HTI Newsletter Header

Spring 2010 Newsletter

Linking People and Plants

Introduction to Horticultural Therapy offered in Three Locations

Learn how to combine a passion for gardening and helping people through the innovative field of horticultural therapy. Join students from across the country to learn more by enrolling in Introduction to Horticultural Therapy this fall. The class will be offered in three separate locations this fall, beginning with September 23-26, 2010 in beautiful Half Moon Bay, CA at the Elkus Ranch. Again, November 4-7, 2010 in Denver at the Anchor Center for Blind Children and lastly, November 11-14, 2010 at the Matthaei Botanical Garden in Ann Arbor, MI

What’s New with HTI Students?

We, at HTI, want to recognize the exciting work many of our students are pursing in the field of horticultural therapy. If you have news to share or have recently received professional registration from AHTA please let us know so we can spread the word.

Recent HTI graduate, Deb Hegemann, currently a full-time student at the University of Nebraska was awarded $100 and placed 3rd place overall for a business plan she wrote for HT contract service. Over a two-day span Deb presented her business plan before six judges, all of who are local small business owners, bankers and community leaders.

Also a recent HTI graduate, Angela Girdham’s internship program was awarded a $500 grant from the National Gardening Association’s Youth Gardening Grant. Her program was selected from over 1,000 kids’ gardening programs from across the country. “The knowledge that you have given me is what made this opportunity possible,” Angela said. “Because of your curriculum, I could clearly communicate the goals I am striving for and how I planned on achieving them. Your assignments prepared me for many aspects of the grant application. I’m so thankful!”

Several HTI students have begun internships. They include Linda Bilsing, CO working with Susie Hall, HTR at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver. Heather Hammack and Ali Miller, both CSU students will be working with Carol LaRocque, HTR with the Dandelion Project in Denver. JoAnn Yates, NC has 100 hours left of her internship at the Children’s Center in Winston-Salem, a school that serves about 100 children with special needs. Her supervisor is Sally Cobb, HTR. If you have started an internship let us know about it at Conatact Us.

From HTI’s Director, Rebecca Haller, HTM

Rebecca Haller, HTM is proud to announce the seventh graduation class from the HT Institute this past February. Fifteen students completed the capstone class and after completing homework will receive their certificate from the HT Institute.

Rebecca also wanted to pass on that CM&F Group now provides professional liability insurance for horticultural therapists. They are at Look under allied professions and then go to HT.

Fairy Gardening as Therapy

By Libba Shortridge

At Skyland Trail, you don’t have to “believe”- you just have to trust. You don’t have to worry about the future or think about the past. You are caught up in the moment of “Fairy Gardening.”

For four years, fairy home building and fairy gardening as therapy has been an integral part of recovery for adults with mental illness at Skyland Trial’s non-profit, recovery-based facility in Atlanta, Georgia. During those four years, a new trend in demographics points to a population that you would not associate with fairy gardening: young adult males. In 2009, 58 percent of the clients at Skyland Trail were between the ages of 18 and 30, and 42 percent between the ages of 18 and 25. 54 percent of the total client population was male. The phenomenon of young male adults finding solace in fairy gardening has little to do with fairies and a lot to do with process.

Susie Sherrill, the art therapist at Skyland Trail who initiated the activity of fairy home building, explains the creative process as one where “amorphous shapes gathered from nature come together in surprising ways.” “Most of our clients as children,” she describes Skyland Trail’s predominant population, “constructed with Lego blocks which are linear and limiting. The fairy gardening activity allows each client to let go of linear thinking and to trust that nature’s shapes will come together.” Kate Hauk, the pastoral counselor at Skyland Trail, equally embracing fairy gardening as therapy, describes the activity as “process oriented.” It is “about being in that state of openness and willingness to respond to impetus in the midst of whatever issues [the clients] are dealing with. It is about being present,” Kate simply said.

n addition to the imaginative assemblage of organic shapes, fairy gardening is also about exploring and gathering amidst nature’s generous palette. It challenges clients to observe more closely as they build on a miniature scale. This miniature scale gives clients an opportunity to see the downy seeds of the butterfly weed become a fairy pillow or an ordinary acorn cap as it becomes a mailbox for fairies. There is no right or wrong in fairy gardening. It is as if each client is a host to the imaginative fairies, creating spaces where fairies are welcomed to use as they please. “Let the fairies guide you,” Susie says in her directive to clients in fairy home building. “[The fairies] will inspire you to put it together the way they want it. Trust that they will know how to use it.”

Building trust is an important step in the recovery process at Skyland Trail. It is easier with an imaginary fairy-friend, and on a smaller scale. On the benefits of miniature building and gardening, Kate reflects: “There is so much bigness that [the clients] cannot control. It is nice to have something that is not overwhelming.” Miniature gardening is a good fit with recovery at Skyland Trail where emphasis is on clients choosing their own recovery goals. They are encouraged to choose small goals and to take small steps in their recovery journey.

Fairy Gardening and the Goals of Horticultural Therapy at Skyland Trail

In the three years that I have been at Skyland Trail, I have grown personally and professionally in my work with adults recovering from mental illness. The clients have taught me a lot. I now have a renewed awe of nature because of their keen observations. The joy and budding self-confidence that I witness among clients following our group activities gives me impetus to create a therapeutic program that fosters such positive feedback. I am constantly re-writing the goals of the program to compliment the mission of Skyland Trail, the behavior therapies in place (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and to fit both the needs of the clients and their potential. The current three-fold goals of horticultural therapy at Skyland Trail include:

    1. 1.Reaffirm self-esteem through activities that engage exploration of nature, creative expression and mindfulness.
    1. 2.Instill positive metaphors for recovery and relapse in mental illness by witnessing the plant cycle in hands-on, nature-related activities.
    1. 3.Foster socialization, social re-integration and nurturing through purposeful, community-based group activities.

An example of how these goals are met in a fairy gardening activity are summarized below in the Pumpkin Fairy Home Activity which took place in October, 2009, and occurred both in the greenhouse and outside in the gardens (see photo).

  • Books on fairy home building, flower fairies photographs and poetry (see references) were made available. Clients were given an opportunity to look at books for inspiration. Cooking sized pumpkins (@ 8” diameter) were made available in which to design and build a “fairy home.” [Goals: reaffirm self esteem through activities that engage creative expression; instill positive metaphors for recovery through hands-on, nature-related activities.]
  • Clients were encouraged to work in pairs or threesomes. [Goal: foster socialization.]
  • The first step was to design an opening (which the staff cut out). [Goal: creative expression.]
  • The next step was to clean out the pumpkin and harvest the seed for roasting and to share with peers at lunchtime. Non-latex gloves were worn for this activity. [Goal: foster nurturing through purposeful activities.]
  • With large paper lunch bags and clippers, clients were encouraged to search for “furniture” and accessories for their pumpkin fairy home. Guidance was given as needed to find treasures in the landscape. [Goal: reaffirm self-esteem through activities that engage exploration of nature.]
  • Clients returned to the greenhouse and began designing and building their fairy homes together. Materials were provided (such as toothpicks and floral twine) as needed to secure objects from nature to the pumpkin. [Goals: foster socialization; reaffirm self-esteem through activities that engage creative expression and mindfulness.]
  • Clients were encouraged to seek a place outside for their fairy home once completed. Clients chose a place where the community would be able to view their homes. [Goals: foster nurturing through purposeful, community-based activities.]

The pumpkin fairy garden project described above is an example of how the process was as important, if not more so, than the product. What is not included in the description was the joy in finding the Ampelopsis brevipedununculata (Porcelain Vine) that was then incorporated as a “chandelier” and the pride in creating a “sofa” out of the seedpod of an Asian Lily. The process of exploring, being inventive and the genuine delight in the outcome goes beyond the rewards of floral arranging and other activities, which are the bread and butter of our repertoire. For this reason, at Skyland Trail, we have intentionally expanded our fairy gardening projects to include two garden areas on our campus.

One fairy garden is an island where clients can access the garden from all sides. It is situated deep in the shade garden with nearby benches. Two years ago, this garden was built and designed by the clients, hauling dirt with wheelbarrows and later grading with miniature tools. In this garden, on clients’ request, there is a small “lake” made from a large pottery seashell. Over time the garden has evolved, depending on the collaborative interests of the clients. There is a labyrinth made of stone and moss the scale of a desktop labyrinth. A sandy beach adjacent to the lake was once a baseball diamond made of moss and rose petals (for the bases). mazus reptans, sedum ternatum and ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’ are the predominant groundcovers. Crocuses and leucojum come and go. podophyllum peltatum (mayapple) pops up as “umbrellas” in the spring. Magnolia cones make temporary formal hedges and native flowers such as convallaria Montana (lily of the valley) add bells to the garden. There are miniature prayer flags with single words on each flag in this garden, strung between forked branches of spirea. A woven fence was made from the limber whips of elaeagnus, weaving through thicker “posts” of the same plant. (The elaeagnus posts later took root in the soil!) The clients get down on their hands and knees and, without complaining, tend to their miniature “fairy island” they call it.

Because of the success of Fairy Gardening and the collaboration with art therapy, we were able to receive a grant to build a Fairy Railroad Garden in a more visible and accessible part of the campus. This time the clients designed the garden as before, adding a seat wall adjacent to the garden for viewing and ease of maintenance. The “lake” was complimented by a streambed, which in turn required a “mountain.” Railroad tracks circle gracefully around the mountain and lake in this larger fairy community. Here we have both sun and shade, which allows for more diversity for planting. Plants such as serissa foetida, selaginella kraussiana ‘brownii’ (pin-cushion spikemoss) and sedum acre ‘minor’ are propagated in the greenhouse then transported to the fairy garden, giving greater purposefulness to our efforts in the greenhouse.

The railroad fairy garden is now a focal point of the gardens, for clients, staff and visitors alike. Groups happen there in horticulture and in art. Each client who comes to Skyland is invited to participate in this process. The pastoral counselor cannot resist the beautiful “presence” that is happening. Onlookers watch, gaining “therapy” by watching. There are great rewards in this miniature, ephemeral art of gardening and home building. Pride and trust come naturally. Goals are met and surpassed by a kind of “magic” that only fairies could explain.

Libba Shortridge is a recent graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Institute, after practicing as a landscape designer for 21 years with a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture. Libba has combined her awe for nature and human nature at Skyland Trail where she has worked for three years and is now the full time horticultural therapist. She is working on her internship at Skyland Tail. Debi Cziok HTR, Horticulture Specialist at Shepherd Spinal Center, is her supervisor.

Sources for Fairy Gardening (apart from nature, itself):

      1. 1. Fairy Island: An Enchanting Tour of the Homes of the Little Folk, Laura C. Martin and Cameron Martin, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2005
      1. 2. Fairy Houses…Everywhere, Barry and Tracy Kane, Light-Beams Publishing, 2006.
      1. 3. Fairy Houses…and Beyond, Light- Beams Publishing, 2008.
      1. 4. Flower Fairies of the Winter; Flower Fairies of the Spring; Flower Fairies of the Summer; Flower Fairies of the Autumn, Cicely Mary Baker, Frederick Warne, 1990. (First published in 1923.)