: Christine Capra
Program Manager, HT Institute

2019 Fall Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: Fall Connections

By Rebecca Haller, HTM

In October, I had the pleasure of connecting with colleagues at two conferences on horticultural therapy. The annual American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan featured an array of speakers and offered a chance to explore the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, with its art and artistic use of plants (and of course also featuring enormous pumpkins)! Many past students of the Horticultural Therapy Institute presented sessions featuring topics from social work, cultural connectivity, psychiatric programming, collaboration in mental health, and nature-based practices. Their work is inspiring and leads to further innovation in the field.

Karen Kennedy, Christine Capra and I received an honorable mention award from AHTA as editors of the new textbook The Profession and Practice of Horticultural Therapy. Thanks to a host of contributors for writing and photos, we hope the book is a tool and catalyst in advancing the profession worldwide. The publisher reports sales across the globe in the first half of 2019, so it seems to be on-track to have an impact.

In Los Angeles, the second annual conference on people and plants described effective local programming from work in low income housing projects, mental health centers, to schools. An enthusiastic bunch showed their commitment to engaging a variety of populations in gardening and in developing its therapeutic use. We also heard about strategies for creating clear documentation and research focusing on global outcomes that “builds up evidence on the safely and effectiveness of horticultural therapy.” Additionally, several past HTI students presented and described their programs and journeys in the profession. Articulate and passionate, they are the pioneers of HT in southern California.

Horticultural Therapy Tips for Practice:
Incorporating Herbs into HT Sessions

By Gina Sferrazza

Herbs are a gateway to the senses. They are an important part of culinary culture. They offer aroma-therapeutic and medicinal benefits. They are also available in any season, even in a cold snowy winter. For all these reasons, and more, are why herbs are a perfect match for horticultural therapy practice!

Some Benefits of Herbs in Horticultural Therapy practice:  

  • Sensory: Their sensory qualities draw people in through texture, smell and taste.
  • Edible: The edible possibilities are endless!
  • Relaxation/ aromatherapy: Just being around the aromatic herbs in a garden can be a therapeutic experience. Herbs can also be used in different products for aroma-therapeutic use.
  • Accessible to all ability levels
  • Year-round accessibility: Dried herbs offer activities in climates where winter halts the growing season.

How to incorporate herbs into horticultural therapy practice:

Food: Food is universal. It reaches all peoples and cultures. Through food, we connect to memory and to feelings of well-being. Exploring herbs in the kitchen offers the chance to work on physical and cognitive goals as well. Using kitchen tools teaches about safety and technique. Following a recipe is a powerful cognitive exercise.

Ways to use herbs in foods:

  • Sauces: There are an abundance of sauces to be made with a variety of culinary herbs. Got basil? Make pesto! Cilantro? Salsa! Parsley? Chimichuri! The possibilities are endless.
  • Toppings: Herbs can add flavor to a simple salad or even a sandwich! Experiment and see what new flavor combinations you can come up with. Basil pairs well in a caprese salad and is a lovely addition to a BLT.
  • Herbal vinegar: Infusing herbs in vinegar is a fun, simple and easy process. I like to provide clients with a variety of herbs and let them decide what flavor combination they desire. Cover fresh or dry herbs with vinegar and let sit. After sitting for a few weeks, strain out the herbs and the vinegar is ready to use.
  • Herbal honey: An infused honey can be a delicious treat. Floral and aromatic herbs infuse well into honey. Simply cover fresh or dry herbs with honey and let sit for a few weeks. You can strain the herbs out or eat as is. Another option is to powder the herbs and then add them to the honey.
  • Herbal syrup: A syrup is usually made with berries, roots, or barks that need to be simmered to extract their properties, but other herbs can be used as well. Place berries and herbs in a pot with water – bring to a low boil, then bring down to a simmer until the water is reduced by half. Strain out the herbs. Mix the herb-infused liquid with honey or other thick sweetener such as molasses to a 1:1 ratio. Enjoy by the spoonful, in tea, or over pancakes.
  • Teas: A tea is one of the simplest ways to enjoy fresh or dry herbs. To make a hot water infusion from leaves and flowers, simply pour boiling water over the plants, cover, and let steep for 5-10 minutes. To make a tea out of berries, roots, or barks,make a mixture by bringing water to a boil and simmering for 10-20 minutes. You can also make a sun infusion by placing herbs in a glass jar with water and setting outside for a couple hours on a warm, sunny day. A cold infusion can be made by letting herbs sit in water for a few hours to overnight. This will be a more subtle flavor than a hot infusion.

Sensory experiences. Simply going out into the garden and touching, smelling, and tasting plants can be a sensory experience. Here are some other ways to use the plants for sensory experiences.

  • Meditation: an aromatic herb can be used as a focal point for a meditation through the senses. Instead of focusing on clearing the mind, give the mind something to focus on by becoming fully present into the senses, using the plant as a vehicle for the senses.
  • Plant brushing: Plant brushing is the act of gathering a small bouquet of herbs for the use of brushing gently against the skin for a calming and relaxing effect. Places to brush the plants include the insides of the arms, forehead and jaw. Allow the client to choose what herbs they would like for their plant brushing. Guide them to choose soft plants, avoiding any rough or prickly plants. Once the bundle is made, guide client to gently brush the plant on any areas of the body that feel tense.

Bodycare. Due to their aromatherapeutic and relaxing properties, herbs can be used to make simple bodycare products that enhance well-being and awaken the senses.

  • Body oils: An herbal body oil can be made by covering dried herbs with oil. Do not use fresh herbs as the moisture content can encourage spoilage. Tightly seal the jar and place the jar in a paper bag. Let sit in a warm sunny window or near a radiator. The warm heat will slowly encourage the herbs to infuse into the oil. After a few weeks – the smell and color of the oil should change and the oil is ready to be strained and used. Use these herbs for external use only.
  • Body scrubs: A body scrub can be made by combining either salt or sugar with oil and dried herbs. You can use an herb-infused oil or a plain oil. The herbs can be ground or whole. Whole flowers have a lovely aesthetic.
  • Bath salts: Bath salts can be made by mixing dried herbs with sea salt or Epsom salt. Let sit for a couple weeks before using.

How to dry herbs for winter use:

  1. Air drying: This method works best in dry climates. You can air dry herbs by placing a thin layer on mesh screens, tray or paper bags. Gently toss every couple of days until dry. You will know they are dry when the stems snap quickly and crisply. You can also hang dry herbs by tying string around small bundles.
  2. Dehydrator: In humid climates, due to the moisture in the air, air drying takes much longer and also makes the herbs susceptible to spoilage. Using a dehydrator ensures the herbs dry evenly and safely. Follow the instructions for your dehydrator’s model for drying herbs.
  3. Oven: If a dehydrator is unavailable, or time is of the essence, an oven can be used to dry herbs quickly, though some of the medicinal properties of the herbs may be lost due to the heat. Place herbs in a thin layer on a baking tray, and set oven to the lowest possible setting (usually 170 of 180 F). Set a timer to check herbs every 3 minutes to ensure they don’t get burnt.


While many herbs that we grow in gardens are generally recognized as safe by the FDA (GRAS), there are some herbs that may pose potential risks, such as allergies, drug interactions, or contraindications for specific ailments. Always research the herbs you are working with and be aware of any allergies, drugs, or medical conditions that the population you are working with might have.

Gina is a graduate of the HT Institute and the Horticulture Teacher at Fire Mountain in Colorado

HTI Program Profile:
HT Serves Cancer Patients and Survivors

By Catherine Crowder , HTR

What population do you want to serve? This question was lost on me after my 2013 fundamentals class in Atlanta.  I wasn’t new to the concept that feeling the sun on your face and digging in the soil was therapy; for years it had been my weekend escape from a corporate marketing job.

I happened upon horticultural therapy by volunteering in the gardens at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro.  Sally Cobb, an HTI graduate had created the gardens and role of horticultural therapist at the facility. My interest grew beyond working in the gardens, and I tagged along on several patient visits.

After one visit, as I was getting out of the car, Sally mentioned something about a horticultural therapy seminar in Atlanta. I had moved from Atlanta to NC ten years prior, so it seemed a good excuse to see friends and explore the concept of HT.  After being at Skyline Trail, I was hooked. It was a real thing. I had a passion. I wanted everyone to understand the need for a daily dose of Vitamin N(ature).

While the bread and butter of my contract work are the bi-monthly sessions with elder friends at long-term care facilities, the groups that I most look forward to are cancer patients and cancer survivors at The Hirsch Wellness Network and The Healing Gardens at Cone Health Cancer Center.

The Hirsch Wellness Network is a non-profit that offers a path to healing through participation in creative and expressive arts programs. Nature is our original canvas with the patterns, textures and color of flowers, trees and sky. It is a joy to bring natural art to Hirsch’s program offerings.

My first program with Hirsch Wellness was early in my horticultural therapy journey. I was apprehensive – would I have enough material to cover two hours? I spent hours creating a detailed outline and developing imagery and metaphors for succulents. At the last minute, literally as I was driving to the event, I added an activity that I hoped was a time-filler.

After group introductions, I asked everyone to find a slip of paper and write down how they were feeling at that moment. We then dove into discussions and planting activities. In closing, I asked them to find the paper and write down how they were feeling now.  I had intended this to be a private experience, so was surprised when one participant stopped and handed me her scrap of paper. She wanted me to see her words – “overwhelmed” and “relaxed.”  As I handed the slip back to her, she said no, I want you to keep it; I want you to know how much this has meant to me. I still have that torn, dirty scrap of paper.

The two acres of wetlands and natural woodlands at The Healing Gardens at Cone Health Cancer Center were opened in 2015. They provide an excellent backdrop for monthly programs designed to bring participants outdoors and reflect on the cycles of nature and its parallels to their own journey to recovery.

Each session brings a different group of participants together. After three years, it is a challenge to develop fresh programs for the faithful attendees and enticing ideas for the new faces. However, some classes are a hit and often asked to be repeated. Those include:

  • Container bulb layering – the idea that a bulb must go through a cold dark period before it reblooms resonates with participants.
  • Fairy Gardens – who doesn’t want to unleash their imagination into the whimsical world of fairies and dream.
  • Glass jar moss gardens – the opportunity to journal about each layer, the rocks (support) to the moss (soft places to land), is meditative and reflective.
  • Mandalas and rock painting – a wonderful ice breaker is a team mandala followed by the relaxation of repetitive dot painting.

New this summer, the center’s nutritionist and I teamed up for a program on basil. Everyone tasted healthy recipes and learned how to care for basil. Basil plants were potted for participants to take home and nurture.

One of the most meaningful activities for participants is when we plant a container. I ask them to fill their pot half full with soil, and then I hand out tiny slips of tracing paper. They write a worry or concern on the paper and cover it with soil.  We discuss how it’s unhealthy to hold onto things; that burying the slip of paper doesn’t make it go way, but rather form a new perspective. The act of watering their plant should remind them to let their thoughts drain free and for a few minutes reflect on the anticipation of the plant growing– the future vs the fear of their worry.

It is humbling to be with this group; they openly share, listen and encourage one another. I am inspired by their tenacity; their resilience and their hope. A recent survey confirmed what we all know about the healing power of nature“There are no promises in treatment and the medication side effects are discouraging. I came here feeling fear and anxiety after my last oncology appointment. I am leaving feeling peaceful and happy.”

I am no longer “lost” by what population I will serve. It found me!

Catherine is an HTI graduate and founder of Seeds of Serenity

HTI Kudos:

Student receives credentials

Congratulations to Faryn-Beth Hart, HTR who recently received her credentials in horticultural therapy. She began her HT certificate coursework with HTI almost five years ago. She came to horticultural therapy after working in environmental education for over ten years and wanting more stable and meaningful work opportunities. Faryn began facilitating therapeutic gardening programming at a residential eating disorder center in the Bay Area, CA after being granted a pilot program using her Program Proposal from her HT Management Course. She also facilitates programming in the Wellness Garden at the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco working with homeless and low income families. Faryn manages work projects and connects men with the flower garden at

San Quentin after meeting Beth Waitkus, Insight Garden Program’s Executive Director, at an HTI course in Half Moon Bay, CA. Faryn-Beth helped to reactivate California’s horticultural therapy network and acts as the administrator of CHTN. She worked with Karen Talbot during her internship at Diablo Valley College running HT programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Faryn considers herself a life long learner and as a Registered Horticultural Therapist will continue to look for opportunities to grow and expand how she connects people and plants.

The HT Institute completes its first ever Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy class at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens with 25 students beginning the certificate course work.

Thanks to past HTI graduate Irene Barber Brady, HTR who helped facilitate the class and also leads horticultural therapy programming at the gardens.

HTI fall classes filled to capacity

HT class at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

With only one Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy class remaining this fall, the Institute is happy to report extremely full capacity in all courses. The first ever class at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and a return to Skyland Trail in Atlanta brought together a diverse group of nearly 50 new students! The final class in Denver will host 37 students. This movement continues to grow and the training of horticultural therapist is strong.

Skyland Trail, Atlanta, GA



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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