Under the stillness of winter’s heavy blanket…

Even under the stillness of winter’s heavy blanket, there are signs of life all around us. When ice gives way to early spring, we witness a magnificent time of rebirth, inspiration, and possibility.

– Oprah Winfrey
snow_camellia3

The Five Ways to Wellbeing

I was recently introduced to the concept of “The Five Ways to Wellbeing.” The Five Ways succinctly summarizes the actions people can take towards positively affecting their wellbeing and improving their “mental capital.”

Connect
Be Active
Take Notice
Keep Learning
Give

Essentially, they encourage people to:
> Connect and engage with people – and I would also argue to engage with the world around you, not just the human inhabitants, but also the landscape and its furry and photosynthesizing friends who live in it;
> Be active by moving your body – and I would also suggest “exercising” your mind;
> Take notice of what’s going on in the world – be curious, be in awe, be in the moment;
> Keep learning, whatever your age, ability, or interests;
> Give to others, whether it’s volunteering your time, supporting a friend, or simply offering a smile or a compliment to someone.

Considering how wordy and verbose I am, you can imagine my delight when I came across these! As a therapeutic horticulture practitioner, I’m in the business of promoting wellbeing for people through directed experiences with plants and nature. When reflecting on these basic guidelines, I see how they already are an integral part of my programs, and now I have the simple words to summarize it.

The Five Ways were developed by the new economics foundation, as a user-friendly tool for condensing and communicating the overall message from the research presented in the 2008 UK publication from the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing. Check out the nef’s website on The Five Ways to Wellbeing to read more.

Valentine’s Floral Arrangements

Not a professional floral designer? No worries! Create your own easy floral arrangements for Valentine’s Day. Simply place a block of wet floral foam into this red pot sleeve and insert flower stems.

Jan2015 680
Supplies

  • 3.5 – 4″ round plastic pot
  • Red pot sleeve
  • Wet floral foam block, ideally presoaked in water
  • Tray for soaking floral foam
  • Watering vessel with water
  • Lettuce knife
  • Fresh cutflowers in Valentine’s colors
  • Pruners or scissors
  • Valentine’s embellishment, optional (I used heart floral picks from Dollar Tree – 7-count package for $1.00 – and card picks with Valentine cards purchased from wholesale floral supply.)

Step-by-Step Instructions

Fill tray with water, and soak floral foam in water for several minutes.

Once the foam block is fully soaked, use the lettuce knife to cut the block into quarters.

Insert the plastic pot into the red pot sleeve.

Take one of the four cut foam pieces, and shove the foam into the center of the sleeved plastic pot. Push the foam until it is level with the top rim of the pot.

Jan2015 704Cut flower stems and insert stems into the foam. Keep adding stems until arrangement is complete.

Optional step: Add Valentine embellishments to complete arrangement.

Jan2015 324Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…
As mentioned in a previous floral design post, floral arranging is a high impact, quick results activity for clients and, as a result, is particularly rewarding for my groups in memory care. I am often able to entice reluctant individuals to participate by encouraging them to make an arrangement for a spouse, friend, or family member. Or, for those who don’t consider themselves to be creative or talented enough to exercise their floral arranging skills, I offer assistance and work as part of a “team,” with the client as “teamleader” or “supervisor,” to complete an arrangement. With encouragement throughout the activity, even the most reluctant men, who have never made floral arrangements before and often “pooh-pooh” this type of activity at first, are able to successfully and proudly create their own arrangements. Sometimes the reluctant participants are the most proud of their final products.

Jan2015 575Contraindications
Use non-toxic flowers in situations where clients could possibly ingest flowers. Some of the flowers shown here, including Billy balls, daffodils, and tulips, may have toxicity.

Floral foam has toxicity – use with caution. Consider handling with plastic gloves. Other alternatives for making arrangements include floral frogs (which are typically reusable for future arrangements), pre-washed pebbles poured into the bottom of vase, and chicken wire cut to fit a vase. (*Special thanks to one of our readers, Pea, for offering these alternatives. Pea also recommends consulting the book, The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers, by Debra Prinzing, “for great information about using organic flowers and materials.”)

Consider safety needs of clients when determining whether to use scissors, pruners, or none of the above. Use pre-cut stems or flowers that break easily with fingers.

Jan2015 384Program Notes
I usually place foam blocks in the bottom of the flower bucket. This way, the blocks are fully soaked by the start of the program.

Activities using fresh cutflowers can easily get expensive. See my Budget Buster Tips on how to cut costs below. I have also found that sometimes clients have a hard time sharing materials with each other. In some cases, this is a good exercise in encouraging clients to share and cooperate with each other. In other cases, I try to minimize opportunities for major clashing by pre-sorting and bundling flowers or posting a list with flower quantities allotted per person. With the latter, I may pre-sort the specialty flowers, of which quantities are limited, and give these bundles to each person, then the “filler” flowers, of which quantities are more abundant, are made available for all to peruse. In both cases, I encourage clients to share and swap with each other.

Transform this activity to a different season or upcoming holiday by switching up the colors of the pot sleeves or types of seasonal embellishments.

In order to set the tone for the session and encourage the group to open up and start talking with each other, I begin with this icebreaker activity using trivia about Valentine’s Day. Each participant is asked to answer or, rather, guess the answer to one trivia question. In acknowledgement for their responses (correct or not), they win their bouquet of flowers or a heart pick to use in their arrangements. If individuals have already answered a question, then they get to pick which member of the group receives the “prize,” which inevitably puts a smile on the face of the recipient.

Examples of prompt questions:
– What is the most popular flower sold on V-day? (According to 1800flowers, the rose – often named as clients’ favorite and most recognizable flower.)
– How many roses are sold every year for V-day? (Approx. 189 million roses)
– What group of people receive the most valentine cards? (Teachers, then kids, mothers, wives)
– How many valentine cards are exchanged each year? (Approx. 1 billion cards)
– St. Valentine is the patron saint of lovers. To what else is he patron saint? (Beekeepers, epilepsy, plague, fainting. Read here for more info.)
– When was the first Valentine sent? (1415; by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, who was imprisoned at the Tower of London, to his wife. Charles’ valentines are now at the British Museum. Read here for more info.)
– In what part of the state is the town of Valentine, Texas, located? (Located in west Texas, about 2 hours south of El Paso. Population in 2010 census: 217. This question affirms state pride and grounds clients in their location.)
– How many people participated in the world’s largest group kiss? (On V-day 2010, 39,897 people participated in the largest group kiss in Mexico City.)

Other interesting trivia:
– 1st American valentine is attributed to Nyer Robert Elton in 1834.
– The red rose is the flower of Venus, Roman goddess of love.
– California produces most of the roses for the United States.
– The tomato is supposedly known as “the love apple.”
– The shelf life of conversation hearts is 5 years…if they aren’t all eaten before then!

Or, ask clients to name famous couples in history, such as Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Romeo and Juliet, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse (thanks to Isabella for that one!), Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, etc.

Prompt questions inspired by Random Facts and the Examiner.

Jan2015 715Budget Buster Tips
When I splurge on certain items for floral arrangements, such as higher priced specialty flowers, floral picks, and bows, I save in other places, such as using recycled pots, cheaper cutflowers, or spray painted “fillers,” like twigs. In my experience, the different types of mums (notably those referred to as “poms”) and mini carnations (not the “regularly sized” carnations) are consistently the cheapest flowers. Or, I use flowers that are “everlasting,” like statice, baby’s breath, and yarrow, so once the flowers are past their prime and dried, I can reuse them for a future program, therefore justifying their added expense. If you can harvest flowers and foliage from your garden, even better!

Jan2015 300When using flowers purchased at my wholesale supplier, I always pre-cut the stems, not just to keep them fresh, but also to cut the flowers to be more in scale with the size of vase being used. From personal experience, I have found that many clients, no matter their functioning or skill level and my guiding instruction, often cut only about two to three inches off the stem, if at all, before they insert the stem into the arrangement. This can get tricky when you have a stem that is 20 inches long – subtract three inches, and you have 17 inches of stem being placed into a six-inch-tall arrangement – yikes! The longer the stems, the more flowers that need to be used to fill out that vase. The shorter the stems, generally speaking, the less flowers needed.

When possible, have clients work in small teams to create a group arrangement.

Conversation Heart Floral Arrangements

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with this sweet floral arrangement! This vase-within-a-vase centerpiece is sure to spark conversation and offers a new take on the traditional Valentine bouquet.

Jan2015 523Supplies

    • Conversation heart candies (I purchased these at Dollar Tree.)
    • Fresh cutflowers in pastel colors to complement the candies
    • Vase (I used a small “orb,” or fishbowl vase, from Dollar Tree.)
    • Smaller vase that inserts into the larger vase (I used bouillon cube jars, with label removed – and kept the bouillon cubes for my slow cooker.)
    • Watering vessel with water
    • Scissors or pruners
    • Valentine’s embellishment, optional (I used heart floral picks from Dollar Tree – 7-count package for $1.00 – and card picks with Valentine cards purchased from wholesale floral supply.)

*Note: The plastic wrap shown in some of the photos was used to help participants transport their arrangements home, without splashing water onto the candy. The plastic was removed once participants got home.

Step-by-Step Instructions
Insert the smaller vase into the center of the larger vase.Jan2015 773

Add conversation heart candies around the outside of the inner vase. Fill candies to just below the top of the inner vase.

Fill the inner vase about one-third to one-half with water. (Later, you can top off or refresh water as needed.)

Jan2015 783Cut flower stems and insert stems into the inner vase, taking care not to splash the water onto the candies. Keep adding stems until arrangement is complete.

Jan2015 819Optional step: Add Valentine embellishments to complete arrangement.

Jan2015 778Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…
Floral arranging is a high impact, quick results activity for clients and, as a result, is particularly rewarding for my groups in memory care. I am often able to entice reluctant individuals to participate by encouraging them to make an arrangement for a spouse, friend, or family member. Or, for those who don’t consider themselves to be creative or talented enough to exercise their floral arranging skills, I offer assistance and work as part of a “team,” with the client as “teamleader” or “supervisor,” to complete an arrangement. With encouragement throughout the activity, even the most reluctant men, who have never made floral arrangements before and often “pooh-pooh” this type of activity at first, are able to successfully and proudly create their own arrangements. Sometimes the reluctant participants are the most proud of their final products.

I offered this particular activity to my clients who are active seniors living at home or in independent living communities. For my clients in memory care communities, I offered floral arrangements with a different take.

Contraindications
Prior to using any edibles in activities, double check with agency and medical staff on the appropriateness of their use. In some cases, staff may prefer to avoid using any edibles due to dietary and other restrictions.

Jan2015 853Use non-toxic flowers in situations where clients could possibly ingest flowers. Some of the flowers shown here, including Billy balls, daffodils, and tulips, may have toxicity.

Consider safety needs of clients when determining whether to use scissors, pruners, or none of the above. Use pre-cut stems or flowers that break easily with fingers.

Program Notes
Activities using fresh cutflowers can easily get expensive. See my Budget Buster Tips on how to cut costs below. I have also found that sometimes clients have a hard time sharing materials with each other. In some cases, this is a good exercise in encouraging clients to share and cooperate with each other. In other cases, I try to minimize opportunities for severe clashing by pre-sorting and bundling flowers or posting a list with flower quantities allotted per person. With the latter, I may pre-sort the specialty flowers, of which quantities are limited, and give these bundles to each person, then the “filler” flowers, of which quantities are more abundant, are made available for all to peruse. In both cases, I encourage clients to share and swap with each other.

To transform this activity for a different season or upcoming holiday, substitute the conversation hearts for candy corn at Halloween or peppermint candies at Christmas. Or, swap with non-edible elements, like aquarium gravel, festive table scatter (a.k.a. confetti), or even natural materials like moss, twigs, gravel, shells, and other found objects from the outdoors. (Don’t forget to consider potential safety issues.)

Jan2015 607
Budget Buster Tips
When I splurge on certain items for floral arrangements, such as higher priced specialty flowers, floral picks, bows, and the candies used here, I save in other places, such as using recycled vases, cheaper “filler” cutflowers, or spray painted “fillers,” like twigs. In my experience, the different types of mums (notably those referred to as “poms”) and mini carnations (not the “regularly sized” carnations) are consistently the cheapest flowers. Sometimes flowers that are in season are also cheaper – which is why I used daffodils and tulips in these arrangements. Or, I use flowers that are “everlasting,” like statice, baby’s breath, and yarrow, so once the flowers are past their prime and dried, I can reuse them for a future program, therefore justifying their added expense. If you can harvest flowers and foliage from your garden, even better!

When using flowers purchased at my wholesale supplier, I always pre-cut the stems, not just to keep them fresh, but also to cut the flowers to be more in scale with the size of vase being used. From personal experience, I have found that many clients, no matter their functioning or skill level and my guiding instruction, often cut only about two to three inches off the stem, if at all, before they insert the stem into the vase. This can get tricky when you have a stem that is 20 inches long – subtract three inches, and you have 17 inches of stem being placed into a six-inch-tall vase – yikes! The longer the stems, the more flowers that need to be used to fill out that vase. The shorter the stems, generally speaking, the less flowers needed.

When possible, have clients work in small teams to create a group arrangement.

Looking ahead…

Keep your face always toward the sunshine
– and shadows will fall behind you.

– Walt Whitman

There’s something about January…

Last week, I was saddened to hear that a client, who was an avid consumer of my therapeutic horticulture program – and not to mention a wonderful human being – had passed away. This passing was the culmination of several clients who passed away last month, many of whom were among my programs’ original participants. Though many of my clients are elders, they are individual clients and people – each have their own personalities, interests, and unique responses specifically to my programs and shine their own light in the world. And when they are gone, they are missed.

I found out the news just before doing a program at that facility and was just “off my game” during the entire session.  We talked about new year’s resolutions and our hopes for 2015. We planted amaryllis bulbs in chalkboard-message flower pots (how-to post to come soon!). I missed my client’s enthusiasm and could sense the other long-time clients’ somber mood, off and on throughout the session.

With this passing, as well as the several others lost in January 2015, I reflected on having lost other elder family members in Januarys past. And I thought, “What is it about January?”

I even asked this question to friends later in the week, when processing this loss over lunch. To paraphrase, my friend said, “You know, in some way, I think that some of us have control over when we leave.” Another friend, in response, shared an account of an elder family member, whose birthday was in early December, wanted to live to age 105. He was able to celebrate this milestone and then quietly passed away a couple of weeks later on Christmas Eve. And somehow, this made sense to me and helped me to find some perspective, as I reflected on my last experiences of all of these individuals in my December programs.

And then…Groundhog Day 2015. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. And despite the grayness of January, I think about how appropriate last week’s inspirational quote was. Though we’re in the doldrums of winter – the part of the season that we just can’t wait to be over – we still have something to look forward to, whether it’s the inevitable change to the spring season, the next holiday on the horizon, or, more simply, the beautiful pansies in bloom, with interplanted daffodil foliage sprouting, just outside my window. And suddenly, I was inspired.

Jan2015 115I recalled how a staffperson attending the session that day wrote a message on the flower pot – the Walt Whitman quote above. We had planted an extra amaryllis bulb in a pot for another client who was grieving the loss of our friend and couldn’t make it to our program that day. Though the session was about resolutions and things to look forward to at the start of 2015, it was a last minute decision to add chalkboard paint to the rims of the flower pots. I thought it would be cool to have clients write a message about their hopes and dreams for the new year, and then plant an amaryllis bulb. As they watch their amaryllis grow and flourish, they can be inspired. How appropriate! And what a surprising “hort therapy” moment, not just for my clients, but for me too!

Though I mourn the loss of my clients and loved ones, I am remembering the various ways, subtle and “in my face,” that they inspired me to be better and do better work. And I know that there will be random ways in which they still positively pop up in my life.

I now recall another client at another facility saying to me in January, “When you are as old as I am, I hope that someone like you comes to do what you do with you.” Amen.