By Susan Morgan
When it gets too hot outdoors for your therapeutic horticulture programming this summer, stay cool inside with inspiration from these activity options.
Fireworks-Inspired Floral Arrangements. Artist Sarah Illenberger drew inspiration from flowers to create her own noise-less, “all natural” firework display. In her photographic series Flowerwork, she studied the patterns and shapes of flowers and then carefully arranged a variety of these flowers on a dark background (to simulate the night sky) and took photographs of them. She used flowers, like flowering onion (Allium), globe thistle (Echinops), Sedum spectabile, fennel (Foeniculum), and more in her work.
Examine photos of fireworks with clients, noting the night sky, the various firework colors, shapes, and patterns, and even the trails of light created by the fireworks shooting up from the ground into the sky. Then create your own real time “flower-works” bouquets with flowers cut from the summer garden, such as star cluster (Pentas), globe amaranth (Gomphrena), coneflowers (Echinacea), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), and beebalm (Monarda), or purchased as cut flowers, including baby’s breath and mums. Or, clients could create an ephemeral art exhibit designed for the outdoor garden, enjoyed in the moment (or catch a snapshot with the camera), and then left to return to nature.
“Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.” – Unknown
Weeds or Wildflowers. Start a conversation using weeds as the metaphor and ask the question, “Is a plant a weed or a wildflower?” Collect a variety of plants commonly considered weeds in the garden, use a plant key to identify them, and note their unique characteristics and why you might want to remove them from the garden. Then take a closer look at the definition of a weed and, more specifically, through the example of the dandelion. Upon first glance, it’s a weed that invades lawns and gardens. But when you study it further, dandelions are an important food and nectar source for honeybees and some butterflies and moths. Also people have historically used the flowers to make dandelion tea, wine, and medicine. Dandelion leaves are high in vitamins A and C and other minerals and can be sautéed like spinach or Swiss chard to eat.
Learning about the various uses and benefits of dandelions can lead to dialogue about personal perspective and what forms our ability to view situations in certain ways. For example, some view dandelions as noxious lawn weeds, while others see them as bright yellow “wildflowers” that bees love and cottony seedheads young children love to play with. Ask questions like “What relationships or circumstances do we need to keep in our lives, tend to, and allow to grow and thrive?” and “What do we need to weed out of our lives?” Discuss quotes about weeds, like these to get you started.
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” – A.A. Milne
“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning to how to grow in rows.” – Doug Larson
What’s in Bloom (or “Fruit”). Harvest flowers, cuttings, or produce from the garden and bring indoors to give clients the opportunity to experience the outdoors. This can be a good year-round activity to do. In the summer, cheery sunflowers can provide a mindfulness exercise for the practitioner to lead clients in quiet reflection and sensory exploration. Note the stems (feel the rough, hairy texture of the stems, with attached leaves or “bumps” along the stems where the leaves once were), the back of the flower head where it attaches to the stem (it is often more fuzzy there), the softness of the flower petals, the fuzziness of the center of the flower (where the seeds normally grow). Or, fragrant lavender blooms excite the senses and are great to air dry and then break up to use in sachets. Harvest a variety of herbs, fruits, and/or vegetables from the garden and use them to make compound butters, salsas, fruit salads, sorbets, or refreshing flavored waters. Mix it up by experimenting and adding unusual herbs or veggies never sampled before.
Other activities include careful study of aquatic ecosystems – research the variety of floaters, marginals, and bog plants that grow in aquatic environments, and then paint watercolors of water lilies inspired by Monet’s garden. Research seed catalogs for the fall garden and purchase seeds to start indoors now. Collect flowers from the garden to press for later use in pressed flower artwork. Create personal or group scrapbooks documenting this year’s garden experiences and noting ideas and future plans for next year’s garden. Propagate cuttings of houseplants for wintertime activities.