Making Connections Editor: Christine Kramer,
Rebecca Haller, HTI Director
Plants are sparks and substance for all effective HT programs. Working with the horticultural therapist, they can be motivators, stress-relievers, as well as rewarding consequences. The horticultural therapist needs to have a solid understanding of plant choices, cultivation, and use. Following are three of my favorite multi-purpose plants for HT. No doubt, they will not surprise you.
Lamb’s ears – a perennial that grows successfully across the U.S. Choose it for it’s exquisite softness and silvery color that stands out in the evening, and for it’s long season of beauty, ease of care and low water use. Have you ever tried it in wreaths? It dries beautifully. Ever used it for floppy ears in children’s programs? Go for the non-flowering variety Stachys byzantine ‘Helene von Stein’ for extra large sturdy leaves, and to prevent seeding or the need to deadhead.
Tomatoes – a garden mainstay that speaks “summer” to many a gardener. Cherry or the tiny currant tomatoes give bountiful grazing opportunities throughout the summer. Varieties should be chosen that thrive in your region and growing conditions. Working with elders in Arizona, Pam Catlin reports that tomatoes are a wonderful conversation starter and memory catalyst. Be aware that while un-enticing to eat, the foliage of a tomato plant is toxic if ingested.
Roses – Yes, I know they are thorny. But, with proper siting and use they are hard to beat for stimulating the olfactory sense, and bringing up memories of people, places and even poetry! Choose shrub roses for disease resistance and landscape value. Miniatures can be a perfect choice for small garden spaces often found in HT gardens. My favorite is ‘Scentsational’ – a lavender-pink
repeat bloomer that has the most heavenly fragrance.
Note: Join me at this year’s AHTA conference in Minneapolis for an interactive session on plant choices.
Rebecca is the director and lead instructor of the HT Institute
Anchor Center for Blind Children
October 17-20, 2013 (deadline Sept. 17)
November 7-10, 2013 (deadline Oct. 7)
November 21-24, 2013 (deadline Oct. 21)
At the non-profit, Horticultural Therapy Institute (HTI), our mission is to provide education and training in HT to those new to, or experienced with, the practice of using gardening and plants to improve the lives of others. Our faculty is dedicated to teaching best practices with passion, and our past students form a community of learners that become HT practitioners in a variety of settings. Take one class, or the full certificate program, and see how our curriculum can meet your needs. With its unique format, you don’t need to live where the classes are held. Students travel from around the U.S. as well as abroad to attend the class and then return home.
Class cost is $750 ($600 for full-time college students with proof of student status). Students can earn college credit from Colorado State University in order to meet the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) professional standards.
In each unique class location students will have the opportunity to tour horticultural therapy gardens and hear from professionals practicing HT in a variety of settings. For full class descriptions, schedules and enrollment forms to go our web site at www.htinstitute.org or email program manager, Christine Kramer at [email protected]. Call 303-388-0500.
Learn how to combine a passion for gardening and helping people through the innovative field of horticultural therapy (HT). Join students from across the country to learn more by enrolling in Fundamentals of HT this fall in one of three locations.
In the spring of 2012, I was offered the Lead Horticulturist
position at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield. For those of you who have never had the privilege of visiting this public garden, let me assure you that all 750 acres of this native, natural area are a horticultural therapist’s dream location. Acres of prairies and stands of Ponderosa Pine and Oak trees insulate the noise of cars from gently used surrounding roads.
Butterflies and birds grace the sky and make homes around 10 acres of wetlands. Imagine the first time that you connected with a plant or with a garden or natural area.
Imagine the aching feeling that you hold for that location and the anticipation that you feel every time you know you’ll get to experience that place again. Now imagine getting paid to work in that location every day and having the opportunity to connect with beautiful, amazing people on a regular basis…oh the woes of being a horticultural therapist! (jump here & use photos with .emilee)
In effect, my job description entails determining the future and focus of the horticulture program, supervising horticulture employees and ensuring that the ornamental, native flower beds on site become even more educational and accessible to the general public. I was told that my 15 years of horticulture experience and my education in social work made me a desirable candidate for the position, but that my horticultural therapy training was what set me apart from other candidates. What a remarkable affirmation that the hard work, time and expense of pursuing a professional career in HT was worth it! My boss-to-be didn’t just want someone who knew plants, he wanted someone who knew people AND plants. I was two classes away from finishing my certificate through HTI and I was about to be thrust into a brand new HT program called ‘Farm Team’ that Angie Andrade-Foster (a fellow HTI grad) had designed and was about to implement at the Chatfield location of Denver Botanic Gardens. Being a resourceful and crafty HT, Angie made an offer that I couldn’t refuse. She offered to be my HT internship supervisor if I would be willing to oversee Farm Team.
Although it was quite intimidating, I agreed to assume control over the Farm Team program (while doing my HT internship hours) so that Angie could focus on the HT programs that she leads at York St. and perform supervision visits with me when appropriate. Armed with a little bit of training and a whole lot of heart, I decided that I needed to embrace the opportunity to begin my career in HT even though I feared the ‘unknowns’ of this program.
When I started working at Chatfield, one of the very first things I did was to take three unused raised beds that appeared neglected and inaccessible and renovated the area in hopes that we could use it for Farm Team. If you build it, they will come, right? The first step of the renovation was to remove all of the patchy grass from around the beds and to create an ADA accessible path around them. In order to achieve this, I used my horticulture crew to dig the paths around the beds down 6″ deep so that I could install a solid surface. I put three inches of pea gravel into the base layer of the path area and then put three inches of crushed granite onto the pea gravel and packed it down so that it was firm and level. When it rains, the water filters down into the pea gravel and sits in the large pore space while allowing the crushed granite to stay firm, walkable and wheelchair accessible. Crushed granite and pea gravel proved to be just as effective as a concrete path and cost me a sixteenth of what I would have spent on concrete.
With a VERY limited budget, I knew that I needed to be creative about finding resources and assistance with aspects of the space that required expertise that I did not possess. Colorado sunlight is brutal and we have had participants faint and have negative reactions to the sun because of medication side effects at the York St. location. It occurred to me that I could ask a local Eagle Scout to help me create an ideal space for the Farm Team participants without accruing additional costs. I contacted a local troop and found an Eagle Scout that was interested in installing tall wooden posts around the entire HT area so that shade sails could be temporarily hung while the Farm Team was in session.
Vegetables do not grow very well in shade (as we all know), so having a temporary structure that I could put up and take down on my own was extremely important. The shade sails cost me $200 (for a 30’x30’space) and the Eagle Scout secured a donation for the project that paid for the timber, concrete and hardware for the sails. After building the shade structure, we still needed to solve the issue of not having adequate seating for our participants. The Eagle Scout took large flagstone scraps that we had on site (free!) and created fixed benches for participants to sit on in an area that serves as an ‘outdoor classroom’ for the program. I was able to secure a donation of a solid, used, teak bench (with arms and a back) that would accommodate individuals who had less control over their core muscles. Moral of the story; never underestimate the power of asking for help. I spent no more than $450 for the entire area!
As it happens, I built the HT area and ‘they’ did come! Farm Team is now a two year old wellness HT program that is aimed at addressing the vocational and social needs of individuals who have special needs. We have served individuals who have genetic issues such as down syndrome and cerebral palsy (among others), cognitive delays and groups of elders. We typically have groups of 8-10 individuals from local day care programs come to our garden and help us choose vegetables, flowers and herbs to plant in the three (reclaimed) raised beds. The participants plant the vegetables, maintain them and then harvest them when the time comes and take the produce home to their families or facilities. Typical tasks for an HT session include weeding, pruning, watering, training plants and
feeding any unwanted garden items to the chickens and goats that live on our property. As you might imagine, feeding the animals is one of the highlights of the program for our participants.
I once saw a man whose face may have cracked open if he smiled any larger while one of our goats (Moe) slobbered over a handful of purslane! When our work is complete in the raised beds, we take the participants out into a one-acre field that belongs to our 5-acre Community Supporting Agriculture (CSA) farm and harvest ripe, seasonal vegetables and clean them at a washstand that is 20 steps away from the HT raised beds. The harvested produce is given to over 600 community shareholders at weekly CSA distribution events. The energy and optimism that the Farm Team folks bring to the garden is infectious, inspiring and remarkably humbling.
Today, I am not intimidated by the HT work that I do, though there are still MANY unforeseen situations that occur
every session. Luckily, most of the unforeseen situations that occur are the kind that makes you tear up when you recall an amazing breakthrough moment with a client when you’re in the privacy of your home or attempting to explain the power of HT with a colleague or stranger. I’m sure that many of you can understand the silent communication and connection that is possible between human beings and plants. This invisible thread brings us together, teaches us to grow and cultivate each other and yields a relationship that is true and fair.
In a world where so many things are not true and are not fair, this instinctive whisper of connection is sometimes the only force that reminds us of our ability to be vulnerable, to trust and to endeavor to project light into a disconnected world. As horticultural therapists, we work with a large variety of vulnerable populations who need this silent connection just as much as we do. I choose to celebrate the fact that I have the opportunity to enter into a reciprocal relationship with a group of amazing folks whose trust and vulnerability I endeavor to earn and mirror back to them on a daily basis.
Emilee is an HTI graduate and Lead
Horticulturist & Chatfield Veteran Reintegration Program, Program Manager
at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Arboretum
I’m convinced, as most of in this field are, that nature is magic. Every semester I teach the HIP (Horticulture Initiative Program) class, I am astounded by the changes that happen within the students whom I am honored to share my knowledge of the plant world with. Four years ago, when I started teaching the class, I worked up activity plans for every detail, right down to the experiences each student should expect to receive. They would plant vegetable seeds, nurture the young seedlings up to harvest. From this they would learn about taking care of something, being responsible for another living thing and eventually taste a fresh vegetable and they would love it. (Jump here and add photos with .calliope)
So, I was wrong… While the lessons most of the time did what they initially intended, I was humbled by what the students did on their own, what horticultural therapy and the class gave them the strength to discover.
Carrots. As a portion of our class we build one or two raised beds each semester, fill them with soil and plant a
vegetable garden. They get the group experience of successfully building something as a team, each taking turns to hammer in nails or to hold the boards in place while the others pound away. For many of them it is the first time
they have held a hammer or built something with their own two hands. Their hands and clothes get dirty, they get wet, they get hot, they complain, they laugh, they communicate and connect. They feel and experience something new every time.
The students get to pick what they will plant, and invariably carrots are always a favorite. And where the carrots take them is my favorite part.
Sarah has been in our program for three years. She is 21 and has been diagnosed with a communicative disorder combined with an Intellectual disability, and functions at a second grade level for reading, writing and math. Socially, she is quiet and prefers to speak in sign language as she has a strong stutter and is typically shy and withdrawn.
Sarah is a very sweet and caring person, with a strong desire to connect with
others. Sarah, like a few of the others, wanted to plant carrots in her garden
bed. When it was time to harvest from the garden, the students each had an
assignment to think of a dish they could make with something from the garden,
find a recipe for it and read the recipe to the class. When it was Sarah’s turn, she had one of the carrots that she had grown from seed in her garden. She stood in front of the class, very nervous, clutching her paper and hiding behind the hood of her sweatshirt for several minutes. I was almost positive she would not complete the assignment and would sit down, which would have been ok as just standing up in front of the class was a huge step. But instead, she cleared her throat and took several deep breaths and just as I was ready to let her sit down and maybe try again later, she held her carrot and began reading the instructions for making carrot cake, completely on her own… and it was magic. And I can’t tell you if she somehow felt strength from her carrot, from growing something with her own energy, in a bed that she helped build or if she just felt safe enough in a class of her peers who helped her build the bed, who helped her water her seeds… whatever it was, she did it and it was the carrot that helped her.
Rodney has been a student with Sarah in the class for the same amount of time. Rodney easily functions at college level reading and writing and has textbook autism which affects his social and living skills. Rodney hated to get dirty and in the beginning often refused to participate because of the soil. He has an amazing heart and as one of my favorite students, I feel like Rodney has taught me more about people and the capacity to care than I have taught him about the natural world. Rodney observed for most of his first and second semester. And then, by his third semester Rodney began participating more, using a hammer for the first time in his life to help build a garden bed and helping to pick up the empty bags of soil used to fill the beds. He always wore long sleeves, pants and went through multiple pairs of surgical gloves, but he did it. Rodney planted carrots too. While he would never touch an animal on our farm, he seemed to have a connection to them and would often enjoy making the other students laugh by making various animal sounds. At the end of the semester, when we had ample carrots to harvest, we took a field trip to a local horse ranch that practices equine therapy. The students took their carrots to share with the horses. Most of the students delighted in feeding the horses, not caring at all about the dirt or horse slobber. And then, Rodney asked for a carrot from the feeding bowl… without gloves! He held it in his hand like he had watched the others and let the gentle mouth (with huge yellow teeth) take it from his palm, leaving a trail of slobber in its wake. His teachers and I watched in amazement. For Rodney, this was huge, and again it was the carrot and the magic that it held.
And so, perhaps my tip in all of this is to be willing to let the plants or the activity take the participants where it is they need to go, to be lenient with the motive to “teach” and instead think of guiding the participant in a positive direction. We planted carrots from seeds, happens all the time, its predictable magic. But the true magic is what happens during, before, and after the harvest. It was easy for me in the beginning to want to create lessons with specific goals, which is what I still do, but have learned that what happens that that’s not in “the plan” is quite possibly the best part.
Calliope is an HTI graduate and Horticulture Nursery Technician at
California State University Fresno
HTI welcomes, Isabelle Boucq, a French native and former HTI
student as the author of “On the Ground” the new forum blog. Look for new posts each month with new topics concerning HT in the U.S. and abroad. With her American husband and two sons, she lives alternatively in Paris and in California. In 2010, she discovered HT and attended HTI classes before working as a volunteer in an adult day center under the supervision of a HTI graduate.
While preparing to return to France in the spring of 2012, she started a blog in French, Le bonheur est dans le jardin, to help French speakers discover the field of horticultural therapy through a variety of programs, both in the US and in France. She is now writing for the Institute as well and recent posts include: Planter boxes for gardeners in wheelchairs and gardening with brain injury and stroke patients in France.
View the recording of a recent live webinar:
Topic: Entering the Profession of Horticultural Therapy
You will learn:
Credits available through