Making Connections Editor: Christine Capra
Program Manager, HT Institute

2021 Fall Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: Gardens as Respite

By Rebecca Haller, HTM

Our HT gardens are tremendous assets to healthcare facilities and organizations. They create an environment of care and places for health, healing, connection, and joy. They always have done so. But now, perhaps there has been a sort of awakening by administrators, patients/clients, and families. The pandemic may have a silver lining if the importance of access to nature is more recognized and valued going forward. Therapists report that their gardens have become destinations for clients and families for respite and relaxation as well as provided other therapists a secure outdoor space in which to provide treatment. Groups may gather safely in the fresh air and with wider spacing opportunities. These social interactions offer healing benefits. The extension of ‘clinical’ space to the outdoors is also a financial advantage to an organization, permitting continued programming during a time of great danger, stress, and uncertainty. They may even be lifesaving by enabling care in a safer environment and through positive effects on mental health.

To continue to garden as cooler fall weather arrives, plan programming for the warmer parts of the day and encourage individuals to enjoy the bounty and beauty of the season. A breath of fresh air and some freshly picked produce or flowers are just what are needed and welcomed after a hot summer. Later in the fall, some supplemental heaters may extend the comfort a few weeks longer. When gardening moves indoors, consider physical distancing with reduced group sizes, masking, and optimizing airflow and filters. Even in the colder months look for opportunities to be outside with the people you serve. The healing benefits are worth it.


HTI Program Profile:
Italian Adventure in Horticultural Therapy

By Ania Balducci

My name is Ania, I am Italian, and I have been a student of HTI.

My adventure started a few years ago when I casually read a magazine article about the beneficial effects of gardening: it was an ordinary thing, full of cliché, but enough to light up my curiosity.

The relationship with nature exclusively oriented to cultivation for productive purposes, as the one that has been taught to me at the University of Agricultural Sciences, has never been consistent with my feelings and my convictions.

Now I was discovering that a different approach was possible: to use horticulture as a tool to connect to nature and heal.

Going Deep into Horticultural Therapy

I immediately understood that I had to go deep so I picked up a book: The Profession and Practice of Horticultural Therapy by R.Haller, K. Kennedy and C.Capra. This decision made me turn my life around, leading me to the Horticultural Therapy Institute and to a new career.

Nowadays here in Italy, horticultural therapy is still not very diffused, and the work in the garden is too often carried out by allied health professionals, or other professionals such as educators, social workers or volunteers that do not have a suitable training.

Yet, due to the increasing interest shown by a variety of people around wellness and nature, especially after the Covid 19 lock-down, the situation is rapidly developing.

Our national association Ass.I.Ort was founded in 2013 with the purpose of providing valuable information through the website and Facebook page, as well as organizing congresses and seminars to train new therapists.

The long forced break due to the pandemic had a serious impact on the activities of the association: the annual conference that should have taken place in spring 2020 has been cancelled and has still not been rescheduled; but in the meantime our association, taking advantage of this long pause, updated its status and renewed the staff of its board of directors, to which I currently take part with the role of secretary and as a member of the Scientific Committee.

Accredited Training Courses

In addition, to define the professional figure and create a register, a “Core Skills” has been established, also enabling the opportunity for accredited training courses identifying the most appropriate competences and teaching methods.

Ania with her horticultural therapy group.

Thanks to my role I also began to be present at the monthly meetings of the European Group which has the aim of sharing the experiences and aligning the positions of professionals from all over Europe.

In none of the European countries social and therapeutic horticulture is officially recognized, but we all believe that increasing the quality of training will yield qualified professionals whose work will demonstrate the effectiveness of horticulture as a therapeutic modality.

From this point of view, having succeeded in setting the first therapeutic horticulture master’s degree in an Italian university has been a great achievement The master, that will start next February, directed by Prof. Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto, Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences, of Bologna University, is something I strongly believed in and has been programmed to offer a training as complete as possible:

Pathway Structured along Main Themes

  • Theoretical basis of the human-plant relationship, and the effects of exposure to green space
  • A section, dedicated to agro-ecology, sustainable horticulture and agronomic practices that are a fundamental prerequisite to professionally manage a garden.
  • Urban agriculture and the use of horticulture in the social and educational field.
  • The principles and practice of therapeutic horticulture outlining the importance of assessment and programming for having professional outcomes.
  • Design of therapeutic gardens with the possibility to visit some care environment within which these gardens are  available.
  • The intervention of medical specialists who will teach us about the different kind of clients such as people with learning disabilities, elderly with dementia, psychiatric subjects, and clients in the neurological and rehabilitative field.
  • National and European design and access to funding.
  • practical training is planned to take place in the beautiful garden of the Villa Ghigi Foundation in Bologna the headquarters of Assiort that will host  the master education, having the support of Valentina Bergonzoni the vice president of Assiort.

I am confident that this master education will be the first step of a new perspective in dealing with people-plants relation, not only for professionals but also for all who need to increase their wellbeing.

I will go on working to realize this possibility.

Ania is a graduate of the HT Institute. 

Fall Fundamentals of HT classes: Enroll Today

Face-to-face class

Join students from around the country and outside of the US by enrolling in ONE of the three offered Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy classes this fall. The class is a pre-requisite for the remaining three classes in our certificate program. The Fundamentals classes will be offered in both face-to-face and online formats. HTI partner CSU requires that students attending face-to-face classes be fully vaccinated for COVID 19.

Fundamentals of HT section I
Oct. 21-24, 2021
Deadline: Sept. 21, 2021
Denver, CO (face-to-face)
Anchor Center for Blind Children

Fundamentals of HT section II
Nov. 11-14, 2021 (Nearly full)
Deadline Oct. 11, 2021
Online (Mountain time zone) Synchronous

Fundamentals of HT section III
Dec. 2-5, 2021
Deadline: Nov. 2, 2021
Online (Mountain time zone) Synchronous

Zoom Class

To enroll:

The final 3 classes in 2022 will be offered in both face-to-face and online formats. The dates and face-to-face locations are on our website at: For more questions contact [email protected] or 303-388-0500.

Tips for Practice:
Working with Middle & High School Youth

By Emalyn Leppard and Amy Zink

Emalyn Leppard and Amy Zink in the garden.

Connecting with the Natural World

If horticultural therapy uses the power of plants to help young people to connect to the natural world, then as therapists working with young people, we must recognize that in that role of “connector” we also become mentors, friends, role models, and garden educators.

As we emerge from the isolated world of COVID-19, the human connection is more important than ever. If we are in a school setting, our middle and high school students may come to the garden with what author Richard Louv refers to as “nature deficit disorder”.  We may have a scripted lesson for seed starting but they may just want to socialize. Propagation will take a back seat to the need to de stress,  play outdoors, and  breathe fresh air; and that is okay!  Making our garden programs a safe space filled with laughter and joy will bring greater daily results and support our long-term goals of social emotional growth, and the building of horticultural skills.

Mindfulness Activity

The “circle” in the garden.

In our Garden Therapy in Linda Vista summer program, we began each session with a mindfulness activity. We gathered in the Kumeyaay Circle, taking time to breathe, getting to know each other, and sharing what the word nature means to each one of us.  We gave recognition to the native Kumeyaay People through a Land Acknowledgement -a way to give thanks to the Indigenous people who took care of our land long before we arrived. 

Healthy routines, while building community with trusting relationships are keys to success when working with youth. 

When designing program activities, giving students choices within the program is also important. Even though our curricular focus was plant life cycles, we provided a variety of ways to learn and to express our learning. We started with seeds, lots, and lots of seeds, connecting with them, comparing the sizes, shapes and colors. Seeds can be a powerful metaphor for looking at the past and the future, or for looking at the tiny causes of a big argument!  We planted seeds, harvested seeds, did art activities with seeds- helping students to figure out why seeds are so important. 

Making mandalas is often used in art therapy because generations of research show this process is successful in reducing stress, can strengthen the immune system, reduces symptoms of anxiety due to trauma, and stimulates creativity in the brain. For Garden Therapy in Linda Vista, making seed mandalas was an activity that:

  1. got kids in table groups and making friends during their first days in the program
  2. practiced using fine motor skills
  3. provided another community building component.

This community component was used because we often talked about their purpose, and hung the mandalas in the Kumeyaay Circle, like spirit catchers, until the closing ceremony on the last day of the program. 

When working with youth, always have a variety of independent activities in your mental toolbox.  There will be days where the energy or anxiety will be especially high. Because of all the healing benefits of making mandalas, this activity can be done on the ground, without preparation, with “found objects” in almost any garden (think stones, leaves, seeds) and mandala are a powerful way to channel excess energy with beautiful results. Also, keep a variety of loose seeds and beans on hand because mandalas can be done indoors for a rainy-day activity. 

Chill Out Space for Students

Another tip when working with youth in the garden, is be sure to have a designated space to chill out – our students designed and built a Zen garden within our garden several years ago.  Keep your HT chill space a positive space, not the punishment corner.  When going over all your garden rules or protocols, teach youth about the purpose for the space, (journaling, reflection, weeding, seed sorting,) and how to use this space independently. This is another way of building trust and responsibility. 

Whether your HT program is on a school site, in a community garden, or in a specialized facility, remember that working with youth is all about building relationships and trust.  Do not skip this step.  Provide the tools and plan your activities, then share what YOU love about nature and allow them the time it takes to make their own personal connections within the garden. This happens by letting them explore, let them ask questions, and lead them to finding their own purpose and enjoyment in the natural world.

Emalyn and Amy are graduates of the HT Institute

HTI News & Kudos:

Congratulations to HTI graduate, Ania Balducci who will be teaching Principles and Practice of Therapeutic Horticulture for the first time in Italy. A Master of 1 Level Therapeutic Horticulture will be organized by the University of Bologna, in collaboration with Fondazione Villa Ghigi and sponsored by Assiort.

The First Level Master will provide specific methodologies, operational tools and knowledge to be able to use therapeutic horticulture in multiple different contexts.

Congratulations to HTI graduates Emalyn Leppard and Amy Zink for a new grant to serve students in San Diego. The Montgomery Middle STEAM Magnet’s Garden will be the site of the therapeutic gardening program offered by Level Up SD, a Summer of Learning and Joy. The free summer program offers all San Diego Unified students in-person classroom instruction and activities hosted by local nonprofit organizations. The therapeutic gardening program is hosted by the Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista.