By Susan Morgan
As winter approaches, horticultural therapy practitioners often have limited outdoor garden access during colder temperatures and inclement weather. However, there is a variety of indoor programming options that can help take advantage of this time of year.
“My winter activities depend on who the primary audience is, whether they are clients in long term care or those whose stay is only for a few days,” says Horticultural Therapy Institute instructor Karen Kennedy, HTR, who is a horticultural therapist based outside Cleveland, Ohio. Here, she offers four primary categories of wintertime activities.
1.) Using the Harvest: From spring to fall, plant and maintain a variety of herbs, cutflowers, and other plants that can be harvested from the garden for future use, especially during winter. “This time of year is a good time to make things to give or sell,” says Kennedy. She likes to dry seed pods and herbs for later use in making herbal tea, salts, bath tea, potpourri, hand scrubs, and other blends, as well as harvest the everlasting flowers of strawflower, globe amaranth, and lavender for dried floral arrangements. “Stripping the leaves of dried lemon verbena from the stems is a wonderfully fragrant experience.” Then crush the leaves and use them to make tea. Herb salt made by layering coarse salt with dried or fresh herbs like rosemary can be used to flavor soft pretzels or French fries. Hold a “spa day” for clients to pamper themselves with handmade bath tea and hand scrubs.
2.) Garden Planning: Work with clients to plan next season’s garden. Ask questions like “What should we plant?” or “What plants do you want to harvest and use later in the year?” Introduce the newly released All America Selections award winners for the upcoming year. Have clients make collages using pictures of favorite plants and new introductions from seed catalogs. Or, research and plan a themed garden, such as a teapot garden or spicy garden. Order seeds, read their package labels, and determine when and how the seeds should be started indoors.
3.) Engaging with Living Plants through Tropicals: Tropical plants enable clients to have direct access to plants that are green and living during winter. Use these plants to create dish gardens, topiary, and terrariums. Kennedy uses plant propagation activities with tropicals as opportunities for self reflection and goal setting. “Plant propagation can be used to talk about initiating new roots. Roots grow all winter long. So ask questions like ‘What is your basis for support?’ or ‘What would help you grow new roots?'” The humid environment of a zippered bag or propagation chamber simulates the supportive environment of the facility, group or care setting. Propagate Peperomia obtusifolia, spider plants, Christmas cactus, or succulents, among others.
4.) Fresh Flower Arranging: Take apart grocery store bouquets and use the flowers to make bud vases, boutonnieres, corsages, or small arrangements in mini containers. “I buy the small tin buckets from the wedding section of the craft store – the ones typically used for mints – and insert a piece of wet floral foam,” says Kennedy. She explains that they’re just the right size for saving on costs yet enable clients to have success with independently creating arrangements. Tailor arrangements with special embellishments to suit specific holidays. For instance, for Valentine’s Day, she worked with pediatric clients to make boutonnieres with carnations and leatherleaf fern, attach a heart shape fashioned from a chenille stem, and secure on each client’s shoulder with a safety pin. Add sprigs of herbs for fragrance or other cuttings from the garden to save on costs.
“I like using leaves and spent flowers that need to be cut back to make paper,” says Ashley Bowden, a student at the Horticultural Therapy Institute and Foothill College in California. “[It] keeps you inside if the weather is too cold but still working with nature and your hands.” Other options include forcing amaryllis or paperwhite bulbs indoors, painting birdhouse or egg gourds as ornaments, assembling kissing balls or swags out of fresh cut greens, or making scented pine cones, sweet gum balls, and burr oak acorns with essential oil.