Making Connections Editor: Christine Kramer,
Rebecca Haller, HTI Director
At the Horticultural Therapy Institute, we are often asked about our relationship to Colorado State University. So here are some facts.
As always, we are here to answer any questions you may have about these relationships and/or processes.
Rebecca is the director and lead instructor of the HT Institute
On the corner of Rokeby Road at the edge of town there sits a greenhouse that nearly overflows with plants. Most people might not think much of that, but to Developmental Services of Nebraska, it is a very big deal. For the past ten years or so this greenhouse sat empty and abandoned. It was built about 15 years ago as the result of a bar-room plan to get rich quick by selling tomatoes to a garden center. Within two years the greenhouse was defunct and has been sitting on the corner, abandoned for all these years.
Roger Stortenbecker has been driving past the greenhouse for years on his way to and from work, where he serves as Chief Development Officer for Developmental Services of Nebraska (DSN), a not-for-profit organization that provides residential and vocational services for adults with developmental disabilities. Last summer at a meeting with Tiffany Schnittker, Area Director, and Laurie Chisholm-Lock, Director of Vocational Services, they were searching for new job opportunities. One of the ideas that came out of the meeting was to have a greenhouse where individuals could learn to care for plants and work in the horticulture industry.
The greenhouse sits on private property and fortunately Roger knew who the owner was. He approached Dave Rabe about the possibility of renting the greenhouse for a vocational horticultural therapy program, but Dave took it one step further and proposed a deal that could not be passed up. If DSN would fund the repairs of the greenhouse and bring it back to life and all the glory it never really had, then Dave would pay the utility bills for one year. With that deal made, Project Greenhouse was born. Just recently DSN leadership chose to incorporate under the name of Rokeby Gardens. They felt this would direct attention where it should be – on the products and services being offered rather than on those working in the greenhouse.
During last year’s hot summer months staff and individuals worked together to clear the greenhouse of vegetation. It was nothing but a shell filled with weeds, volunteer mulberry trees and rusty junk. While different crews worked to clean up what had been an eyesore for many years, several fundraisers were held. With the assistance of numerous generous donors the dream of a greenhouse soon became a reality. On a warm day in November a crew gathered at the greenhouse to bring it to life by covering it with two layers of 6-mil poly. Professional guidance and assistance was provided by Stacy Adams, an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Lincoln, whose area of expertise is greenhouse management.
In February 2010 I graduated from the Horticultural Therapy Institute. At the same time I was also a full-time horticulture student at the University of Nebraska. As a horticultural therapist new to the field, I struggled to find full-time employment. Nebraska is a conservative agriculture state, and one would think everybody would be interested in horticultural therapy. After all, growing corn is what much of the state does for a living. It is just the opposite, for few people have even heard of using plants and gardening as therapy. For a short time I did some contract work with a nursing home, but when the opportunity arose to work with DSN on this new venture I could not pass it up. Managing a full-size commercial greenhouse was never in The Plan though, so it has been quite an experience for me. The Plan was always to be an independent contractor and work with different populations, but it is very hard to say no to a full-time job with benefits that include both health and life insurance, so The Plan was changed.
In January I was hired as a full-time Horticultural Therapist and Greenhouse Manager. When I came on board there was no heat in the greenhouse, nor was there any floor covering. The tables were in place, made of donated cinder blocks and pallets. That was the extent of it. No flats, pots, or seeds had been purchased; there was no growing plan, no marketing plan, nothing else. The first day I walked into that greenhouse I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into. There I was, standing in an empty greenhouse that looked never-ending. Fortunately for me, I have several good friends who either work or teach in the horticulture industry. Rest assured those were the first people I called. Through the patient guidance of my friends the greenhouse became a reality and in the first week of March we planted our first tomato seeds. What a thrilling day that was for all involved.
We are currently growing heirloom tomatoes, vegetables and annual flowers in an organic environment. Our greenhouse is 100 ft long by 40 feet wide and filling it seemed impossible. Now I look back and wonder why on earth I stressed over it, for we are nearly running out of space. In addition to selling our plants at a local farmer’s market, we will be growing our own organic produce and selling that later in the season. Our specialty is unusual heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. We have also been asked to participate in a junk jaunt of sorts, providing 200 planters filled with flowers. The planters are galvanized buckets, tubs, lunch boxes, tool boxes, and watering cans. Not only does my work crew learn about horticulture and the fascinating world of plants, they are learning about the lesson that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
As we were taught in our HT classes, I wear many hats at this job. First and foremost I am a horticultural therapist, with greenhouse manager coming in a very close second. I also market the program, provide advertising through articles and presentations, and I am a sales person. It is a juggling act at best, and sometimes it feels more like a three-ring circus. The biggest challenge has been finding the right mix of individuals to make- up each day’s crew, which consists of three or four individuals and their support staff.
Each day is a new experience, and the first thing my crew does is scatter throughout the greenhouse, looking for the flat of plants that bears their name as the person who planted the seeds. My crew takes a great deal of pride in their work, as well they should. They have a sense of ownership in the greenhouse and I no longer have to ask them to clean up the potting table before they leave. They know it is expected of them. They know the potting table is where all the magic happens, for we use it to plant seeds, take cuttings and transplant seedlings. It Is my job to not only teach them about the horticulture world and all it entails, but also to utilize horticultural therapy in enriching their lives.
The greenhouse sits on a quiet acreage surrounded by trees filled with cardinals, robins, bluebirds, finches and meadowlarks. We have a pair of geese that visit on a regular basis too. Not only are the individuals learning horticulture, they are learning what it means to be in a natural environment where there is no drama and noise. The only noise they hear is the drone of the fans in the greenhouse, along with the barely audible hum of the plants growing.
As we continue to make our way on this journey to becoming a self-funded vocational horticultural therapy program, we know one thing for sure. The plants will always be there for us and will continue in their role as educators, comforters and friends. One of my crew members has a motto, “You have to love your plants to get them to grow.” And so we do.
Deb completed the HTI program in 2010 and is a full-time horticultural therapist and greenhouse manager at Developmental Services of Nebraska.
Ruthie Ross, OTR/L
My friend Troy loves gardening. He has a keen interest in planting, nurturing and harvesting anything he can put in the dirt. But Troy cannot grasp a trowel, or squeeze the handle of a water nozzle or kneel to dig in the dirt. Troy has arthrogryposis, a condition that caused his upper and lower extremity joints to fuse prior to birth. Muscles of his upper and lower extremities are atrophied. He has no functional use of his fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles or knees. He has excellent trunk strength and balance and can stand with support of a walker or another person. Troy is exceptionally bright and funny, loves swimming, playing his best friend on X-Box and working with his grandfather in his hardware store and woodshop.
When I offered gardening activities to Troy during his weekly occupational therapy sessions, he couldn’t wait to get started. But we had to problem-solve access to phases of the activity from his power wheelchair. We came up with the idea of using a chopstick as a dibble held in his teeth to make holes for seeds that I dropped into the soil. He used the chopstick again to cover the seeds. In this instance hygiene is essential so assignment of this “tool” was to Troy only.
To moisten the soil, we used a capillary mat in the tray and Troy used a lightweight, plastic watering can with a long spout that he could easily tip forward with his wrists to fill the capillary mat tray. When it came time to transplant seedlings, Troy used a cuff attached to his wrist to hold a plastic spoon to scoop soil into containers and to tamp down the soil around the transplants.
Our cuff was purchased from a therapy supply catalogue but there are many patterns available on the internet, Pinterest and from rehab facilities such as Craig Hospital.
Moving the transplants into the rail planters in our Therapy Garden proved to be more of a challenge. Troy’s power wheelchair has a height control so we were able to bring him to the height of the railing for access to planters. However in most cases, this is not typical and access to a compatible height planting/work surface is needed from the seated position if using a standard wheelchair.
We soon turned our attention to other gardening projects.
A terrarium was planned and small plants selected. Some of them needed trimming prior to planting. This process could not involve standard scissors or clippers since Troy does not have a functional hand grasp. Instead we used platform scissors that Troy could operate with the side of his wrist or a forearm.
A variety of adaptive scissors are available through therapy catalogues or online.
Placement of aquarium gravel, charcoal and planting mix into the container was accomplished using the universal cuff with spoon to place ingredients into a funnel that directed them to the bottom of the container. Similarly, cylinders such as PVC pipe or paper towel tubing can be used to direct small decorative elements into place.
Although many adaptive tools/products are available on line, most are designed to fit adult size hands. Some inexpensive adaptations for small hands and lightweight child size tools include dorsal straps.
More expensive and elaborate aids, such as forearm cuffs, can be fabricated by an occupational therapist or orthotist using low temperature plastics.
Positioning of the project, patient and devices to enable successful participation is key. Analyzing the activity based on the ability of the participant and available tools and providing adaptations will enable all clients to a successful conclusion. My friend Troy continues to be an active young boy with a soft spot for playing in the dirt. His continued success with gardening activities will be limited only by his imagination.
Wrist Cuff and the Adaptive Scissors photos are from an online catalogue:
Tel: (508) 872-9494 • (800) 257-5376 | Fax: (508) 875-2062 • (800) 268-6624
Other suggested sources:
Ruthie, is an occupational therapist at Huntsville Hospital Pediatric Therapy and Audiology in Huntsville, AL. She has practiced OT for 22 years.
This past summer, as I contemplated my final HT assignment, I found myself at the front door of Life Enrichment Center, an Adult Day Services provider. I knew very little about their program, other than they had an award winning designer create a garden for them, but no HT program. I was given a tour of the facility, took some photos and left with the task of creating an HT program for them. I was trying to work out an internship with another facility that had an HT program, but the door seemed stuck shut on that opportunity. On a whim, I decided to pitch the idea of doing my internship at Life Enrichment, in addition to using their facility for my final project. The director was happy to let me come and do HT with the participants there. It was such an advantage as I developed my program proposal to be a part of Life Enrichment week after week, developing relationships with the staff and participants. The participants were responding so positively to what we were doing and the staff was totally on board. I even designed and supervised the construction of a raised bed for wheelchair access.
When my proposal was complete and sent off to Rebecca Haller (HTI lead instructor) for grading, I began to realize just how very much I wanted to be a permanent part of Life Enrichment Center. However, after a conversation with the director, I understood that there would probably be no funds for a full-time HT, as much as they wanted the program. I was nearing the completion of my horticulture degree, and I knew that in January I would have to start looking for a real job, which in my mind meant contracting my HT services to several facilities. When Rebecca mailed my proposal back, I was ambivalent about submitting it to the director of Life Enrichment. However, I had spent what seemed like thousands of hours on it, so it seemed foolish not to submit it. I decided that it would be valuable to get some feedback on my ideas, if nothing else. I left it on Friday afternoon for the Executive Director. To my great delight, at 9:30 Monday morning she called and said they wanted me as a full-time employee at Life Enrichment Center! I started in that position on February 5.
The training that I received from Rebecca and all the HTI instructors gave me the tools I needed to create a proposal that was professional, thorough, and convincing enough to make a non-profit dig deep to find the money to make it happen. The fact that I was able to give them a sample of what they were getting as I developed programming for the participants week after week also gave me an advantage. The comment that the director made when she made me the offer was “We knew after the second page that you understood what it is we are trying to accomplish here”. Thank you HTI for giving me the confidence to go in the direction of my dreams and the tools I needed to make them come true!
Beth completed the HTI coursework fall 2012. She lives and works in North Carolina.
Fall Fundamentals of HT classes and the 2013/2014 series dates are finalized. The Institute will offer a full series in Colorado and the SE with a beginning class in Atlanta and the remaining three classes in North Carolina. An additional Fundamentals of HT class will be offered for the first time at the Dallas Arboretum. For more information go to our website at www.htinstitute.org
The spring HTI classes were busy with classes in Denver and Fort Collins, CO as well as Walnut Creek, CA. Each class was attended by at least 25 students.
Amy Price, HTR recently received her professional registration through the American Horticultural Therapy Association. She is practicing HT at the Frazer Center in Atlanta. She works with adults with developmental disabilities and in the inclusive preschool where 30% of the kids have developmental disabilities. “I’m very excited to be able to use my skills to impact the kids and adults through gardening activities.”
In 2012 Heather Hammack was voted Outstanding Horticulture Senior at CSU and awarded the American Society for Horticultural Science Outstanding Undergraduate Student. She has worked with Loveland Youth Gardeners and will graduate in May with a Master’s in Horticulture.
Deb Hegemann, recently accepted a full-time position with Developmental Services of Nebraska. It’s an organization that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities and she will be the full-time horticultural therapist with a 100-foot greenhouse at her disposal. See her article in this newsletter.
Debra Edwards has accepted the internship position at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Cheyenne, WY and will be working from late May through August. The duties include working with volunteers from the elder, physically disabled, and youth-at-risk populations. At the Paul Smith’s Children’s Village, she will be developing and conducting science and nature-based programs for grade-school children.
View the recording of a recent live webinar:
Topic: Entering the Profession of Horticultural Therapy
You will learn:
Credits available through