As horticultural therapists, we are constantly searching for creative ways and methods to assimilate nature into our programming. We have all witnessed, firsthand positive therapeutic outcomes facilitated by the engagement with plants and other natural processes. For instance, witnessing the change of seasons or nurturing a seed from germination to harvest can become a profoundly effective intervention. The benefit from these interactions with plants comes in the form of improved and sustainable emotional and mental health as well as strengthened cognition and physical well-being. But where do we find new and engaging sources of information that provide an attainable pathway to achieving the therapeutic goals we set for clients and for ourselves?
Tree with Golden Apples:
Botanical & Agricultural Wisdom in World Myths
Tree with Golden Apples, authored by Susan Strauss, is an extraordinary blend of ancient myth, botanical wisdom, and modern-day science. Each chapter involves three distinct segments. All chapters begin with native mythology or a folk tale, from cultures across our globe. Next, Dr. Ian Edwards of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh explains the scientific significance of the story. Each chapter then closes with a lesson on how to entwine the two entities into storytelling. Strauss’ choice of mythological stories and folk tales focus on the intrinsic relationship between humans and plants. Horticultural therapists are aware of how the people-plant relationship can easily transcend both human history and cultural differences. Susan Strauss is aware of this phenomenon as well.
What is so curious about the concept of joining mythology with science is how mythology lends credibility to the story’s scientific significance and likewise, how the scientific significance clearly supports the mythological tale. This unlikely couple, joined with Strauss’ ability for storytelling, makes for a very compelling and entertaining read. For the horticultural therapist, reading Tree With Golden Apples will provide much potential for inspiring a unique approach towards effective and engaging HT programming.
The Science and the Art of Storytelling
Susan Strauss is not only an author and educator but a renowned storyteller. She is well known for her ability to bring stories to life through movement and artistic use of voice. Storytelling is an ancient form of communication. It precedes verbal language and the written word, with cave dwellers etching their stories onto stone walls. Storytelling was and still is, the method used to pass on traditions, life lessons, and family values from one generation to the next. Storytelling serves not only to educate and communicate with friends and family but also to engage and entertain others. The intention of Tree With Golden Apples is to entertain, but also to develop storytelling as a method to expand our understanding of the natural world and our place within it. Susan Strauss imparts her wisdom and experience as a storyteller to the reader along with scientifically accurate information regarding natural processes and human reliance upon those processes.
An example of how Strauss transports the reader through the chapters in her book is found within the very first chapter, Zuni Creation, from the love of light and water. The Zuni people are a Native American Pueblo tribe, indigenous to the Zuni River Valley located in the southwest region of the US. In Zuni Creation, the reader learns how the sun and earth are created and about their love for one another. This tale goes on to briefly explain how the sun and earth interact to germinate seven seed grains of grass and thus begins the process of populating the Earth with plants, animals, and humans. The scientific portion of the chapter uses this tale to articulate the biological miracle of photosynthesis. In the third portion, Strauss shares how language is used to communicate the story by identifying the “quality of soul and ancient expressions of language that move our experience of thinking about the world.” Even if the reader has no intention of becoming a storyteller, they will find Susan Strauss’ explanations of her process and how she uses languages simply fascinating. An added benefit is the mystical artwork created by Greta Johnson that is used throughout. The colors and beautiful imagery enhance the experience of reading this delightful book.
Inspiration for your Horticultural Therapy Practice
We are entering into the season of dormancy with shorter days and colder temperatures to come. Most of us will be spending more time indoors than we would like. Consider using this time to enrich your personal and professional lives. Maybe by learning a new skill or searching for sources of inspiration that can be used in your HT practice. Taking the time to read Susan Strauss’ book will enhance your view of what the people-plant relationship can offer, not only to the clients within your practice but for your own benefit as well. Tree With Golden Apples will not disappoint.