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Making Connections Editor: Christine Kramer,
Program Manager,
HT Institute

Winter 2014 Newsletter

Horticultural Therapy is making an impact on people’s lives.
Read more about how it’s happening.

HTI Director’s Note: Embrace Inevitable Changes

Rebecca Haller, HTI Director

Rebecca Haller, Director HTIOne aspect of the future is always certain – that is change. For HTs this can take many forms, including: employment, job demands, seasons, garden designs and maturation, administrators, and abilities of clients served. In order to embrace and prepare for these, at a minimum HTs are advised to take these actions: stay current, be engaged in your organization, inform and participate, support the garden as a showcase, and expand your knowledge of other populations that may be served in HT programs.

Be engaged in your organization, inform and participate. Offer to do in-service training or mini sessions for staff on a regular basis, participate in activities outside your main focus. Work closely with the people who develop resources for your organization. Undertake strategic planning.

Support the garden. While your main focus is on the people served in the HT program, remember how important the garden itself is to them as well as to many others. Make it a showcase for your organization. Welcome those who do not participate in the HT programming, so that all may share in its health-giving benefits. Attend to maintenance. Maximize beauty along with opportunities for hands-on experiences and ownership.

Expand your knowledge of other populations. While you may wish to work in one arena, pay attention to information about others. Be sure to read those articles that describe HT settings and people other than your current place. Attend sessions at conferences that broaden your comfort and skills in areas outside your present practice. You never know when your employment may change, or an opportunity may arise to serve or consult on HT programming in other settings. As an HT you will best represent the profession with a combination of in-depth knowledge in you specialty area combined with a good foundation across disciplines.
These ideas may help you to be prepared to embrace the inevitable changes that the future holds. Remember that the wonder of a garden includes its alterations, shifts, and constant innovations.

HTI Program Internship Profile: CooperRiis Farm, North Carolina

by Sara Wevodau

Tucked away in the rolling-hilled town of Mill Spring, North Carolina, CooperRiis Farm provides a safe haven for people experiencing mental and emotional health challenges.  You need only turn onto Healing Farm Lane to recognize there is something special about the place.  I had the privilege of arriving for my internship at the climax of summer harvest, and despite massive flooding and the wettest summer on record, residents and staff were still engaged in the rhythms of working the land.  Weeding, seeding, transplanting, harvest all logically occur out in the fields when the ground is dry enough.

Greenhouse propagation and maintenance are also available for rainy days, when someone needs self-guided work, or for folks experiencing limited energy or mobility. (jump here)
Typically, there is a staff member for every 2-3 residents, creating opportunities to break off into smaller groups or one-on-ones for more intentionally therapeutic activities.  One nineteen year-old resident made significant strides in overcoming major food aversions while weeding in the herb garden, where he began to challenge himself to eat various leaves off the plants, starting with sage.  I don’t even like sage alone, but it made his eyes light up.  Then he was on to thyme.  The more time he spent in the fields, the more comfortable he became with new options at mealtimes.

This openness spread to other areas of his recovery.
One day I intercepted another resident who had just decided to spend the day in her room grieving the anniversary of a friend’s death for whom she felt responsible.  After a short conversation, she courageously accompanied me to the perennial garden and went to work creating a memorial, transplanting pansies into a bed she had weeded earlier that week to honor her friend and make peace with her inner turmoil.

Although much of what is practiced on the garden crew from day to day would be considered “therapeutic horticulture” by today’s standards, my supervisor Lisa Schactman (HTR), who currently oversees all Community Work and Service crews, was able to join us in the garden one day.  She had heard of creating “earth looms” in natural spaces for people to weave pieces of nature or other found objects into a display.  The garden crew prepped the project by sinking some ten foot pieces of bamboo deep into the ground and tethering two crossbeams with twine to create a frame.

Then together, we wound jute, twine, and yarn into a web where flowers, rocks, leaves, or papers holding poems or messages could be tucked.  The earth loom became a HT gathering place for subsequent reflection times where different intentions could be explored, or we would work together to express an emotion or make a statement.  The significance different individuals found there was a beautiful testament to the value of creating therapeutic spaces in nature.

Not surprisingly, many discoveries – personal, vocational, and delightful – occurred for residents in my time practicing horticultural therapy at CooperRiis as we all journeyed toward greater health, balance, and integration in our lives.   It was sweet to taste the fruit that many pioneers in the HT field have been cultivating for years in hidden and increasingly not-so-hidden places.

 Sara Wevodau completed her HTI certificate Fall 2013 and recently completed her 480 hour internship at CooperRiis in Mill Spring, North Carolina. She resides in Colorado.

Horticultural Therapy Program Tips: Encouraging Activity for People in Recovery

by Jody Szczech

For the past two years, I’ve worked with people in recovery from mental illness and substance abuse to develop a community garden at our county’s only nature center, The Great Swamp Conservancy (GSC) in Canastota, New York.  People participate in the garden by choice, and we’ve worked hard to sustain a core group of people able to commit throughout the entire planting and harvesting seasons. Those in recovery can face many challenges including learned helplessness; fear and anxiety; low self-esteem; and over-medication, which can look like apathy and lack of motivation. (jump here)

Dr. Patricia Deegan speaks about motivation in a video series entitled: “Beyond the Coke and Smoke Syndrome: Working with People who Appear Unmotivated.” She suggests reframing our thoughts from, “How do I motivate John/Mary?” to question instead, “What motivates John/Mary?”  This will compel us to become curious and learn about another person, and craft our programs around their likes and dislikes, dreams, desires, goals.

I work at a local mental health residential program, so at the beginning of the season I post flyers in the group residences and apartments inviting people to participate in the garden program.  We have an “Orientation” meeting at the Great Swamp Conservancy for people to meet each other, view the site, talk about their gardening experiences, discuss their schedules/availability and, once they decide to participate, discuss goals they’d like to achieve as a group.  This gives me the opportunity to find out about the individuals and thus be able to draw on their expertise during the course of the season.  It serves to create a sense of ownership of the group; they are the decision-makers while I serve in a facilitator role.  During the orientation meeting, they meet staff of the GSC and learn about volunteer opportunities available in this community recreational center.

After the group comes together, we plan out the garden. In the second year, individuals decided to have separate plots they were responsible to care for and they chose their plants: flowers, vegetables, herbs, or a combination. They also created “community” plots which they gardened together. These plots also served as areas where people who didn’t come regularly could weed, water or harvest on an occasional basis. Having the community plots are a motivating factor for those people who don’t want to make a commitment but want to “get their feet wet” and explore the garden.  I continue to post flyers in the residences announcing the days we’re going to the garden and what will be happening so that people are encouraged to attend during any part of the season.  I urge people to “just come out, experience, and relax” at the garden and the wetlands; for many, this is their only opportunity for recreation outside of treatment programs and there is no pressure to garden.  Once there, they often ease into taking part in the activity going on.

At the garden, people choose the things they want to do from a running list of tasks. Some show their natural leadership abilities and take responsibility for necessary jobs:  filling the drinking water thermos; choosing tools needed; cleaning and maintaining equipment; watering.  When I’m busy working with an individual, people will assist by overseeing tasks and providing help to another. In this way, they have the chance to show their expertise and model responsibility.  Giving up my desire to control is a big motivator for others, I believe! People work together to help each other.  There is no failure, just shared responsibility and success.

I find that people tend to motivate each other. Last year, several people with creative abilities got together and made a display for the GSC annual meeting with pictures illustrating the progression of the garden.  A couple of women dried herbs by hanging them in the dining room of the group residence;  as other residents enjoyed the fragrance, the ladies encouraged them to come out and pick their own to hang in their closets and make potpourri for their drawers.  Another experimented with herb vinegars and bottled up several to give to staff and family as Christmas gifts.  One gentleman who loved to cook kept busy baking many loaves of zucchini bread for housemates. Another experimented by making pickles from cucumbers, onions, and cherry peppers; people told him he should go into business for himself (he’s researching how to do this)! Dried herbs were offered to people in the residences; together they researched and learned how best to use herbs in their cooking.  People became more interested in the garden when they saw what others had done with the harvest.

One of my HT friends, Marianne, shared a quote (author unknown) that I find relevant to working with people in recovery: “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes”.  In my experience, people who spend time in the garden are less focused on their anxiety and are able to take pride in their accomplishments at the end of the day. They talk with each other about something other than their illness and treatment, and they get tired enough from the physical activity to get a good nights’ sleep. It costs a whole lot less than the traditional treatment in which they are involved and, when it’s harvest time, they also get tomatoes …. and zucchini … and basil ….

Jody is a recent graduate of HTI and volunteers with the Great Swamp Conservancy in Canastota, New York.

HTI Kudos and Happenings

The HT Institute is excited to announce three new Fundamentals of HT classes scheduled for the fall 2014. We are headed back to the West coast in Half Moon Bay, CA and in addition will have a class for the first time at the renowned Melwood near Washington, DC. Check out the website for more details.

A host of HTI students have completed or are working on their HT internships. Here is just a sampling. John O’Hara is working at Cordilleras Mental Health Systems and Masonic Homes Union City, both in California. He is working with people who have dementia as well as clients in the mental health system.

Joel Friesen, also from California recently completed an internship at the Denver Botanic Gardens and is headed to graduate school.


Caitlyn Olde, Fort Collins, CO is completing her internship at Elderhaus Adult Day Programs Inc. This was the project she chose to complete for her final HTI capstone class. She currently leads two closed groups with eight participants twice a week. Nearly all of her clients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Dementia as well as other physical issues. She has also been successful in raising funds for the HT program through crowd funding.
To see more go to


Lori Sinclair, Denver, CO is beginning her internship at the Mental Health Center of Denver working with small groups of youth and adolescents. In addition she’s working at the Denver Botanic Gardens Wintergreen Program, with adults with developmental disabilities and elders in assisted living.


Kara Desmond, Clarksburg, MD completed her HT internship at Red Wiggler Community Farm. The focus of the  internship was developing a job-readiness program for young adults and adults with developmental disabilities. Through my internship and HTI Management class I developed a microgreens program to work on skills such as following multistep directions, coworker interactions, standing endurance and attendance.

Congratulations to all of our current and past students as they pursue internships and employment in the field of HT. To be included in the next newsletters please send me your updates.