Making Connections Editor: Christine Capra
Program Manager, HT Institute

2022 Winter Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: Twenty Years!

By Rebecca Haller, HTM

Last month, in January 2022, HTI marked twenty years as a non-profit organization which focuses on providing top-notch education in horticultural therapy. During that time, we have served over 1,000 students while maintaining high standards of teaching and advancements in systems that connect students and practitioners.

The HTI gang on the California coast

To celebrate this milestone, the faculty and staff of the Institute gathered on the California coast for several days to take stock, honor achievements, and envision the future. An incredibly gifted and dedicated teaching team and program manager have been instrumental to the success of the Institute and the students who study with us. Since inception, the core teaching team (faculty) has consisted of Jay Rice, Karen Kennedy, Pam Catlin, and me. Our history together, collaboration, and commitment to continual improvement is one of the great joys of the past twenty years. We recognize that our varied teaching skills and expertise bring important perspectives to the students who enroll in our courses. As Program Manager, Christine Capra is unparalleled in her dedication to communication, connection, customer service, and many details that lead to a successful student experience and organizational goals. It’s really quite a team!

As we look toward the future, HTI seeks to build on the many achievements as well as consider possibilities for broadening and/or deepening the work we already do. Stay tuned to the newsletter for developments.

Happy birthday, HTI!

HTI Program Profile:
Hope Springs Garden in the UK

By Eleanor Wroath

My name is Eleanor Wroath and I am a graduate of the HTI program, having completed my HT certificate in 2018. I am British but lived in the USA for 8.5 years with my family (2011-2019), in New Jersey and later in Texas but we are all now back in my home country, England.

Health after Traumatic Loss

Eleanor in the garden!

My journey into HT began after the sudden and unexpected death of our 15-month-old daughter, Miranda, back in 2008, when my garden and the plants I grew in it, became a huge source of solace, peace, and healing after such a traumatic loss. Over the subsequent years, I have sought to professionalize my experience by training in horticultural therapy and to help and support others on similar journeys. Along with my studies in the USA, my volunteer work found me in new and established school gardens in NJ and TX and in an established HT program in Dallas, supporting people experiencing homelessness. This program was facilitated by HTI graduate Sandra Zelley.

Since our big move ‘home’, I have continued my horticultural therapy work in the mental health and wellbeing field, adapting it to fit British professional practices.  I completed my Royal Horticultural Society Level II qualification in practical horticulture and this past year,  I launched my own business, Hope Springs Gardening which I am using as an ‘umbrella’ for all my HT work.  

Hope Springs Gardening offers three main services

  • private and group sessions
  • public speaking
  • delivery of gardening workshops for grief and bereavement organisations and mental health organisations 

As part of my group session service, I currently work three days a week as a freelance support worker for a community garden in Swindon called TWIGS (Therapeutic Work in Gardening Swindon).The organization supports people experiencing mental health issues.  TWIGS is a charity,  established in 1997, and has become a highly valued and thought of service within the community. It is affiliated with Thrive the UK’s leading charity for social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) and is renowned for its excellent training and educational courses in this field.  

Gardens and so much More

TWIGS has two acres of beautiful gardens including three large polytunnels, various greenhouses and tool sheds,  raised beds, a fishpond, chicken coop, large composting bays, pizza oven, haven and wildlife area, large wildlife pond, plant sales area, orchard of fruit trees, a woodwork area and craft room. All are maintained and used year-round by seven staff members, around 50 independent volunteers and 80-100 service users.  As a charity we provide our services free of charge to users. Half of our operating budget is funded by Swindon Borough Council and the other half from local business sponsorship such as mail order plant company Sarah Raven. Income from plants and craft sales as well as local individual donations and fundraising keep TWIGS running. Our gardens are open to the public three days a week and we host fundraisers and events throughout the year which attract interest and support from the wider community.  We grow and propagate organically all our own plants, which are, of course a key component of the therapeutic work we do with service users and volunteers. They are then enjoyed around the garden and sold to raise funds. 

Referrals for Garden Services

Service users come to us via referrals from their GP (family doctor) or from social workers, speech therapists, outpatient departments at mental health facilities etc., community mental health trusts and people can also self-refer via our website. They come with a wide variation of issues including anxiety, depression, personality disorders, psychosis, and bipolar disorder.  We also run sessions for people with autism and I have just started working with a group who have dementia. 

Programming at TWIGS

Service users typically come for a three-hour session (morning or afternoon), once a week and their placement is open for a year. Staff document via Warwick Edinburgh score sheets when service users start their placements – we also discuss individual goals and objectives at this point and fill out health and safety forms. This is followed up by a six-month review to monitor progress via the same score sheets and record progress in terms of goals and objectives.

Finally, an exit interview to chart and check if TWIGS has aided their recovery and to record how impactful it has been when they leave. Staff are available should anything come up during a session. We can also signpost to other sources of support for service users once their placement with us is ending.   

A typical day at TWIGS would encompass an initial gathering, ‘meet and greet’ on the patio for announcements and a list of garden related jobs/tasks available for the upcoming session. Jobs are varied according to seasonal requirements and flexible to meet the specific needs of service users and volunteers. We often find some service users prefer physical jobs like turning compost, pruning apple trees, or digging trenches, and others prefer more sedentary, gentler tasks like processing seeds, pricking out or potting on. Staff suggest and guide service users to try new things as part of our mission statement ‘to help people and plants to grow’ and ‘to improve people’s confidence and self-esteem by learning new things’. Yet our main priority is to support them and to meet them ‘where they are’. 

We stop for a coffee and tea break midway through the session, out on the patio again and I see time and again how impactful and important that time is for social interaction between everyone. It also provides a helpful rhythm and structure to the session and a chance for everyone to check in on one another. Communities are formed within communities.

Future for Hope Springs Gardening at TWIGS

This spring my colleague and I are working on landscaping and designing a new bereavement garden at TWIGS with the help of service users and volunteers. Funding is in place and I will facilitate a bereavement support group which will meet in the new garden space, The group will run for 8-12 weeks and serve those who have experienced a similar loss – the death of a parent or spouse/partner or child etc. Central group goals will be restoring hope for the future and reconnection with the life cycle for those experiencing grief. The group will utilize the TWIGS facilities and group session structure, but have our own space for reflection and work. 

I feel incredibly fortunate to have found this special place to carry on my professional horticultural therapy practice. It is a privilege to witness the change in people’s outlook and demeanour after just a few hours in the gardens at TWIGS. The healing power of the natural world never ceases to amaze me, and it is an honour to be a small part of that process.

Follow Hope Springs Gardening and TWIGS on social media on Facebook, Instagram

Eleanor is an HTI graduate working in the UK.

Fall 2022 Fundamentals of HT classes: Enroll Today

It is not an overstatement that the field of horticultural therapy (HT) changes lives—of both the therapist and those they serve. At the Institute, the experienced faculty provide advice to students entering the field. “The positive changes in the people you will assist will be rewarding and a continual source of inspiration, “said Rebecca Haller, HTM the Horticultural Therapy Institute’s director.  Celebrating 20 years of training hundreds of students, the Institute continues to be at the forefront of education in the field. Nurturing each student as they journey towards bringing a career in HT to life is what motivates everyone at the Institute. Deciding to pursue an education in horticultural therapy is the start of that journey.

Students in Fundamentals of HT class at Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver, Colorado

This fall the journey begins with Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy offered both in an online or face-to-face format. This class is a pre-requisite for the remaining three classes in the HT certificate at the Institute and is available in three different sections. Students need only attend one section:

Fundamentals of HT
Denver, Colorado (face-to-face)
Oct. 13-16, 2022
Anchor Center for Blind Children: Denver, CO
Deadline for enrollment: Sept. 13

Fundamentals of HT
Online (mountain time zone)
Oct. 27-30, 2022
Deadline for enrollment: Oct. 27

Fundamentals of HT
Online (mountain time zone)
Nov. 10-13, 2022
Deadline for enrollment: Oct. 10

“There is a tremendous need for HT in our communities. If you feel drawn to working with people and plants, trust your heart. The growth in HT work touches everyone, including the horticultural therapist. Know that everyone at HTI is committed to providing a positive educational experience and welcome diversity of people, plants and life experiences,” noted Jay Rice, HTI faculty.

Not only does the Institute embrace the individual student as they learn the key aspects of HT, but faculty also strive to teach best practices. The Institute spearheaded the 2019 publication of, The Profession and Practice of Horticultural Therapy, the first new textbook in HT in 21 years.

Students from Fundamentals of HT fall 2021 on a field trip to Denver Botanic Gardens.

“Take advantage of the rich learning environment that includes both faculty and fellow students with diverse education and work experiences by embracing group work, networking with others, and exploring the carefully selected class sites.  Also, approach in and out of class work with a personal growth mindset.,” said Karen Kennedy, HTI faculty.  Pam Catlin, another faculty member notes, “Go in with an open mind. Even if you have a great deal of experience in the field of health care, being open to the information through the lens of the HT is valuable. Do the homework and recognize it is all work that can be put into action in your future HT endeavors.”

What makes HTI unique?

  • Background and experience of faculty
  • Both online and face-to-face teaching format options
  • Flexible scheduling and locations
  • An emphasis on learning by doing.
  • Varied classroom experiences including group discussions, peer learning, and hands-on activities.
  • Solid connections between students
  • Diverse student population

“Providing students, the necessary tools to do the work of HT is the mission of the Institute and continues to allow students to follow their passion for connecting people and plants, to improve lives, to make a commitment to the training and work, and professionally conduct themselves which will lead to their success,” said Haller.

Zoom Class

The remaining three classes in the HT certificate will be held in 2023 with one section of each class being offered online and one face-to-face. Dates and locations to be announced later this summer.

For more information on the Horticultural Therapy Institute or to enroll in the Fundamentals of HT class go to or email [email protected].

The final 3 classes in 2023 will be offered in both face-to-face and online formats. For more questions contact [email protected] or 303-388-0500.

Tips for Practice:
Designing a Therapeutic Garden for Wheelchair Users

Rachel Cochran, Co-Founder, Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance

Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance

Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance was founded in Atlanta, GA in 2017 by two HTI Graduates, Rachel Cochran and Wendy Battaglia. Trellis is the only nonprofit in the Atlanta area dedicated to bringing group therapeutic horticulture programs to people living with life challenges such as catastrophic injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress, dementia, autism, and incarceration.

Historic Callanwolde Estate

In 2019, Trellis found an operational home for its programs at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, an arts education nonprofit and event venue located on a 12-acre estate in midtown Atlanta. The historic Callanwolde Estate consists of a Tudor-style mansion, formal gardens and several outbuildings used for art, dance, and music classes.  The mansion is the former country home of the Candler Family, founder of the of Coca-Cola Company.

A Dream Come True

The grandeur of Callanwolde is awe inspiring, but to Trellis, its best asset is an 1,800 sq ft, temperature controlled, wheelchair-accessible glass greenhouse with small group session space.  When we first saw the greenhouse in 2019, it was a dream come true. The downside to Callanwolde is that it lacked good gardening space. There was one spot off the main parking lot, infested with a multitude of invasive plants, and a large old mulberry tree that shaded the entire space.  And then miraculously, the following spring the tree fell, opening a whole new wonderful world of sun. The space would become the Ability Garden at Callanwolde, one of a handful a wheelchair-accessible gardens in Atlanta.

Glass greenhouse

The Ability Garden Realized

The need for the Ability Garden was realized through Wendy Battaglia, who shortly after completing her HTI courses in 2014, was hired by the Shepherd Center, a renowned Atlanta rehabilitation hospital for brain and spinal cord injury, to bring horticultural therapy to its patients. It’s at Shepherd they find joy and motivation in connecting with plants.  Following discharge, no opportunities in the Atlanta area exist for patients to continue hands-on gardening or horticulture activities.  The Ability Garden is now filling this vital need for the disability community by offering programs that reduce isolation, build social connections, and educate in a safe and supportive space. Trellis has continued to build on this partnership with the Shepherd Center through its outpatient recreational therapy programs. Former patients of the nearby Emory Rehabilitation Hospital participate in a monthly garden therapy program for survivors of stroke and their caregivers.

We would like to share with the HTI community our experience and lessons learned in designing and building the Ability Garden.

Design Considerations

The formal nature of Callanwolde and the public proximity of the garden directly off the main parking lot dictated the design – it had to look good and harmonize with the English Tudor style of its surroundings. We opted for a classic four-square design that evokes balance, symmetry, and straight lines, with a central focal point. Four L-shaped beds made from pressure-treated pine serve as the main footprint of the garden, which is approximately 2,000 sq. ft.

Accommodating Wheelchairs

The first and most important decision we made was to pull together a design advisory team that included users of wheelchairs. The four-square design ended up being the right decision for wheelchair use due to the seamless flow provided by both the inner and outer pathways. The bonus was that beds can be accessed from all sides. Adjacent to the main raised bed garden is a more natural space for native sun-loving plants with a meandering path, also designed for wheelchairs, that loops back to the main garden.

Design with the End User in Mind

For every aspect of the design, we had to ensure that it would work for users of wheelchairs.  The most important considerations were designing garden elements ergonomically scaled for someone seated. Additionally, knowing that power wheelchair seats are higher than manual wheelchairs guided us to build beds of varying heights. The design decision that we really had to think through was how to effectively design for growing tall edible plants – such as tomatoes and okra, normally planted in the ground, to ensure that someone seated could effectively plant and tend these vegetables. We thought containers of varying heights would address this issue.  Once we began holding group sessions in the garden, we quickly saw the value of having light-weight moveable chairs and benches for people that don’t use a wheelchair, but have limited standing endurance and therefore, require frequent breaks or just need to sit down to garden.

Raised Bed Construction

Each L-shaped raised bed measures 10 x 4 x 7 x 3 ft.  We opted for two different bed heights – 30 inches and 36 inches.  Initially I was certain the beds would be too tall for someone seated, but both heights function extremely well. The beds were filled half-way with hardwood tree mulch and half with a mixture of native soil, compost and a specialty raised bed mix of peat moss and worm castings. The beds required a lot of soil to fill, which will need to be topped off each year as the filler mulch decomposes.

Pathway Design and Construction

Having adequate space around the garden and sufficiently wide pathways is the most important aspect for wheelchairs, particularly when serving groups. The Ability Garden easily fits up to eight people in wheelchairs. The typical pathway width used was 42 inches, with spacing between beds at 55 inches from the garden’s center point, and a total of 110 inches from bed to bed.  A side loop path was reduced to 36 inches to better blend in with the natural setting. Pathways were hand-dug, leveled, and edged with Col-Met steel edging 4-inches high, available at the local home improvement stores. It is strong, easy to install and looks lovely. The pathways were covered in heavy duty landscape fabric and then topped and tamped down with 4 inches of crushed slate called “trail mix” at our local landscape supply company. The trail mix is a blend of mini chips and sand-sized particles. Because slate has a flat plane, unlike round pea pebble, it compacts extremely well.  Don’t bother with renting a plate compactor for the crushed slate. Several good deep rains will do the job for free.

Garden Construction and Cost

The entire garden was cleared and leveled by hand and constructed with volunteer labor, except for professional stump grinding services. The cost to construct the four raised beds was approximately $2,600 including the soil. Landscape edging, fabric, and crushed slate for the pathways was approximately $1,000.

Garden Elements

To date, the completed garden includes a sensory garden, herb garden, sun and shade perennials, a brick restoration circle that will have bench seating, a fairy garden, composting area, and wheelchair ramp from the parking lot. Remaining elements include a container gardening demonstration area, a wheelchair-accessible tool storage shed, a small above-ground water feature, and a wildflower meadow. But like any great garden, it’s never truly finished.

Challenges and Advice

Watering the garden is a big chore, as water access comes from a building across a large parking lot.  We are currently studying all options for more efficient watering. The biggest challenge of all is deciding what to plant in the garden. It’s important to choose your plants wisely so that they offer beauty, interest, and purpose – be it food, scent, color, texture, medicinal use, wildlife habitat, art, or floral work.  We approached the design and construction in two phases to test our design. It’ also OK to not have all the answers and to really understand the needs the people you serve. The Ability Garden at Callanwolde took a village and it has been a true labor of love.

Rachel is a graduate of the HT Institute