Making Connections Editor: Christine Capra
Program Manager, HT Institute

2019 Summer Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: We are Nature

By Rebecca Haller, HTM

RLH headshot EDITED

Wandering among the giant sequoias in California recently prompted me to write about connection for our summer newsletter. In many ways, connection is a core benefit of the work we do in horticultural therapy. Whether or not it is a focus or stated goal of programming, gardening offers an intimate and crucial affiliation with ‘nature’ that is essential for health and well-being. Perhaps even more importantly, it can remind us that we are nature, we are at home when immersed in wild as well as cultivated plant rich environments.

Other layers of connection seen in horticultural therapy involve the people with whom we relate. Whether they are present or not, gardening can teach us new ways to relate to them through nurturing, tolerance, inspiration, cooperation and respect. As we cultivate plants and participate in group sessions, many opportunities arise for personal growth and social skills. A view that humanity is part of the broader whole of nature elicits love and esteem for ourselves as well as others, and offers motivation to preserve and protect living biota. We are all connected!

Fall Fundamentals of HT classes enrolling

Begin your journey into this profession with one of three opportunities this fall including a new site in Maine.

Oct. 10-13, 2019

HTI students in an advanced class in North Carolina

Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens

Boothbay, ME (new site!)

Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2019
Skyland Trail
Atlanta, GA

Nov. 14-17, 2019
Anchor Center for Blind Children
Denver, CO

Horticultural therapy is a profession that uses gardening practices in healthcare and human service programs to heal, rehabilitate and reach treatment goals for a wide range of people. For example, horticultural therapist work with aging adults, people with Alzheimer’s disease, at-risk youth, veterans, people with disabilities and those recovering from illness, addiction or imprisonment. There are no prerequisites for enrolling in Fundamentals of HT and our hybrid distance-learning format allows students to minimize travel time and costs by attending four or five consecutive days of face-to-face intensive class time at one location. To learn what sets HTI apart:

The remaining three classes in the certificate program will be held in Colorado and North Carolina. For more information or to enroll go to or email [email protected]. Call us at 303-388-0500.

Horticultural Therapy Tips for Practice:
Creating Progress in a Group with Diverse Needs

By Erin Lovely, CTRS

Editors note: The Anchor Center is the site of the Colorado Fundamentals of HT class this fall.

Anchor Center for Blind Children provides early intervention/ developmental education services to infants, toddlers and preschoolers with vision impairments. Currently, Anchor Center serves 195 children in the state of Colorado through center based programming, home visits and rural outreach. The center based programs include an infant, toddler and preschool program. Families attend programming with their infants and toddlers and learn how to encourage their child’s play, mobility, and communication skills while maximizing the use of any vision the child may have.  The preschool program teaches the Expanded Core Curriculum. This curriculum assures the unique needs of students with vision impairment are being met while helping to build the foundation of skills that sighted children learn incidentally or through imitation. This requires careful attention to adapting/modifying things in the school, home and play environments. This environment is created and facilitated by a team of teachers of students with visual impairments, teaching assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, a music therapist, and a therapeutic recreation specialist.

The garden at Anchor Center is used by all the children and families while focusing on providing horticultural therapy for the preschool program. Each class consists of 4-6 students and are grouped together with similar needs. Many of the students at Anchor Center have multiple diagnoses and may require 1:1 staff assistance, use wheelchairs, dual sensory loss (deafblindess), sensory processing disorder, decreased communication, high levels of stress, and high social-emotional needs. The varying needs of each class and each student creates a challenge to plan and implement therapeutic outcomes. Here are a few tips to keep the activities meaningful and moving forward with individual progress.

Tip 1: Have clear written program goals.

Create program goals that align with your organizational mission, are age appropriate, visit them often and instill them into every session. I do not document on program goals, these I just do while teaching;

  • To teach concepts of nature, gardening and the weather
  • To help students be a participant in their own lives
  • To create positive mental health (social-emotional)

Tip 2: Work with your team to develop one progress goal for each group.

I work with the teachers and therapists to create one classroom goal and then develop an individual objective for each student. This method of goal planning helps to organize each students’ progress towards one main goal while keeping group cohesiveness and allowing all team members to assist in the facilitating of student progress and independence during HT sessions and in every aspect of the school day.

Tip 3: Keep activities garden related.

Keep the activities seasonal, “chore-like”, and go outside whenever possible so there is always a purpose to why we are doing the activity while making sure it is play based and kid directed. This teaches the students that they are making a direct impact in the garden and the plants we grow. When they ask why (and they always do), I have a meaningful answer that ties into their experiential learning.

Tip 4: Implement the same activity for all groups.

Each class will participate in the same HT activity but with modifications to meet the specific needs and classroom goals. For example, if the project is racking up leaves and the classroom goal is to increase tactile touch then the activity will be to bag up the leaves using their hands. Using the same project, a class working on mobility & orientation will rack up leaves, put them in a bucket and then carry the buckets while navigating their way to a different area of the garden.

Tip 5: Encourage independence

Use modifications and adaptations whenever needed to provide the most independent environment possible. Remember to allow “wait time” or processing time after giving instructions, limit environmental noise and other stimuli, assist when needed and then back off or “aide and fade”.  Provide clear and direct beginnings and endings to sessions to help assist with transitions. Lastly, keep in mind “less is more”.

Erin Lovely, CTRS is a graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Institute and the horticultural therapy program coordinator at Anchor Center for Blind Children. Anchor Center is the site for the upcoming Fundamentals of HT class this fall.

HTI Program Profile: Stewpot Gardening

By Sandra Zelley, LCSW

On a sunny day in Dallas, Texas, the Stewpot Garden Club members carry personal belongings in bags and backpacks as they go about their day’s street journey.  From their gathering place, we cross the street to spend time among the 17 raised beds designated for them in Encore Community Garden.  Their garden activities begin in January and inside where seeds are planted and nurtured.  Favorites are tomatoes, watermelons, okra and even marigold and other flower seeds.  In February, potatoes and onions are the first outdoor crops placed in the soil they have carefully prepared.  Garden club members have planned what they want to grow and focus on crops that can be harvested and eaten in the garden as they have no “home” for cooking.  At the end of our Thursday sessions, we gather lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, sweet peppers and radishes to share salads, thoughts and social time. This is also time to remember the past when life may have been different and to dream of what tomorrow could bring.  One gardener describes this as his “own little world.  I miss it when I’m not here”.  Another remembers “digging potato trenches with grandmother”.

“I’m homeless so enjoy eating from the garden” volunteers another.  Most start out “not knowing what to expect” from a garden club.  After months of participation, some begin to share stories and even educate new members and visitors about gardening. Two participants who have attended off and on for a couple years, now initiate gardening tasks on their own.

The Stewpot is a Dallas program “offering a safe haven for homeless and at-risk individuals.”  The garden club is one of several resources for participants to join. Others are art, music and journaling.  Food, medical care, dental care, hygiene kits, mail services, ID cards and casework are additional services available.  All are located downtown in a two-storied, recently renovated space with offices and a large room for congregating around tables.

The garden club is an “ongoing” group. Because of the nature of their situations, members are not always able to have consistent attendance and participation. Therefore, they are invited and welcome at any time. The group process begins inside the Stewpot with conversations about planting, caring for seeds, painting pumpkins or arranging flowers to give a caseworker or friend.

Group members wrestle with accepting each other “where they are” and to experience building trust. At a recent garden market of harvested produce, some were able to mingle and talk with sponsoring church members about their garden experiences and others withdrew but waited to help clean-up. Each has a unique gift.

A gentleman who sat inside with his head on the table was invited week after week to join the group.  Eventually when he did, he walked among the growing vegetables and flowers whistling and became the most consistent member of the season.

Another watered regularly. His response to the summer harvest was “Wow, I can’t believe I grew so much!” He expressed a sense of awe that was touching and inspiring.

“Plants need attention and care. They need our help”. “Watching them grow is satisfying.”  Preparing beds means learning to recognize when to fertilize and water. Participants know how to make the decision when to dig up potatoes or search for snow peas to snip off vines and eat while taking a break.

This year’s activities have been planned to enable participants to experience decision-making, purpose, being needed and have a sense of ownership. Ask a Stewpot gardener about their experience and be prepared to hear interesting ideas and witness emerging optimism.

Sandra Zelley, LCSW is the program coordinator at the Stewpot Garden and a 2014 graduate of the HTI Program

HTI Kudos:

Congratulations to HTI graduate Calliope Correia who is featured by the California State University Fresno in a new video highlighting her HT work with the Insight Garden Program at Avenal State Prison. Go to