Horticultural therapy is blooming in North Carolina. This blog has already visited the programs of Christene Tashjian who works with sexual abuse victims and Sally Cobb whose work centers on end-of-life and grief. This time, we meet Beth Carter who, in 2012, created a horticultural therapy program at the Life Enrichment Center, a day center for adults (seniors often suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, young adults with developmental disabilities, victims of brain injury). By providing them with activities during the day, the center makes it possible for them to live at home or in their family.
Isolated HT crave opportunities to share
Carter recently organized a meeting of the Carolinas Horticultural Therapy Network, a group of HT from North and South Carolina. “We meet twice a year to exchange ideas. One of us hosts the meeting over the weekend at our workplace. There is always one or two presentations,” she explains. She is particularly proud of having kept the budget under control (a $20 participation fee plus travel and accommodation). That meeting attracted 25 participants, both trained HT and master gardeners leading horticultural therapy activities in nursing homes without formal training. “There are so many great programs. During these meetings, we can recharge our energy and exchange ideas. We often do this work in isolation. We are not like PT or occupational therapists who always have colleagues around.”
What does Carter take away from the two-day meeting? “With the participants in my program, we made posters by gluing seeds packets next to the actual seeds. John Murphy had an idea to take it one step further: put Velcro on the packages and turn the activity into a memory game. It becomes an interactive activity. We may have good ideas, but someone else can make them even better.” Creating a terrarium, indoor mini-gardens in a glass jar, was another example. “John’s intern gave a presentation on the subject. I have never made one and it made me feel like doing this with young adults with developmental disabilities. With plants in a glass jar, one can speak about evaporation and condensation.”
Two degrees and a full-time job in HT
But let’s back up to the beginning. “I grew up with my hands in soil. My grandmother and my parents gardened,” says Carter. As a young mother, she was a regular visitor at the Callaway Gardens in Georgia, where she later became a volunteer for a while, and then an employee. When she heard about healing gardens, she was immediately interested. In 2008, a Google search led her to the Horticultural Therapy Institute. In 2012, she graduated both from HTI and from a two-year program in Horticultural Science. As part of her final project for the certificate at HTI, she worked with the Life Enrichment Center in Shelby, designing a horticultural therapy program for their unused garden and developing the activity for six months. With her two degrees in hand, she was happy to find herself hired full time on the spot at the Center!
The Life Enrichment Center operates two facilities located a few miles away from each other. Carter divides her time between two very different gardens. In the first location, David Kamp, a specialist of therapeutic gardens in New York, designed a “Prospect and Refuge” garden according to the principle that our experience of a landscape is rooted in perceptions related to our evolution and survival instinct. Carter also mentions the work of Rachel and Steven Kaplan, two professors of environmental psychology at the University of Michigan, who have worked since 1970 on the effects of nature on health and human relations with the pioneering idea that the environment can help cure patients. For this garden, Carter received help from a Boy Scout who built raised beds and a pathway as part of his Eagle Scout project. “At the newest facility, a local landscape architect without training in therapeutic gardens designed the garden. But it is so large that it is intimidating to participants who have difficulty walking or using a walker. They end up staying on the patio. I’m trying to build gardening spaces near the patio to create more privacy. It is a process that will take years.”
A social program
“I am mostly a social program to get them to tap into their memories and not to isolate themselves. I adapt my work to their individual goals and take notes on their progress. But I do not have the same documentation constraints as Kirk,” says Beth. She is referring to Kirk Hines who worked for about 20 years with seniors at Wesley Woods Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia and recently moved to A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab. “I take groups of 2 or 3 people, sometimes more. But sometimes I work with one person. Recently, I worked with a fairly reluctant gentleman. But after planting a mini spruce, he was so proud that he told everyone. The other day we were looking at seed catalogs and talking about vegetables from their childhood with a group of women. It was a good time. Every day is different.”
North Carolina has experienced a long and cold winter with unexpected snowfalls. “One morning, it was 7°,” Beth says, still in shock. Everyone is eagerly waiting for spring. Meanwhile, HT activities continue. “I found some old teacups in a thrift shop. We added gravel and planted hyacinth bulbs. Everyone, including the staff, was speculating about the nature of these bulbs. Onions? Beets? When hyacinths bloom, they smell up the place and bring spring into the building.” She now looks forward to planting vegetables (tomatoes, spinach, green beans, lettuce, okra) in three new raised beds that were recently installed and are wheelchair accessible. “I will also double the size of the flower garden. Throughout the summer, we will have flowers to make bouquets. We plant unusual flowers like those giant sunflowers.” Carter is waiting to see life come back to the butterfly garden where participants can watch the caterpillars go through their metamorphosis. “I also do a lot of nature programs: bird feeders, nesting sites for them, listening to recordings of birdsong to learn to identify them.”