“Plant and Thrive”

HTI Student Profile Carole Usaj

Since completing the HTI certificate course in the spring of 2004 I’ve been busy cultivating my “Plant and Thrive” horticultural therapy consulting business. The services I provide with my business are long-term contracts with facilities to develop new HT programs, staff training, conducting ongoing HT sessions and evaluation of programs. I also provide short term consulting, meeting with staff to give general consulting regarding horticulture programs existing on site or to be developed. Another facet of my business is to assist with healing and therapeutic garden designs. I try to promote HT within my community and surrounding areas with in-services and networking with interested facilities and garden groups.

For the past 3 ½ years I’ve consulted as an HT in the prominent McGregor Home, with a 100-year-old history of providing assistive living and nursing care of seniors. Gardening has always been a focus in this facility. Here I provide weekly HT sessions in the dementia units and general nursing floors. Some of my best plant propagators are 99 and 93 years old! This 99-year-old resident still gives horticulture tips in our newsletter! I also manage their greenhouse and supervise HT volunteers. I assist with the garden design, especially of perennials and annuals that are planted at the facility seasonally. Horticulture activities can give so much “purpose” to an older adult living in a nursing home. I supervise an HT program called “Planting Partners” where residents partner with a family member, volunteer or staff to create a large 20″ container garden. It gives residents a chance to make their own decisions of which flowers to plant in their pot. Living in a nursing home does not provide for a lot of decision making. The pots then surround the courtyards adding beauty and sensory experiences. Residents help decide themes for raised beds that are planted yearly such as an herb garden, a fairy garden, a tea garden, and a culinary garden. Residents’ assist in seeding, transplanting and planting some of the herbs and plants in these raised beds.

Student Profile Carole Usaj

The nursing home also hosts its own garden club as an HT program. This encourages socialization and sharing of horticulture knowledge among residents of many abilities along with giving opportunities for creativity and purpose. This club plans and staffs an annual plant sale with many of the plants propagated by residents and plant related products made or created by the residents.

Many local garden clubs and master gardener groups have visited this nursing home and assisted with HT programs with the residents. I have given talks, not just explaining horticultural therapy, but also sharing how to use nature and plant activities with client groups and use of ergonomic tools to keep one gardening longer.

Another facility that I consult with is the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital- Shaker campus. The campus consists of a children’s rehabilitation hospital, pediatric dialysis center, outpatient therapy center, and autism school. I have been consulting with them for 3 years as an HT. I provide bimonthly HT sessions conducted on the rehab and dialysis units in winter months and outside in the redesigned therapeutic courtyard garden. Presently I am redesigning the front entrance garden at this hospital to encourage habitats and sensory experiences with a local master gardener.

I am so lucky and blessed to be able to see the benefits of horticulture in so many lives. I have found it is the clients, residents, or patients that benefit from HT, but also the staff and families. And this is what keeps me “growing”.