Program Manager, HT Institute
2022 Summer Newsletter
Horticultural Therapy is making an impact on people’s lives.
Read more about how it’s happening.
HTI Director’s Note: What’s in a Name
By Rebecca Haller, HTM
Sometimes plant names are the hook that encourages engagement in horticulture for our clients. Consider Monstera deliciosa. A native to tropical southern Mexico and Central America, it produces flowers and edible fruit as it matures (thus ‘deliciosa’). Remarkable, since the entire plant is toxic if ingested – causing irritation and swelling of the mouth and throat. A common and relatively easy houseplant with dramatic leaves and a preference for warm indoor temperatures and filtered or bright indirect light conditions, it is a very popular plant in the US and other temperate zone countries. Some people call it a monster plant because the leaves are quite large. It has a lot of drama and is pretty easy to cultivate. If grown on a moss pole indoors, a grower may mimic the natural habit of vining up trees and watch the leaves change shape from entire or whole to cut or fenestrated on the plant higher up as it climbs. If you work with people who can be trusted not to eat the houseplant, this may be a good one for you. A leaf will hold well in a vase of water for an exciting flower arrangement, and it can add a lot of greenery to an indoor space. It is fascinating to see new leaves unfurl and they reach monster proportions quickly.
Just be sure not to eat the leaves and note that this vine can be invasive in the wild in tropical areas outside its native habitat.
Program Profile: Eight Weeks ‘Til Tea
By Sarah Himmelheber, LCSW, PhD
As a recent Horticultural Therapy Institute certificate program graduate, I was thrilled to have the opportunity this summer to design and co-facilitate a horticultural therapy (HT) group with adolescent residents of a therapeutic boarding school. This group had two primary and interrelated aims: 1) to provide a safe and structured space for participants to develop mindfulness and other life skills, and 2) to contribute to an organization that partners with their school through creation of a raised bed tea garden at the host site, Angel K. Love Project (AKLP).
AKLP’s mission to “empower kids in need with love and holistic healing” (https://www.angelkloveproject.org/) naturally aligns with HT; however, their staff was not versed in this approach. Luckily, AKLP is located nearby an organization that has been providing HT and therapeutic horticulture programming for many years: Bullington Gardens. I was interning with Bullington Gardens when AKLP inquired about providing a group at their site, and I was excited to be a part of this collaboration. I brought to this work my background facilitating therapy groups as a clinical social worker as well as the knowledge gained from HTI coursework. However, my horticultural expertise is in its seedling stage, and I was fortunate to partner in this endeavor with an experienced horticulturist and registered horticultural therapist, Bullington Gardens education director, Mr. John Murphy.
Model for Group Sessions
Our first task was to create a proposal for the AKLP Board of Directors that outlined the group sessions. John and I settled on an eight-week model, and agreed that the participants would design the space, propagate the plants, and install the tea garden during the final group session.
Next, we defined the major tasks that would allow for the tea garden to come to fruition in eight weeks. As each week’s activity became clear, we discussed the corresponding therapeutic skills focus. HT has established itself as a modality ripe for mindfulness skills practice (Hart & Reisner, 2021; Lee, Oh, Jang, & Lee, 2018; Wise, 2015), and I knew from the outset that mindfulness skills needed to be a binding component of the eight weeks.
My experience in facilitating group mindfulness practice stems largely from leading dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) groups. This modality is centered around mindfulness, and its founder, Dr. Marsha Linehan, breaks down mindfulness into “what” and “how” skills (Linehan, 1993). The explanation of these skills lets us know “what” to do (observe, describe, and participate) and “how” to do it (non-judgmentally, one mindfully, and effectively). In my experience, this supports participants’ capacity to believe that mindfulness is a skill, and therefore something that can improve with practice. HT activities provide an ideal opportunity to apply and practice these skills.
Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness
In designing Eight Weeks ‘Til Tea, John and I decided to utilize the four cornerstone skills sets of DBT– beginning with mindfulness, but also including interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance– as a way to frame each week’s activities. The table below shows each week’s task and what skills were being practiced through the activity.
Eight Weeks ‘Til Tea: A Horticultural Therapy Program for Adolescents
|Therapeutic Skill Focus||Activity Description|
|Mindfulness||Orientation to & exploration of the space; group introductions; overview of group goals & establishing group guidelines. Basil seed activity & discussion of vulnerability, growth, & change. Weekly tea tasting (tulsi basil tea) and mindfulness definition/ discussion of tea-reactions.|
|Interpersonal Effectiveness||Determine garden space plan through group discussion, introduction to plants used for tea. Show examples of plants used for tea & taste teas that contain these plant ingredients. Consider aspects of growth including height/ light requirements/ soil/ etc. Work as a group to mark with stakes/ flags the future greenhouse, raised beds, and path. Practice with listening to multiple perspectives, synthesizing ideas, and reaching consensus.|
|Emotion Regulation||Field trip to Bullington Gardens to take cuttings and plant seeds based on garden design. Weekly tea tasting & reflection.|
|Distress Tolerance||Readying the soil: Understanding compost, its parts, and preparing an area for future use. Building of the compost bin. Weekly tea tasting & reflection.|
|Emotion Regulation/ Distress Tolerance||Constructing tea garden beds and trellis for passion flowers and/or other climbing plants as determined by group. Weekly tea tasting & reflection by the river.|
|Mindfulness/ Distress Tolerance||Installation of beds and trellis, preparing the beds with soil. River walk to collect stones; paint with mindfulness reminders to decorate the area. Weekly tea tasting & reflection.|
|Mindfulness/ Interpersonal Effectiveness||Field trip to Bullington Gardens, collection of previous seedlings and cuttings; additional propagation by division as needed for tea garden design. Potting of plants that require boundaries (e.g. mints). Weekly tea tasting & reflection.|
|Mindfulness||Installation & celebration of Tea Garden|
Our proposal was enthusiastically approved by the AKLP Board of Directors, and we began our eight-week journey May 2, 2022. Although AKLP had been in operation for just over a year when our program began, they had yet to break ground on their garden area. It was truly a blank slate! The photo below was taken in our second session, as we staked and measured the space for the future tea garden.
Connections come Together
The connection between concrete tasks and therapeutic skill development was explicit: at the beginning of each session, we checked in with the participants (using a variety of engagement strategies) and then communicated both the task focus and skills focus. Some weeks, this relationship was straightforward. For example, in our second session, the task focus was to create a draft garden design. Because group planning requires respectful listening and communication, the skills focus for this week was interpersonal effectiveness. We provided information about potential plants for the tea garden, and then paired up participants for a two-part listening exercise. Other weeks, the relationship between the session’s activity and the therapeutic aim required more reflection and discussion. This was the case in our fifth session, when we began construction of the raised bed and trellis. To support our frame of emotion regulation, the check-in time invited each group member to name their current emotion, rate its intensity on a scale from one to five, and to locate the emotion in their physical body. Then, we took part in the physically-demanding task of raised bed construction. When we circled up for our closing discussion, we asked participants to check-out the same way we checked in: Every participant had a different emotion, a change in intensity, and described holding that feeling in a different place in their body. These shifts allowed us to explore the idea that emotions have starting and ending points, that they are waves, and that we can oftentimes generate new emotions through engagement in an activity that demands the attention of our minds and bodies. The photo below shows group members working together to carefully line the raised bed with landscaping fabric.
Role of Ritual
Ritual was also an important aspect of our group time. Each week, we ended the session with reflection and sampling of a tea made from plants that would be a part of the future tea garden. Including weekly tea tasting supported a relaxed reflection space, where group members shared both their reactions to the tea as well as their reflections on the day’s task and skills focus.
Mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance cannot be understood solely as concepts. For these skills to support building as Linehan has said “a life worth living,” (Linehan, 1993) they must leave the arena of ideas and be practiced and attached to our experiences. By working together to create a tea garden, the participants in Eight Weeks ‘Til Tea built their confidence in a variety of tasks from dividing echinacea plants to operating a cordless drill. Moreover, they learned about themselves: what activities engaged their full attention, held their interest, and allowed them to focus on the present moment. As one participant stated in our final session, “I am practicing noticing how I feel after I do something… like what changes. And I know I want to help harvest the tea!” The tea garden this group created will continue to provide them, and others involved with AKLP, with opportunities for self-discovery, as they tend to the plants and space, pick and dry leaves and flowers, and enjoy sharing their tea harvest.
Hart, F.B. and Reisner, M. (2021). More than just a gardening program: Using horticultural therapy and mindfulness practice to promote health and connection for incarcerated individuals and those preparing to re-enter their communities. Acta Horticulturae, 1330, 41-48
Lee, M. J., Oh, W., Jang, J. S.,& Lee, J. Y. (2018). A pilot study: Horticulture-related activities significantly reduce stress levels and salivary cortisol concentration of maladjusted elementary school children. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 37, 172-177.
Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.
Wise, J. (2015). Digging for victory: Horticultural therapy with veterans for post-traumatic growth. London: Routledge
Sarah is an HTI graduate and associate professor of social work and field director of the Social Work Program at Warren Wilson College, NC.
2022-2023 HT Certificate Class Dates Available
The full schedule for the 2022-2023 certificate classes is now available at: https://www.htinstitute.org/class-schedules/2022-2023-series/ We are excited once again to be offering one face-to-face as well as one online section for each of the certificate classes. In 2023 we will be back in some familiar locations including Elkus Ranch in Half Moon Bay, CA and Solano Community College in Fairfield, CA near Napa. Both locations offer students opportunities for interaction and hands-on learning. To begin the certificate program students must enroll in one of the fall Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy classes—all of which are filling up quickly. Cost for the class is $950 or $760 for full-time students with proof of status. Academic credit is available through our partner Colorado State University and available during class. The program is accredited by the American Horticultural Therapy Association and fulfills the HT requirements for professional registration.
Oct. 13-16, 2022
Deadline: Sept. 13 or until full
Anchor Center for Blind Children, Denver, CO
Oct. 27-30, 2022
Deadline: Sept. 27 or until full
Online-Synchronous (Mountain time zone)
Nov. 10-13, 2022
Deadline: Oct. 10 or until full
Online-Synchronous (Mountain time Zone)
Tips for Practice: Helping Youth Grow & Develop
By Erica Wharton
Horticulture to Develop Youth
For over 25 years, Loveland Youth Gardeners has leveraged horticulture to help youth grow and develop. Our mission empowers youth facing challenges to cultivate life and work skills, environmental stewardship, and community service. Our vision for all our programs is to help youth blossom as individuals and grow in their relationships with people and the Earth. Our main program LEAD (Leadership, Exploration, and Development) is our vocational horticultural therapy program that serves teens (ages 13-18) facing barriers to success in their lives. Youth who attend this program might have special needs, be at-risk for not graduating, have behavioral and/or emotional challenges, be in the foster care system, live in poverty or single-parent homes, etc. Participants grow their own gardens and are taught a gardening curriculum which emphasizes sustainable horticulture practices. In addition, they develop job and life skills as well as social and emotional skills. Those who successfully complete the program may earn science recovery credit, work experience credit and a monetary achievement award. My favorite population to work with is teens. Here are a few tips for working with youth:
- Build a relationship first. Healthy relationships are vital for the work we do. The trust created helps me to encourage our youth to try new things, take some risks, and be open to learning new things. Every morning I personally greet and check in with them. I always make time to listen–not only with my ears but also visually. At the end of every day, I document anything they tell me and anything I see. Following up with them about something they shared with me is very powerful. This shows our youth that they are seen and heard. Finally, we play a lot. Play allows our youth to have healthy interactions with their peers and adults. These interactions increase social skills and confidence. It also teaches them emotional regulation and coping skills.
- Build a place to belong. In 2022, Jessica Morgan and I built a small urban farm. We have called it Good Enough Farm. Throughout our time with our students, they work on a variety of projects at the farm — anything from fixing things to working on additions. We have seen how quickly our youth take ownership. Our students give tours to anyone who comes to the farm. The best part of this is that none of my students wanted to give to tours at first. But after a month in, no one turns down an opportunity to share their garden with others. Our farm has become a place of true belonging; through it, they find connection with nature and others. It provides them a safe space to be vulnerable, to come as they are.
- Food. All our celebrations include food. Food is never used as a reward but as something we share as a group. It is the way I get them to try new types of foods. I have found that cooking together deepens the foundation of our relationship with each other.
At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Everything else is icing on the cake.
Erica is an HTI graduate and program director at Loveland Youth Gardener. Learn more at: www.LovelandYouthGardeners.org
Bullington Gardens new Education Director
Congratulations to Tracy Calla, a current HTI student for her new role as education director at Bullington Gardens in Hendersonville, NC. as well as congratulations to former student John Murphy, HTR on his retirement from the gardens. Tracy is a fairly recent *ahem* transplant to North Carolina from southern Florida, which is kind of the opposite of Western NC’s mountains. She spent 17 years in FL, where she earned her Horticulture degree and worked professionally in a variety of horticultural settings- from nurseries, to landscapes, to greenhouses. During her last several years in the Sunshine State, she managed the youth programs at a botanical garden, and focused her efforts on access and inclusion for underserved, underrepresented and exceptional student populations.
While she is a relative newcomer to professional horticultural therapy, she is certainly no stranger to the transformative power of gardening and time spent in nature. In her native Ohio, she became a believer in the power of plants and gardens to heal when she took up gardening as a form of therapy for herself during a personally challenging time. She decided to pursue horticulture professionally, with the eventual goal of working in education and horticultural therapy, as her way to give back, and share the same joy and wonder she experienced. She is excited to continue her career at “The Garden with Heart” and to further the mission to connect people and plants to improve lives and communities.
She looks forward to working with the HT community in any way she can!