By Susan Morgan
As an independent therapeutic horticulture consultant and practitioner offering activity based programming, I often work with groups at facilities where there is no available indoor storage of plants and other program materials and limited to no access to outdoor space for logistical and medical reasons. Sometimes my participants are not permitted to have potted plants in their rooms. This poses a challenge in delivering quality social and therapeutic horticulture programming. Even so, each month, it is imperative to deliver program activities that utilize a variety of seasonal and sensory stimulating plants and related materials and equipment, cover different topics, and work towards participant goals in a meaningful way.
Whether the horticultural therapy practitioner has been delivering program activities for years or is brand new to the profession, the challenge is to keep activities interesting, engaging, and relevant to participants. Even if you are just looking to shake up your roster of horticultural activities, here are some tips to get you started with the brainstorming.*
Read and research. Gather ideas and information from more than one source – and on an ongoing basis, as time permits. Social media and other online resources are helpful in providing inspiration, gathering research, and organizing ideas, including Pinterest, YouTube, and university agricultural extension websites. (Read more on Online Resources for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners.) Look through magazines and books on related topics – whether they’re from a gardening magazine subscription or during a visit to the local bookstore or library. When researching for one activity, save interesting information on other potential activities that arise during the process. Check out: The Garden Professors, Botanical Interests Seed Packets, The Herb Society of America.
Sign up for newsletters and email blasts. Set up Google Alerts on a variety of subjects and link to your email in order to follow trends and learn about new and interesting gardeners, places, and related subjects. Sign up for email blasts from your favorite garden craft blog, home/food/garden trendsetter, and world traveling horticulturist. Yes, you’ll have to sort through your email and filter out irrelevant content, but sometimes when you’ve been struggling to find the right activity for a participant or group, the inspiration may just appear in your inbox. Try out: Garden Therapy, Martha Stewart, Pith + Vigor.
Build your social network. Practitioners often work alone, so pool your resources and connect with other practitioners locally or across the world wide web. Become a member of the American Horticultural Therapy Association or your regional horticultural therapy practitioners group, such as the Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association or the Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Therapy Network. These groups will often share ideas at conferences and via social media. Bounce ideas off fellow practitioners in person over lunch, and form your own informal networking group of like-minded people via email or social media. Join a social media group of practitioners, including the HTI Facebook group. Follow other practitioners, favorite plant nurseries, crafty people and artists, horticulture experts, urban farmers, garden inspired chefs, and others online. Check out: Horticultural Therapy Institute, Therapeutic Landscapes Network, Savvy Gardening, Homestead Brooklyn, #AndyGoldsworthy, Floret Flower Farm, The Sill, Green Plants for Green Buildings, Gardens That Heal.
Go deep. Go vertical. Using these inspirational sources and informational resources, take a topic and dive deep into research, even going off on semi-related tangents. The research may take you in unique directions. Read through the research with participants and their goals in mind, noting various ways in which the topic can be used in future programming.
Keep your eyes and ears open – observe and listen for good ideas. Activity ideas may come from unexpected sources, such as an impromptu conversation that takes place between program participants or an observation made about an enthusiastic response from a participant to something they see during a session. If a participant talks about a plant that is an important part of their history or culture, research it and see what interesting information is found. Share a picture of the plant at a subsequent session, invite the participant to teach the group about the plant, or develop a separate activity that incorporates the plant with others.
Experiment with new things. Challenge yourself and participants to try new things as appropriate. For example, in addition to sowing the same seeds each season, try growing a couple of new seed types from the catalog. Participants have the opportunity to cultivate their sense of discovery in trying out a new plant and learn from successes and failures with low risk. “New” plants to try out: the grafted Ketchup ‘N’ Fries tomato-potato plant, Chinese red noodle bean (Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis), fuzzy leafed ‘Pink Zazzle’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena hybrid), Marimo moss balls, air plants (Tillandsia), living stones (Lithops).
Note: The resources listed here are based on the opinions of the author, not necessarily the Horticultural Therapy Institute. Review information sources for authenticity and credibility.