All posts by smorgan

A Sampling of Spring Therapeutic Horticulture Programming

The first day of spring is right around the corner. It is also Horticultural Therapy Week next week – March 15-21, 2015. So in anticipation, I thought I would share a sampling of activities that my groups have been busy working on already, as well as a few other upcoming programs. (I have planned tutorials for future posts, but please feel free to message me if you have a question in the meantime.)

Kokedama
Create kokedama – moss wrapped plants – in a therapeutic horticulture activity.

Kokedama
This form of wrapping a plant’s root ball in moss is often referred to as the “poor man’s bonsai.” Instead of a fancy piece of pottery to contain the plant, wrap the root ball in sheet moss and secure with thread or wire. Kokedama translates to “moss ball.” Check out this how-to from Bloom Zine, and learn more about the origins and practice of creating bonsai at Bonsai Empire.

Amaryllis bulb plant - Therapeutic Horticulture activity
Plant amaryllis bulbs and watch them transform into beautiful flowers.

Planting Amaryllis Bulbs
The act of planting a dormant bulb, watering it, and watching the amaryllis’ large flower stalk form over the period of a few weeks can be quite powerful. No instant gratification here – ahh, the anticipation of “When, OH when, will they finally bloom?” Though bulbs are generally sold at garden centers for indoor forcing between November through early January, some online retailers may still have inventory left – on clearance (which is how I was able to afford buying these puppies for programs). Bulbs forced indoors in late winter are enjoyed in early spring. When planting the bulb, ask participants to think about their hopes and intentions for the new year. They can write it down – right on their pot even(!) – discuss it openly with the group, or have a quiet reflection on their own. Then as the flower emerges then blooms, it is a frequent reminder to stay focused on the positive intentions sent forth earlier in the year…despite the possible distractions that have occurred since the initial planting. No bulbs available now? Plant seeds like sunflowers, watch them sprout, and then transplant outdoors.

Soil blending - soil prep - Therapeutic Horticulture activity
Blend your own soil to help your plants start off on the right foot.

Soil Blending
OK, so mixing soil may not sound like an activity all on its own. But when carefully presented, it is an important one and can elicit wonderful responses from clients, including a recent exclamation from one of my elder clients, “Oh! We get to make mudpies?” As I say in all of my programs that incorporate soil and planting, the foundation of any successful garden is the soil. If you don’t start your framework for the garden with a solid foundation – with proper preparation – then the plants added there are at a disadvantage and may not flourish as a result.

One more thing – have you ever worked with a compressed disk of coir fibers? Coir fiber disks often come with seed starting kits or bulb kits. They act kinda like those tiny pellets that you got as a kid and didn’t know what they were. Then, when you added water, they transformed into dinosaurs or a Minnie Mouse washcloth before your eyes. Add a little bit of water to these coir fiber disks, and they grow into a tall cylinder of soil-like media, before caving in under its own weight. Even the most skeptical client is in awe of the process, trust me. I try to incorporate a sense of awe into each program and often ask groups – “Isn’t nature amazing?” More to come on the transformative nature of awe and the healing power of awe, supported by recently published research in the journal Emotion.

Floral masks - Pressed flower masks - Therapeutic Horticulture activity
Stimulate the creative juices with these festive masks made out of pressed flowers and feathers.

Floral Masks
Inspired by an awesome book and resource, A Calendar Year of Horticultural Therapy, by HT practitioner Janice Hoetker Doherty, I first did this activity with clients as a Mardi Gras related activity. I was really surprised by the response to this activity. The group loved looking at themselves, all masked up, in a mirror. They even held an impromptu parade through the building, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Pressed flowers were collected and pressed from the garden or purchased at my favorite website, Greetings of Grace (who, by the way, have an excellent customer service team and helped me out with my order in a pinch). Masks and beads purchased at Dollar Tree. Feathers purchased from the craft store. (I heart Hobby Lobby and their 40% off coupon that is bookmarked on my smartphone.)

Floral arrangements - Therapeutic Horticulture activity
Seasonal floral arranging is quite the popular activity in therapeutic horticulture programs.

Floral Arrangements
Making arrangements with fresh cutflowers continues to be a favorite activity for many. Recently I decided to cut a few things out of my home garden to share with a group, in addition to materials purchased at my floral wholesaler. We remarked about the variety of interesting plants still showy despite it being late winter. Showy in my garden – hardy gerbera daisies (Drakkensburg daisy), Lenten rose, pansies, Swiss chard, ornamental kale, Chinese fringeflower, curly rush, Dusty Miller, parsley, nandina, cyclamen, rosemary, daffodils, to name a few. Some clients used the garden cuttings, with the storebought flowers, in their arrangements. Beautiful!

Indoor garden prepwork - Therapeutic Horticulture activity
Plant hanging baskets and sow seeds indoors to get a headstart on your spring garden.

Garden Prepwork
Even though it may still be cold outdoors, we have many things we can do indoors to get ready for spring. We’ve been busy sowing seed in trays and transplanting spider plant babies into hanging baskets. Can’t wait to put these out in the garden!

Other upcoming therapeutic horticulture programs include Spring wreath-making, hypertufa planters for succulents, fairy gardens,  teacup planters for Mother’s Day, garden hat decorating with dried flowers for the Kentucky Derby, coleus propagation, and, of course, working outside in the garden.

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.

Gourd Snowmen

It’s a snowman…made out of gourd!?! Typically a favorite fall accessory, gourds can be used year-round for craft projects due to their hard woody shells that aren’t inclined to rot. So in January, when you’re looking for new indoor activity ideas, embrace the winter season and transform these lesser known cousins of pumpkins and squash into a cool season Mr. Potato Head of sorts.

*Note: More photos to come…hopefully! My external hard drive (where ALL of my photos are stored – *palm to forehead*) crashed while working on this post. Cross your fingers and toes that I am able to get all my photos back. I staged a couple of shots so I could get this post online.

Gourd Snowman supplies (not all supplies shown)

Supplies                                                                                          

  • Gourd, cleaned, prepared, and ready for crafting
  • Newspaper
  • Paint (in white; use other colors for additional decorating, only if you have time to allow the white to dry first. Acrylic paint works best; tempera is ok but prone to flaking, especially if it’s washable tempera.)
  • Paintbrush
  • Plate for paint
  • Hair dryer, optional
  • Socks, preferably women’s dress socks (I prefer socks over other materials because they’re stretchy to fit any sized gourd “head” and cheap and easy.)
  • Googly eyes (is there another name for these?), optional
  • Glue (if using googly eyes)
  • Rhinestone stickers (I have used black and orange stickers for the eyes/mouth/buttons and nose respectively), optional
  • 3-D paint (otherwise known as “Puffy Paint,” in black and orange)
  • Pencil
  • Drill with drill bit
  • Twigs (with a diameter that matches the drill bit)
  • Pruners
  • Ribbon or fabric (I used narrow pieces of black felt, with “fringe” cut at both ends)
  • Scissors

Step-by-Step Instructions                                                               
Gather together supplies and have ready. Make sure the hair dryer is plugged in, and the drill is fully charged. Pour the white paint onto a plate, and add a paintbrush.

Set the gourd on a piece of flat laying newspaper.

Paint the gourd completely white – top to bottom. (One coat of paint is fine; two coats are perfect.)

Allow the paint to dry. To expedite the drying process, you can use a hair dryer to dry the paint. Keep the dryer moving at all times to avoid heating up any one section too much. For me, the heat from the hair dryer did cause a tiny amount of cracking in the paint, but nothing too bad – I was satisfied with the results and touched up any cracked or faded spots with additional paint. Allow the paint to air dry, if you intend on creating high quality products or have the time to dry and come back to finish (which I don’t during a one-hour program).

Pull the black sock over the upper portion of the gourd onto the snowman’s “head.” Fold the ends of the sock up to make it fit the head like a floppy snow hat. Embellish the hat if desired.

Now it’s time to make the snowman’s face. Here are a few options for making the eyes. (1) Use glue to stick the googly eyes onto its “head.” (2) Or, apply rhinestone stickers for the eyes. They are three dimensional and look like charcoal to me. (Om, channeling Frosty…) (3) Or, use 3-D paint to create two dots for the eyes. (I prefer black for the traditional charcoal look.) Keep in mind that the 3-D paint could run a bit, if the sides of the gourd are steep. Laying the gourd on its side, with newspaper as shims to hold it upright, helps to prevent the paint from running.

Add the nose. Use the 3-D paint (orange, if you’ve got it) to draw a long and narrow sideways triangle – it should resemble a carrot.

Add the mouth. Use either the rhinestone stickers or the same color of 3-D paint you used to create the eyes, and add a few dots in a line to resemble a mouth.

Use the rhinestone stickers or 3-D paint to create “buttons” down the lower portion of the gourd, or the “body.”

Select the two spots where the snowman’s arms will go – one spot on each side of the snowman’s “body.” Use a pencil to mark the spots.

Use the drill to poke two holes into the gourd.

Cut the twigs to fit the holes and insert them. The twigs should fit tightly without wiggling loose. The twig arms need to stay right where they are. If you accidentally cut the holes too big, apply masking tape around the end of the twig and insert into the holes.

Cut the ribbon or fabric piece so that it will tie around the “neck” of the gourd, with a bit extra on the ends. Tie around the gourd, and voila! It’s a scarf.

Set your snowman in a safe location to dry completely.

Jan2015 022Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…                   
Gourds come in a variety of shapes and sizes – swan neck, apple and pear shapes, gourds with warts and ridges, mini ones, long ones, round ones, and more – providing a myriad of opportunities for sensory exploration. Shake them and you can hear the seeds rattle inside. Start your own GPO – er, Gourd Percussion Orchestra. I keep a variety of gourds in stock and bring them out every year to explore with clients. Compare them to “green” gourds (if available), pumpkins, and squash. Show off pictures and samples of gourd art created by professional artists. Discuss their historical use – did you know that loofah sponges actually come from a gourd? (I thought they came from the sea.)

Other gourd uses to consider, besides your snowman:
– Make snowman ornaments out of mini gourds.
– Embellish miniature egg shaped gourds as holiday ornaments with other themes.
– Paint self portraits onto gourds and create your own gourd “family.”
– Drill a hole, clean the gourd’s interior, decorate the exterior, attach a twine hanger, and hang as a birdhouse.

Contraindications                                                                                   
Beware of mold that can form on the gourd’s exterior during the drying process. Though the mold can actually imprint an interesting pattern on the outside of the gourd, you may need to clean gourds thoroughly before taking them to work with clients. Make sure to store gourds in a well ventilated, dry area. (I store mine in stacking bulb crates.)

Take care when handling the drill and hair dryer. Set up a station where participants go to someone approved to handle the drill and/or hair dryer on their gourds.

Program Notes                                                                                      
The hair dryer will not speed up the drying time for 3-D paint. That, my friend, takes at least one day to dry. So if you use 3-D paint, make sure to place the snowman in a safe place to dry overnight – and make sure the gourd lays flat so the paint doesn’t run. (Don’t wait, like I did, until the day of a program to create your sample gourd, with 3-D paint, for show and tell. I drove the entire way to the program location, holding my gourd in one hand and driving with the other. I got there successfully, then interested participants started passing around the ‘wet’ gourd and well, you know…)

It may be necessary to clean and prepare gourds for craft work ahead of time, especially if you have gourds that haven’t been “finished” and are dirty. The gourd cleaning process can be done as a standalone program, in preparation for the program when the gourds will ultimately be decorated. If this is the case, follow these steps:

Vessel, such as dishtub or clean bucket
Water
Something to weigh down the gourds as they soak
Pot scrubbing brush works best. Also try sponges with abrasive pad on one side.
Safety gear, including a dust mask respirator and medical or dish gloves

Soak gourds, completely submersed, in water for about 10 minutes. Then use scrubbing brush or sponge to scrub along the gourd’s exterior. Allow to dry completely. (Instructions adapted from Welburn Gourd Farm.)

Budget Buster Tips                                                                                
If doing this activity with a group, you can take adult-sized black socks and cut them in half to save on costs. After applying the sock hat onto the top of the snowman’s head, tie a small piece of string, twine, or ribbon to the floppy end of the sock, about one quarter the way down from the floppy end.

You might be able to find dried gourds online on clearance, just after Christmas and into January. Check out Welburn Gourd Farm or Amish Gourds for online purchasing. You can also trying growing your own gourds from seed, if you have the space in your garden.

Reflections on Winter

Snow angel created by Isabella, December 2012
Snow angel created by Isabella, December 2012

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

– Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672
British American and Puritan poet
Meditations Divine and Moral (1664)

Primary photo: Spring Snowflake (Leucojum)

Mini Blooming Pumpkins

Miniature orbs decorated with dried flowers…how fantastically “fall!” If you’re looking for some no-carve, no-Halloween, pro-Thanksgiving pumpkin decorating options, look no further than these season extending mini blooming pumpkins.

Blooming PumpkinsSupplies                                                                                                    
Mini pumpkins
Glue (Elmer’s glue works fine, but heavy duty craft glue works better)
Dried flowers
Scissors
Sharpie pen
Decorative tags, optional
Twine or wire, optional

Blooming Pumpkin

Step-by-Step Instructions                                                                
Select the pumpkin and the flowers to be used in decorating it.

Prep the flowers by removing stems and unsightly petals or leaves.

With the pumpkin sitting upright in front of you (stem pointing up), apply a generous amount of glue around the base of the stem. Don’t be stingy here – make sure to apply the glue all over the top of the pumpkin, right up to and away from the stem.

Quick note – whenever I work with glue, it’s important to constantly remind myself and clients that THE GLUE WILL DRY CLEAR. So don’t sweat it if you accidentally apply too much and it starts to run down the sides of the pumpkin, or get it on the “good” part of the flowers. THE GLUE WILL DRY CLEAR!

Blooming PumpkinWith the glue in place, begin placing flowers on the top of the pumpkin. There’s no rhyme or reason on how to apply flowers – just make it look pretty to your tastes.

Apply additional glue as necessary to ensure all flowers have glue on them. (This is where I like to use Elmer’s glue since the tip of the bottle easily inserts between flowers to provide targeted glue application. If using craft glue, use a cotton swab to apply targeted globs of glue as needed.)

Blooming PumpkinsKeep applying flowers, rotating the pumpkin 360 degrees during application to ensure even coverage of flowers on all sides.

Continue until complete.Blooming Pumpkin

If attaching a decorative tag, write a quick note or greeting, inspirational quote, your name, or whatever on the tag.

Thread the wire through the hole in the tag.

Attach the wire to the pumpkin’s stem and secure in place. Voila!Blooming Pumpkins

Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…                        
Aside from the changing colors of fall leaves, pumpkins provide a great seasonal cue to place clients in the time of year. To me, pumpkins represent autumn…and not just Halloween. I like blooming pumpkins as a season extending activity that’s appropriate to display all the way up to Thanksgiving. And, since I’m not able to easily use sharp knives or do pumpkin carving for safety and logistical reasons with most of my groups, this activity is an ideal option.

This is also an activity that can require more than one session for preparation, if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor garden to utilize with a therapeutic horticulture program. One session can include the planting of annual flowers and perennials that are suitable for drying. Subsequent sessions include the maintenance and gradual harvesting of these flowers in the garden.

And did you know that pumpkins float in water?!? Oh, don’t get me started on that…

Blooming PumpkinsContraindications                                                                                   
If you need to cut the dried flowers into smaller pieces, and you’re working with a group where sharp objects like scissors or pruners are potentially unsafe, here are a few tips to follow:

– Use child-safe scissors, not sharp scissors or pruners.

– Use flowers that are easy to pinch with the fingers. Be mindful of the level of the “ease of pinching,” in comparison to tolerance levels, for those who have fine motor issues.

– Pre-cut the stems off flowers and have them ready for use ahead of time.

Other potential issues:

When glue and flowers may be eaten by some individuals with cognitive challenges, use non-toxic options. Avoid putting flowers in bowls or other food-related objects.

Program Notes                                                                                         
Whenever I do this activity, I like to incorporate opportunities for clients to reminisce about their favorite holiday memories. So prior to doing the activity creations, we answer open ended questions about Thanksgivings past. For large groups, we break up into small groups and pass out pieces of paper with prompt questions. The groups identify a group leader and discuss their answers to the questions. After a few minutes, we gather back together and discuss the responses as a group.

Examples of prompt questions
– What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving?
– What are you are thankful for?
– What is your favorite food to eat on Thanksgiving?

Prompt questions inspired by JournalBuddies.com

Budget Buster Tips                                                                              
– Grow your own flowers for drying. Harvest them throughout the season. Prep them and hang to dry until ready for use.
– Recycle flowers from old floral arrangements before discarding them. Baby’s breath, statice, and yarrow are examples. Whenever I do floral arranging programs throughout the year, I always use flowers that can be dried, and then harvest them from the old arrangements or leftovers after a program.
– Can’t afford pumpkins for each person? Get a handful of pie or Jack pumpkins, and have your group work in small teams to strategize and decorate a “community” pumpkin.