New Blog Writers Introduced
HTI would like to introduce and welcome it’s two new blog writers, Daniela Silva-Rodriguez Bonazzi, from Peru writing this month about the introduction of HT in her home country and covering in the future international HT. Her co-writer is Colleen Griffin, HTR, from Maine who will be writing on a variety of topics with a focus on the US.
By Daniela Silva-Rodriquez
My relationship with plants started at the age of eight. After abruptly loosing my father from an aneurysm, I found solace in my grandmother’s garden. There were so many species of plants and flowers in that 64,000 square foot garden! Soon I started learning their names and surnames, as well as their preferences. I was marveled by the forms, textures and smells of leaves and flowers, which inspired me to bring nature into the house creating flower arrangements for every room in our house. But the biggest pleasure for me was watering the plants, seeing the leaves without a trace of dust and the smell of moist soil!
Time went by and it was clear to me I had to make my career in a plant related field. I studied Biology and Environmental Science at American University in Washington D.C. When I came back to Peru I got my first job at the International Potato Center as a scientific assistant and at the same time studied for a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding.
After 6 years of lab work I started a company dedicated to produce salad greens for supermarkets in Peru. For the following 25 years I acquired knowledge and experience in agriculture, integrated pest management, good agricultural practices and quality assurance. But my love for plants was too strong so I kept my connection with them through landscaping projects.
In 2010 I discovered the practice of horticultural therapy! I contacted the Horticultural Therapy Institute and my journey to attain a certificate in horticultural therapy started. I got my Certificate in 2016.
Between 2011 and 2013 I started a small program in a rehabilitation center for substance abuse (cocaine, marijuana and alcohol) and depression patients. Ages ranged mainly from 14 to 30. During that short period of time I evidenced the power of plants in changing people’s lives, especially in two patients. One male patient, aged 30, diagnosed with severe depression. The first time I met him he made no eye contact and answered with monosyllables. Three weeks after attending the program he was a completely different person: he’s eyes sparkled, he asked for tasks and was eager to learn more gardening techniques. After discharge he started a plant business abroad, shifting interests from economics to plants.
The other patient was an 18 year-old female, diagnosed with depression and marijuana consumption. After 6 months attending the HT program with mood swings and self-injuries, I noticed something she did to the plant she had adopted which made me think something really serious was going on with her. This was a turning point in her treatment: she could finally talk about what was really troubling her.
These two experiences made me realize I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life helping people through one of my passions: plants.
Between 2014 and 2017 I have been raising awareness about the benefits of HT in people’s well-being through workshops and short period programs for specific groups such as children with cancer or burned children.
Raising awareness in a country where a career in horticulture does not exist and where many professionals dislike to be taken out of their comfort zone is difficult but not impossible. It takes time to make them understand that horticultural therapy is their ally, that gardening activities serve as a tool to facilitate their job. We have to use the most valuable attribute gardeners have: patience.
In October 2018 I was commissioned the design of a healing garden and a HT program for an orphanage in Lima, Peru. It was a big challenge due to the conditions of the site, which was a complete wreck (see pictures) and the budget was limited. After 4 months of planning and brainstorming the design was ready. The implementation took place in April of this year. A crew of 130 young volunteers were in charge of planting, painting walls, creating a water feature and a green wall, removing stones and decorating, under my direction. The job was done in 5 days. The garden was baptized by the institutionalized children as the “Dream Garden”.
One week later we started working with 40 institutionalized children, ages between 5 and 14. The frequency of our program, is twice a week. Working with institutionalized children is a huge challenge. Most of the children have been separated from their parents due to physical and/or psychological abuse. This situation has produced severe emotional and behavioral issues in the children. The healing garden’s main goal is to help them channel those emotions: anger, fear, sadness, aggressiveness, lack of attention, and disruptive behavior through love and nurture.
After the first chaotic session in which we worked with groups of 10 children every 30 minutes for 2 hours we decided to restructure the dynamic for the following session. We needed to teach the children there were “garden rules” that needed to be followed and we needed to “calm” them before offering the planned activity. Garden rules were established by all of them and were then printed in a big banner. We read them at the beginning of each session. To “calm” their spirits, we use a breathing technique, which brings them to the present moment, listen to instructions and metaphors and engage with the planned activity in a “calm” mode. Aside from these two strategies, we have set up 4 separate tables which help us work with smaller groups.
In every session we have a “plan B” for those children who will not engage with the activity from the beginning. This “plan B” consists in creating herb bouquets. Stimulating the sense of smell, especially in children with these characteristics has a powerful effect as well as working the soil.
Several weeks have gone by and we are starting to see results: children are calmer, proud of their work in the garden and are starting to show the same love and respect towards plants that we do. Some of them are even proud of showing their siblings that same love and respect. They know their “Dream Garden” is a non-threatening environment, where they feel safe. Children are becoming aware of the powerful effect of gardening as a tool to channel their emotions.
Now that we have introduced the children to the garden, our next challenge is to create willow tepees for siblings to “cultivate” a relationship among them. The willow tepee will symbolize their “home”, a safe place surrounded by plants which they will learn to nurture with love.