Making Connections Editor: Christine Capra
Program Manager, HT Institute

2023 Summer Newsletter

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

HTI Director’s Note: Nourish

By Rebecca Haller, HTM

With the garden in full swing, take a breath and enjoy the beauty. Summer is the period to nurture, explore, and reap the bounty. Some important to-dos as the season progresses revolve around noticing the needs of the plants and the people who experience the garden.

For the garden of course there is watering and weeding to do. It is not too late to apply a layer of (weed-free) organic mulch to keep the weeds down, conserve soil moisture, and moderate soil temperatures. Most all gardeners know this – just remember to add to the mulch as the season progresses. This can be a great task for an HT group, as it involves gross motor activity as well as the requirement of care in placement to protect plants. Feeding the garden periodically throughout summer, particularly container plantings, is critical for success and makes a great activity with varied complexity. For example, the participants could be challenged to notice nutrient deficiencies, to make and follow a routine feeding schedule, to mix or measure ingredients, to fill and carry watering cans, and to be thorough in the undertaking. Regular deadheading and harvesting are also keys to a productive garden. These responsibilities can form a welcome routine as well as a purposeful and predictable job, often invaluable in treatment planning.

Experience the Joys of Gardening

People also need to receive physical care and attention – especially with summer heat waves, drought, even smoky air. Be sure that program participants are well hydrated, have sun protection, are given sufficient breaks, and are encouraged to take advantage of cool morning or evening hours to be more active. With precautions and care, a well-tended and designed space will be enticing and enable them to experience the joys of gardening.

While you are in nourishing mode, remember to nourish relationships – with plants, the people you serve, and all those who visit and/or contribute to a successful HT program. Invite donors to witness the garden and program in action. Take photos and record the many accomplishments. More on that in our newsletter coming in the fall.

Enjoy the abundance.

Program Profile: Stewpot Gardening

By Sandra Zelley, LCSW

A Harvest to be Eaten

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.  My 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 a 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.

Safe Haven for the Unhoused

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 to 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 our Help

“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. (Note this article was first published in the HTI Newsletter in 2019).

Sandra Zelley, LCSW and a 2014 graduate of the HTI Program

Fall 2023 Fundamentals of HT classes: Enroll Today

This fall your horticultural therapy journey begins with Fundamentals of Horticultural Therapy offered both in an online or face-to-face format. The first section of the class scheduled for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is already filling fast.k 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 class at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden–site of this year’s face-to-face Fundamentals class!

Fundamentals of HT I
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (face-to-face)
Oct. 12-15, 2023
Deadline for enrollment: Sept. 12

Fundamentals of HT II
Online (mountain time zone)
Oct. 26-29, 2023
Deadline for enrollment: Sept. 26

Fundamentals of HT III
Online (mountain time zone)
Nov. 9-12, 2023
Deadline for enrollment: Oct. 9

“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.

The remaining three classes in the HT certificate will be held in 2024 with one section of each class being offered online and one face-to-face. Dates and locations to be announced later this spring.

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

For more questions contact [email protected] or 303-388-0500.

Tips for Practice: Gaining Support for Horticultural Therapy Programs in Your Community

By Gayle Gratop, The University of Arizona Coconino County Cooperative Extension

Plant Lover gets Hooked on HT

During the height of the pandemic, when most of us were working from home, I was sent a link to a recorded Zoom video with a presentation on horticultural therapy (HT). Being a plant lover, a professional horticulturalist, and an instructor for Arizona Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program, I was immediately hooked. As soon as I could, I enrolled in the Fundamentals class at the Horticultural Therapy Institute (HTI).

Things began to return to normal in the summer of 2021. Our County Extension office reopened to the public and students were back in the classroom at Killip Elementary School located right across the street from our office in Flagstaff, AZ. But in August 2021, a devastating flood ripped through our neighborhood.

A few years ago, a destructive fire burned the mountain above our town. A major rain event occurred on the burn scar of the fire to create this flood, one of the largest flooding events in Flagstaff’s history. We were trapped in our county building when the floodwaters hit. Waters rushed down our street, creating whitewater rapids between our office and nearby Killip. Our building was spared but the elementary school was not so lucky. Water and sludge coursed into the school and students and teachers were trapped inside. It was a traumatic event for all.

Environmental Disaster

Floodwaters from August 2021 enter the old Killip Elementary.

The stress the children had experienced from the pandemic was now exacerbated by an environmental disaster. Just days into the new school year, students were back at home sitting in front of computer screens for their lessons. Eventually they were bussed from their neighborhood to another school on the other side of town to finish the year. Students faced yet another ordeal as the school had been so badly damaged by the flood that it was unusable.

But there was hope. Plans for a new school were in place. And prior to the flood, a Flagstaff community group of local partners, including Coconino Cooperative Extension, was awarded a national grant as one of 10 cities to make nature equitable and accessible for all students through the Green Schoolyards Initiative. Killip was selected as our pilot school for many reasons, primarily because 93% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and the school is in a neighborhood directly affected by climate change. I was asked to be a part of the Flagstaff team specifically because of my training in horticultural therapy. The pandemic, coupled with post-wildfire flooding, clearly identified a need for wellness programming.  

Horticultural therapy has piqued the interest of many organizations in the Flagstaff community. People are discovering the powerful benefits of HT, and many are willing to support and welcome HT programs. Here are my tips for creating and funding new programs in your community.   

Killip students learn lessons in resiliency through plants.

Build Partnerships

Building partnerships is critical to creating and sustaining programs. Including our office, the Green Schoolyards Flagstaff team has members from the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Office, Flagstaff Unified School District, Terra BIRDS (a local non-profit providing youth gardening education), AmeriCorps members from Northern Arizona University, and a local community leader who is an advocate for school gardens. These partnerships and their support for HT have enabled me to receive funding to create and implement other HT programs within the city, including a pre-vocational program for at-risk youth at a local high school.

Students at Ponderosa High turn their classroom into a production space.

Identify a Need for Programming

As in the case with Killip Elementary, the community saw a need for wellness programming at the school once the new building was constructed and flood mitigation was in place. In the fall of 2022, we piloted our first therapeutic horticulture wellness program and created a pollinator garden that is now a Certified Schoolyard Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. Students who, just a year prior, saw floodwaters consume their school’s landscape, were able to help design and plant the new pollinator garden. This facilitated pride among students for beautifying their schoolgrounds and got them moving around outdoors.

Secure Funding

The new native pollinator garden at Killip Elementary.

Our first round of funding was provided through the Green Schoolyards grant and other opportunities began to open soon after. To implement the next round of programming, I was awarded a grant from the local non-profit Flagstaff Foodlink specifically to fund HT programs. With this funding, I was able to bring on HTI Instructor and Registered Horticultural Therapist Pam Catlin to supervise my internship for professional registration and to mentor program development and implementation. I was also awarded a Neighborhood Sustainability Grant from the City of Flagstaff to support the HT program at Killip.

Participate in a Supervised Internship!

I’m very fortunate that Pam Catlin lives only a two-hour drive from Flagstaff. She has been a critical part of the development of both of my programs at Killip Elementary and Ponderosa High. Her knowledge and support have added immensely to the professionalism of what we, as horticultural therapists in training, do and the services we provide to our clients. If you have the resources, I highly recommend a supervised internship. It will strengthen your work, build your knowledge, and enrich your programming.

Master Gardeners teach Killip students how to plant pansies in the spring.

Involve the Media

A reporter from KNAU, our local NPR station, found out that somebody was awarded a neighborhood sustainability grant from the city to create a horticultural therapy program at Killip. She came to one of our sessions to write a story. After the story aired locally, it was quickly picked up nationally and aired during All Things Considered. Pam and I were both thrilled that a story highlighting the benefits of horticultural therapy was being aired on a national level! The media exposure helped with the overall development of horticultural therapy as a valid Extension program. After the story aired, I was contacted by stakeholders from other counties who were interested in designing therapy gardens in their communities.

Continue Outreach

The NPR story also caught the attention of Arizona Cooperative Extension; Extension Agents and administrators are now aware of the impacts we are making in our county as a direct result of HT. In fact, my proposal “Horticultural Therapy in Extension: Building Whole Health Focused Collaboration Between Community Partners, 4-H, Master Gardeners, and FCHS in Northern Arizona”, is one of only 16 presentations that was accepted for the Arizona Extension Conference. I plan to use this platform to advocate for the professional practice of horticultural therapy and its proven benefits for the people we serve.

Gayle has made a career out of working with plants in northern Arizona for nearly two decades. She is a 2021 graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Institute and is in process of becoming professionally registered. In addition to being an educator for Coconino County Extension, Gayle has her own backyard nursery where she grows native plants for her communit

HTI Kudos

Congratulations to new AHTA Board Members

Two HTI graduates were recently joined the American Horticultural Therapy Association board. Each year, AHTA offers a nomination process for members to join the board as a Director-at-Large for 2023-2026. Students, April Ellis, LSCW, HTR and Kelly Warnick, JD will begin their term this fall at the annual membership meeting.

Kelly Warnick is currently completing her HTR internship with the Chicago Botanic Garden and is actively involved with AHTA, writing articles for the magazine and serving on the marketing work team.

April is on the national convention planning committee and marketing work teams with AHTA and will be giving a presentation on her mobile therapy garden design at the convention this year. She is also in her second month as an ElderGrow educator with 3 mobile gardens in skilled nursing and memory care units and will be clinic director to open an Ellie Mental Health Clinic in Redwood City in the Winter 2023.  “My learning curve is vertical right now and I’m loving it,” she said.