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Spring 2012 Newsletter

Linking People and Plants

Director’s Note:

This spring, as the HT Institute begins a second decade of providing education in horticultural therapy, we want to find out how past students use their training. If you have completed one or more courses with us in the past ten years, you will soon receive an electronic survey. Whether you are practicing HT or not, we truly want to hear from you. Please take a few minutes to complete the short survey! We appreciate it.

Here is a spring gardening idea for many types of HT programs. Try using a misting nozzle on the end of your hose for watering those delicate seedlings or lettuce beds outside. You can buy very durable brass nozzles for misting as commonly used for greenhouse propagation, or you may try the mist setting on an adjustable trigger nozzle. Either way, there will be much less chance of applying water too quickly and washing out the seeds or seedlings. Try a trigger nozzle that shuts off automatically as you release it. Of course, you may still get a little wet yourself! Enjoy the wonders of spring.

Rebecca Haller, HTM
Director, Horticultural Therapy Institute

New HT Workshop

Horticultural Therapy and Elders: Planting Seeds for Culture Change

Deadline extended for the new workshop focusing on the use of horticultural therapy (HT) with elder populations from the “Culture Change” perspective. Students have until April 23 to enroll in the Grand Rapids, MI workshop.

Horticultural therapy provides cutting edge opportunities to health care communities who wish to support the strengths and interests of the individuals they serve. Workshop participants will gain skills to incorporate HT into care plans and will learn strategies to enable full participation and gardening success.

Participants will be able to:

  • Define “culture change” in health care for elders
  • Identify the role of HT in “culture change”
  • Demonstrate an understanding of setting goals/objectives for older adults in person centered/directed HT programs
  • Identify successful HT techniques for serving the older adult population
  • Identify and address horticulture issues encountered in HT programs in SNF’s, Day Centers and other residential communities—both indoors and outdoors.

Dates and Locations:

May 4-5, 2012
Deadline for enrollment: April 23, 2012
Porter Hills Retirement Community
Grand Rapids, Michigan

June 22-23, 2012
Deadline for enrollment: May 22, 2012
Margaret T. Morris Center
Prescott, Arizona

Cost: $290 (includes materials and lunches)
Optional 1.5 CEU’s available through Colorado State University for an additional fee

Instructor Pam Catlin is a registered horticultural therapist with over thirty years of experience in providing horticultural therapy to elders.  She currently serves as Director of Horticultural Therapy for Adult Care Services in Prescott, Arizona. Pam provides HT programming and accessible gardens at two Adult Day programs, a residential memory care community and a skilled nursing facility.  She is trained in Person Centered Care and is certified as a Dementia Care Mapper.  To enroll or for more information call 303-388-0500 or go to


Kudos to current and past HTI students

A number of HTI’s past students have recently received their professional registration status through AHTA. We want to congratulate them on this accomplishment:


Timothy Johnson, HTR from Grand Junction, CO
Nancy Snyder, HTR from Prescott, AZ
Annie West, HTR from Charlotte, NC


Past HTI graduate Jacqueline Mehring, recently had her 2011 class project funded for a therapeutic landscape in the courtyard of the behavioral medicine unit at Alamance Regional Medical Center, Burlington, NC. The garden was awarded $12,000 in three stages and this March the 3rd stage was completed. A garden party is scheduled for June. Jacqui said, “Thanks to the HT Institute for all the support and encouragement, without which none of this would have gone forward.”

In addition recent HTI graduate, Natalie Shrewsbury was hired to complete an HT internship at Cooperriis in western North Carolina. The facility is a healing community in where individuals with mental illness and emotional distress learn new ways to improve functioning, gain independence and attain fulfillment in life through a comprehensive program that addresses mind, body, spirit and heart.

Emilee Vanderneut, a current HTI student recently accepted a position at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Arboretum as the Lead Horticulturalist. Among other duties, she will support and assist in building the Horticultural Therapy program at Chatfield as an extension of the DBG main campus HT program. Eight HT sessions are already scheduled at Chatfield for 2012. Emilee will be working closely with past HTI student Angie Andrade Foster, HTR who manages the HT program at the main DBG campus.

HTI Program Profile: Planting a Seed for HT in The Grand Valley

By Timothy Johnson, HTR

Successful Horticultural Therapy is about making connections and the use of plants is a universal language which can often reach even the most reluctant to participate person.  Consider the following scenario.(Knock, knock!) “Hello, Alfred.  May I come in?” (Silence… Since the door is open and we are looking at each other, I enter his room.)  “Do you know what kind of plant this is?” “No!”   “Some people call it a Burrow’s Tail.  Do you know another name for a burrow?”   “No!”   “It’s also called a Donkey”.  (Alfred chortles) “Do you know what else a donkey can be called?”      “No!”   I whisper in his ear the other name for a donkey and he laughs out loud. After four months working with this group of extraordinary people, I had finally managed to get Alfred involved in our program. Using his love of cowboys and horses this plant provided the motivation needed for Alfred’s participation in the HT program, an amazing occurrence.  As a novice therapist I have questioned my procedures many times. Moments such as this reaffirm both my commitment and my connection to the horticultural therapy program. I started working with developmentally disabled adults at Mesa Developmental Services in Grand Junction, CO almost two years ago in order to complete my internship hours and finish requirements for professional registration.  After completing my intern hours I continued to volunteer doing HT activities with some of the individuals who receive support through this organization.  I have also submitted a full program proposal for a vocational and day HT program with this organization and am encouraged that it will come to fruition in the future.

Horticultural Therapy Program Tip
This is the debut of a new column in the HTI Connections penned by past HTI students working in a variety of settings with varied populations. This quarter features Libba Shortridge, HTR. She is a full time HT at Skyland Trail in Atlanta, GA. Look for a new program tip each quarter.

Horticultural Therapy Program Tip: Serving Up Terrariums in Trifle Bowls

By Libba Shortridge, HTR

Terrariums offer a window to the world of plants and a cross section of geology within a given habitat.  For horticultural therapy, the terrarium simultaneously contains and celebrates the coming together of the natural world as expressed by the participant and for others to marvel. Terrarium gardening within glass trifle bowls offers up magic, both for the creator and the observer.

Recently, our horticultural therapy program at Skyland Trail in Atlanta, Georgia was given a charge to create terrariums for 40 tables seating 400 guests at the Georgia Aquarium.  Each table measured 66” in diameter which meant the terrariums had to be larger than a mason jar (our standard low budget terrarium) while providing interest at eye level.  The 8”X8” large trifle bowl worked beautifully.  I was able to order these from Walmart, costing $6.99 each.

The undertaking of this project provided an opportunity to explore the possibilities of creating a terrarium in a stemmed glass bowl and to improve upon the methods.  Like a batch of pancakes as the skillet warms, our terrarium outcomes increasingly improved with practice.  Adult clients in our non-profit recovery program for serious mental illness embraced the opportunity to explore and invent through the process of terrarium building, a project that lasted the month of March.  At first, entire horticulture groups created one terrarium all together, clients then worked in pairs and finally created their own terrarium, giving it a name that matched the environment such as “Sea Side,” or “Lush Life.” The clients were not alone as they grew in confidence.  Parallel to the clients’ confidence was my own as I learned how to better guide the process, to improve on the method and to provide choices that would inspire creativity without overwhelming the clients.

Where glass containers are restrictive, I suggest plastic containers (such as the clear teddy bear tub that small pretzels come in) and smaller containers such as small coffee-maker pots and glass salt and pepper shakers.

The Habitats:

The terrariums were grouped by habitat, succulent and shade-loving, using plants we had propagated in the greenhouse and materials that suited the two habitats.  This allowed for greater diversity in groups as well as materials used.  In addition, the sense of empowerment naturally occurred through purposefulness of the winter activity of propagating plants.

A more comprehensive list of plants and materials we used is included at the end of this article.

The Method:

With each terrarium we used a cylinder tube in the center where the dirt would be funneled in order to separate the cylinder of soil from the decorative layers of materials along the edge of the terrarium. A cardboard coffee can with the bottom removed worked well as a cylinder for the 8” diameter of the trifle terrariums.  In the succulent terrarium, the coffee can was placed above a bed of fine aquarium stones at ½” deep.  In the shade-loving terrarium, the can was placed above ½” depth of fine stones followed by a thin layer of sphagnum moss to filter the water before entering the gravel bed.  Because the terrariums are open, there was no need for charcoal which is typically used in closed terrariums to filter the water.

Clients were encouraged to build the terrariums 1/2 to 2/3 full in order to allow an opportunity for the observer to look over the rim and into the terrarium, hence the sense of magic.  A photograph of a layered dessert (bread pudding with vanilla wafers) was offered for inspiration and tape was place on the glass for a marker.  In the process of filling the sides with objects of interest, the empty coffee can is held in place.  (This works well when working in pairs but can be difficult for some individuals working alone.)  Once the layering is completed, the center tube/coffee can is then filled firmly with soil to the level of the layered objects and materials.  Marking the coffee can in advance is also helpful.  Lastly, the coffee can is removed while pushing down on the soil to fill the center of the terrarium.  Now, one is ready to plant and to put the “icing” or top dressing on their creation.

Layering Techniques:

The succulent terrariums were layered (outside the cylinder coffee can) with fine aquarium stones, sea shells, natural sponges and a variety of sand.  This can be achieved through horizontal layering or in waves. One client revealed a band of seashells (that looked curiously like the vanilla wafers of the bread pudding photo) framed by layers of fine gravel.  The photo offers an idea for horizontal layering where a short wooden skewer was used in the final stage to drive the top layer of colored sand down to the bottom layers creating a zigzag (EKG) pattern. The alternative wave pattern alludes to images of the ocean, complimenting the succulent plants used.  Planting a succulent terrarium involves less disruption of the layered side as the planting is shallow.  The same steps are used for the removal of the coffee can before planting.  Following the planting, clients were eager to dress up the surface with sand, shells and stone.


The shade-loving terrariums embraces nature as we find it, incorporating golden pinecones (that had been run over by cars), feathers, snake skins, exfoliating bark and acorns.  Shelf lichen replaced the sea shells of the succulent terrariums, and moss was used as highlights.  Earth-toned lava rocks were used to keep the terrarium from being too weighty which can easily happen when incorporating sand and gravel. The technique with the shade-loving terrarium was to choose the objects to be displayed against the glass, place the objects, and anchor them with smaller material such as fine aquarium stones or soil between the glass sides and the central cylinder can.  Finally, the soil can be added firmly in the can as with the succulent terrarium, and pushed down as the can is removed.  Planting can begin now followed by top dressing, using stones, gravel, moss, and lichen.  For some clients at Skyland Trail, the surface of the terrarium provided a place to nestle their miniature fairy homes.

Below are a list of the plants and materials we used that may inspire you and you journey into the magic world of terrarium gardening.

Plant Materials:

In both the succulent and shade-loving terrariums we used the design guideline of choosing 3 plants:a “thriller”(Tr) with height, a “filler”(Fl) with breadth, and a “spiller”(Sp) that flowed over the edge of the container. Below is a list of plants we used that were readily available in our greenhouse:


Vicks plant (Tr)
Mother of Millions (Tr)
Donkey Ears (Fl)
Sedum sp (Sp)
Pregnant Onion (Tr)
Kalanchoe sp (Fl)
Dwarf Peperomia (Fl)
Rat tail Cactus (Fl)
Thimble Cactus (Fl)
Lifesaver Plant (Fl)


Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) (Tr)
Dwarf Eyelash Begonia (Fl)
Stem Begonia sp (Tr)
Rhizome Begonia sp (Fl)
Dwarf Eyelash Begonia (Fl)
Sedum ternatum (Sp)
Creeping Jenny (Sp)
Button Fern (Tr)
Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Fl/Sp)
Spikemoss sp (Fl)
Peperomia (Fl/Sp)
Jewel Orchid (Sp)
Spider Plant (Fl/Sp)


Construction and play sand (hardware store)
Aquarium colored sand (pet store)
Aquarium stones (pet store)
Gecko earth-toned sand (pet store)
Sea Shells (wholesale florist)
Natural sponges (craft store)
Turquoise and white stones (stone yard)


Aquarium stone-neutral tones (pet store)
Decorative stones-pink tones (Lowes)
Volcanic rock-red (Lowes)
Decorative moss (wholesale florist)
Sphagnum moss (garden center)
Collected materials:  Snail shells, acorns
mica, river birch bark, pine bark,
pine cones, seed pods, snake skins,
feathers, moss, shelf lichen, etc.

~ Libba Shortridge, HTR, is a graduate of HTI and a full time horticultural therapist at Skyland Trail in Atlanta, GA.  Skyland Trail is a non-profit, community-based residential and day mental health treatment facility for adults with serious mental illness. For more information, contact Libba at [email protected].



View the recording of a recent live webinar:

Topic: Entering the Profession of Horticultural Therapy

You will learn:

  • What is horticultural therapy?
  • Where is it practiced?
  • Who does it serve?
  • How can you receive training?

View the webinar here


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