Category Archives: Craftastic Projects

A Gallery of Fun Fall Horticultural Activities

Check out this sampling of various garden related activities to do with your group this autumn. Take a look at a gallery of a variety of Cucurbit family members – pumpkins, squash, and gourds – and more fall activity ideas here.

Mini Blooming Pumpkins
Decorate mini pumpkins with dried everlasting flowers from the garden. Check out this tutorial on decorating mini pumpkins with dried flowers.

Pumpkin Planters
Carve open a pumpkin and plant your favorite cool season plants inside it. Transfer the plants to the garden when the pumpkin is finished. Check out this tutorial on planting your own pumpkin planters.pumpkin-planter_eatbreathegarden

Succulent Pumpkins
Looking for no-carve pumpkin decorating options? Embellish pumpkins with air plants (Tillandsia), bareroot succulents, preserved moss, pine cones, everlasting flowers, seed pods, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and more.Using hot glue or craft glue, apply a generous layer of glue on top of the pumpkin around the stem. Then add a layer of preserved moss on top of the glue. “Fluff” the moss to give it more dimension. Now your pumpkin has a moss toupee!Once the moss is secured in place, add the plant material on top. Here, we used a bareroot succulent. To do this, find your favorite potted succulent plant, like Echeveria, and cut its stem at the soil level, at the roots. Note: you may need to use your fingernail to scrape some of the soil away from around the base of the stem BEFORE cutting the stem. Or, purchase it already bareroot from your favorite florist or specialty garden center.  Apply craft glue around the leaves at the bottom of the plant, not on the stem, and nestle the succulent in place on the moss bed. Apply more succulents as your budget and supply permits. Later, the succulents can be gently removed from the pumpkin and transplanted outdoors or into containers.Start applying natural embellishments, such as wheat plumes, faux wooden flowers, and other materials, around the succulent to create the desired effect. Use other natural embellishments, like pine cones, dried magnolia cones, and preserved eucalyptus, to decorate the pumpkin. Note: when using material collected from the garden, I typically freeze the material in a paper bag in the freezer for a few weeks, just to make sure that there aren’t any insect critters crawling around.Incorporate whole star anise and cinnamon sticks. Check out more beautiful embellished pumpkins from a recent workshop below. Painted Pumpkins
Create unique pumpkin characters using a combination of paint and other creative supplies. Check out the troll… …Or the Pinocchio-inspired pumpkin… …Or the owl made out of construction paper, glue, and paint.

Halloween Planters
Have fun with Halloween-themed planters. Check out this planter with cactus growing out of a “skeleton…”  Or the decorative containers planted with succulents and embellished with a colored pebble mulch. Transplant the succulents outdoors at the appropriate time.

Tending the Garden
The garden is at the root of what we are all about. It is great to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air and cooler temperatures. Sow seeds for cool season veggies. Plant cool season plants like pansies and Swiss chard in the garden and in containers for garden display. Go on a leaf collecting scavenger hunt, and then press the leaves once indoors – use pressed leaves in other projects. Harvest everlasting flowers, acorns, and the last of warm season veggies from the garden.As they say…Happy Fall, Y’all!

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Pumpkin Planters

Transform a Jack O’Lantern into a Jack O’Planter! Add a festive flair to your fall decor by transforming a pumpkin into a planted container. (Check out these festive fall activities with pumpkins.)

Supplies

Pumpkin of choice – We used your standard Jack pumpkin, but you could also use more unusual pumpkins, like peanut pumpkins or Knuckle Head pumpkins, or even gourds – whatever you could imagine using as a vessel!

Potting soil

Plants – We chose from marigolds, pansies, dianthus, Dusty Miller, Swiss chard, ornamental cabbage, ornamental kale, and mustard, in 4″ pots.

Carving knife – I prefer the carving utensils, with a cutting tool and scoop, sold for $0.97 at my local box store, over heavy duty knives. Though the handle for the cutting tool doesn’t have ideal ergonomics, it cuts in a sawing motion much easier than a knife, which can be bulky and awkward to handle.

pumpkin-planters_eatbreathegardenStep by Step instructions

Carve a lid on top of the pumpkin, around the stem. You can carve fancy shapes into the lid opening, or a simple, circle shaped lid works too. Remove the lid. Use the carving knife to remove the pulp off the lid. Set the lid aside for future use or discard.

scooping-pumpkin_eatbreathegardenRemove the pulp and seeds out of the insides of the pumpkin and discard.

Carve a drainage hole – about the size of a quarter – out of the bottom of the pumpkin.

scoop-soil-pumpkin_eatbreathegardenFill the pumpkin with soil. Gently tamp the soil to remove any air pockets. (Note: to keep soil from washing out the drainage hole during watering, you can add a piece of newspaper over the drainage hole inside the pumpkin, before filling with soil.)

planting-pumpkin_eatbreathegardenPlant the plants in the pumpkin.

pumpkin-lid_eatbreathegardenOptional – Add embellishments to the pumpkin. You can repurpose the pumpkin’s lid by affixing it with skewers to the outside of the pumpkin. (I inserted a couple of skewers to the outer wall of the pumpkin and then attached the pumpkin lid to the skewers.) OR, incorporate fall themed embellishments, like a scarecrow or spider webbing.

pumpkin_eatbreathegardenCare for Your Pumpkin Planter

Place the pumpkin planter on a pumpkin stand. This helps to keep the pumpkin elevated off the ground, which can help slow down the decomposition process (a little bit).

Water plants as needed.

When your pumpkin really starts to decompose, pull the plants out and replant them to another location in the garden. Add the rotten pumpkin to your compost pile. Who knows? You may have some pumpkins pop up in your compost next year, and then you can start the process all over again.

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Sunflowers

Sunflowers. Beautiful, cheerful sunflowers. Flowers that resemble the sun with their rays of golden yellow petals. Aside from roses, sunflowers are perhaps the most recognizable and friendliest of flowers.

At the sight of sunflowers, people are often transported in their minds to driving past fields of sunflowers in the Midwest or seeing the mammoth sunflowers that grandma grew in the backyard – you know, the ones that towered over you as a child. Or, there is a memory of picking the ripe sunflower seeds of the spent flower. I can also remember watching birds swarming around ripe sunflowers – perched on the fence, tree branches, wherever and taking turns flying to the flowers, pecking off some seeds, landing on the ground to eat them, and then back again, with the occasional altercation or squirrel.

Here are some interesting facts about sunflowers.

sunflower2_eatbreathegardenSunflowers are Helianthus annuus, from the Greek words ‘helios’ for ‘the sun’ and ‘anthos’ for ‘flower.’ ‘Annuus’ for ‘annual’ references the flower’s complete life cycle in one growing season.

Sunflowers are native to North America. Though several of my favorite plants are native to other parts of the world, sunflowers are native to this continent. Native Americans traditionally used sunflowers for culinary, medicinal, and dye-making purposes.

sunflowerringoffire_eatbreathegardenSunflowers come in a variety of colors and sizes. The “traditional” sunflower has mustard yellow petals surrounding a dark center, atop a tall sturdy stem. There are a multitude of different flower heights and colors. ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflowers are as big as the name suggests and grow up to approximately 15 feet tall (Renee’s Garden). (Check out more tall sunflower varieties.) There are dwarf types, including ‘Elves Blend’ which grows 16 inches to 2 feet tall (Botanical Interests) – and then everything in between. There are also sunflowers with the creamy yellow – almost white petals of ‘Vanilla Ice’ (Burpee), burgundy petals of ‘Chocolate’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed), and the bicolor flowers like ‘Strawberry Blonde’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed) or ode-to-Johnny-Cash ‘Ring of Fire’ (Seed Savers Exchange). Check out the unusual, “shaggy blooms” of ‘Teddy Bear’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed) or the beautiful blend of fall colors of ‘Autumn Beauty’ (Seed Savers Exchange). New in 2016 – ‘Sundancer’ grows quickly to 4-6 feet tall and blooms early in the season (Renee’s Garden).

The tallest sunflower measured at 30 feet 1 inch tall. The Guinness World Record holder was grown by Hans-Peter Schiffler in Germany in 2014. That’s about 2.5 stories tall! (Check out a video of the tallest sunflower.)

Sunflowers are hyperaccumulators – or “soil cleaners.” Sunflowers aren’t just pretty faces. They are used in phytoremediation to help rehabilitate soils and groundwater that contain heavy metals, such as lead, uranium, and cesium. In fact, sunflowers were planted near Chernobyl and Fukushima to remove the toxins after the nuclear plant disasters.

Young sunflowers track the sun’s movements in a process called heliotropism. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about sunflowers is the young plants’ ability to follow the sun as it moves in the sky throughout the day. A young plant starts its day greeting the sun as it rises in the east. Then the tip growth moves during the day, “following” the angle of the sun before ending its day facing west at sunset. During the night, it resets itself to once again face east by sunrise in the morning. Eventually as growth develops and flower buds form, the stem hardens and becomes rigid, not allowing for further movement. The sunflower ends up facing east, generally speaking, and no longer tracks the movement of the sun. Read more about these flowers’ circadian rhythm and why the it tracks the sun. watch time lapse video of a sunflower seedling tracking the sun.

sunflower3_eatbreathegardenHave you ever noticed the Fibonacci patterns on the sunflower? Look closely at the center of a sunflower, and you’ll notice a spiral pattern. You may have also noticed this pattern on agave, cactus thorns,  snail shells, the Milky Way, hurricane formations, the bottom of a pine cone, and more. The sunflower florets are arranged in a unique mathematical pattern as to create a series of interconnected spirals. Read more about what causes this.

sunflowercutflowers_eatbreathegardenActivities with Sunflowers

  • Watch time lapse video of a sunflower seedling tracking the sun.
  • Sow sunflower seeds, either by direct sow in the garden or in pots to transplant later in the garden. Try growing the giant sunflowers in your garden – research how to grow the biggest, tallest varieties in your garden.sunflowerarrangement_eatbreathegarden
  • Create sunflower arrangements using flowers cut from the garden or purchased from the florist.
  • Examine a sunflower up close. Notice the rigidness and height of the stems, the texture of the leaves and stems, the soft fuzziness of the point where the back of the flower meets the stem, the Fibonacci patterns of the flower’s “eye,” the colorful petals, the sticky part of the flower’s “eye” (at least on cut flowers, that is)…what else? This can be quite a grounding sensory experience.
  • Notice the Fibonacci patterns of the sunflower florets and study other plants and objects in nature that also contain this pattern. Learn more about the Golden Ratio – this could possibly be a bridge, or lead into a conversation, about the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.sunflowervase_eatbreathegarden
  • Examine pictures of Monet’s sunflower paintings or Van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings painted in anticipation of a visit from his buddy Paul Gauguin. Think about how nature has inspired the masters’ work, particularly Van Gogh who painted sunflowers in all stages – from young flowers to those past their prime. Create your own floral arrangement featuring sunflowers and then have the group sit in a circle around the arrangement. Then encourage them to paint or sketch a still life from their perspective. Paintings and sketches will most likely be different from all angles and can be a good topic about perspective in a group discussion.
  • Harvest sunflower seed once ripened. Pick the sunflower seeds out of the flower head by hand – this challenges fine motor skills.
  • Scatter sunflower seed, with other birdseed, outside for the birds. Or, fashion birdseed “cookies” with seed, flour, water, and corn syrup. Hang outdoors using a piece of twine as a hanging bird feeder. (Birdseed ornament recipe here.)

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Pumpkins Galore

Pumpkins are one of the icons of October. They provide a seasonal cue for fall. You can carve ’em, eat ’em (along with flesh, seeds, and flowers), and decorate ’em. You can even float ’em in water.

A few activity ideas…

Grow pumpkins, gourds, and squash in the garden in spring and watch them grow all season long. You can even do pumpkin scarring as the fruit forms on the vine.

Themed PumpkinsDecorate Jack O’Lanterns, either by carving them or creating no-carve themed pumpkins made to look like black cats, spiders, witches, ghosts, fall flowers, fall leaves, traditional, and more. Before pumpkins became the traditional fruit or veggie of choice to carve, some cultures like the Irish were known to carve other objects, such as potatoes, rutabagas, gourds, turnips, beets, and more. Some of today’s traditions are, in fact, rooted in Celtic history.

Blooming pumpkinGlue dried flowers and other natural elements onto mini pumpkins.

Do a sensory exploration activity. Float pumpkins in water and try to push them underwater. Carve out a lid, remove it, and pull the pumpkin “guts” out. Examine the contents – what does it feel like? What does it smell like? Save the seeds and do a separate activity with them, like seed drying, seed dying, finger labyrinths with seed, and so on.

Pie Pumpkin CenterpiecesCarve out a lid, remove it along with the pumpkin “guts,” insert a cup inside the pumpkin, fill it halfway with water, and use it as a vase to create a floral arrangement in a pumpkin. Pie pumpkins or Millionaire pumpkins are great for this.

Examine pumpkins for their interesting features and/or funny names. There are white, yellow, orange, striped, and almost red ones. There are pumpkins with bumpy “warts” all over them. There are miniature, small, medium, large, and giant sized pumpkins.

Take a look at this variety of pumpkins.

Knucklehead pumpkin
Knucklehead pumpkin
Red Warty Thing
Red Warty Thing
Turk's Turban
Turk’s Turban squash
Cheddar pumpkin
Cheddar pumpkin
Jarrahdale
Jarrahdale
Pink Banana squash
Pink Banana squash
Millionaire pumpkin
Millionaire pumpkin
Wolf pumpkin
Wolf pumpkin
Blue Hubbard squash
Blue Hubbard squash
Chioggia pumpkin
Chioggia pumpkin
Kushaw squash
Kushaw squash
Naples squash
Naples squash
Monster gourd
Monster gourd
Apple gourd
Apple gourd
Big Mac pumpkin
Big Mac pumpkin
One Too Many pumpkin
One Too Many pumpkin
Crystal Star pumpkin
Crystal Star pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin
Miniature pumpkins
Miniature pumpkins
Cinderella pumpkin
Cinderella pumpkin
Table Ace squash
Table Ace squash
Speckled Hound squash
Speckled Hound squash

A Roster of Nature-Based Activities, Part 2

Continuing along on our last post, A Roster of Nature-Based Activities, Part 1…about pollinators, herbal monograms, and kissing balls. (Images for visual cues found here – butterfly life cycle and monarch migration map.)

Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals

Pollinators

In September, we had an in-depth conversation about pollinators. (This conversation can be discussed at other times of the year.) For some groups, we explored a variety of different pollinators – butterflies, bees, flies, bats, moths, wind, water, humans, and more. We discussed how plants have adapted to attract different pollinators. The USDA Forest Service has an excellent online resource about plant pollination strategies – it’s an interesting read and can inspire a variety of interpretations on the relationships between plants and their pollinators.

Here are a few examples of topics we discussed during these sessions:

Orchids attract different pollinators in a variety of ways – from flower shapes and colors to differing aromas. The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) looks and smells like the female of certain types of bees, attracting male bees who come to mate with the flower. Read more here.

Many flowers have ultraviolet colors on them to attract bees who can see these colors which are otherwise invisible to the human eye. It appears as though some flowers have an ultraviolet “bulls-eye” at the center of the flower, inviting the bees by saying “Land here! Land here!” Read more here.

The shapes and colors of some flowers, like salvia and beebalm, are designed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Read more here.

And it is thought that certain beetles or possibly flies can’t get enough of the rotten meat smell emanating from the giant corpse flower, or Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

The Monarch Butterfly

During some of these sessions, we focused on the interesting story of the monarch butterfly – its journey across North America twice a year as it winters in certain regions of Mexico and summers in the United States and Canada. (Google images of the monarch migration and you will find some beautiful photos of trees full of butterflies.) We examine my collections of mounted native and exotic butterflies, including monarchs, swallowtails, and even the blue Morpho. (I don’t endorse the purchase of insect collections as art. You can substitute photos of different types of butterflies, as necessary.) We admire the different colors and patterns on the butterfly wings. We imagine how much they weigh.

Then ask “Can you imagine what it would be like for a monarch butterfly to fly 2000 miles across a continent?” “What must that feel like?” “Can you imagine walking 2000 miles yourself – without a car?” Inevitably there is conversation about stopping off at a rest stop during a long journey – “what do you do at a rest stop?…Eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, stretch our limbs, and more.” We discuss strategies about how we can invite butterflies to use our garden as a “rest stop” or a place to live during the summer. We examine the butterfly life cycle and talk about incorporating host and nectar plants into the garden that invite butterflies at all stages of their lives. President Obama has been working in connection with the leadership in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada on a plan to protect pollinators, including an initiative to declare Interstate 35, which runs through Dallas, as a “pollinator highway.” If we don’t have a garden to plant with host and nectar plants, then we may make floral arrangements using some of these host and nectar plants.

Herbal Monograms

Herbal Monograms

To provide opportunities for clients to make personalized art, consider making monograms with pressed flowers and dried naturals. Trace stencils of letters from the alphabet onto watercolor paper or artist canvas panels. Fill in letters with paint or other colorings. Apply glue and add floral and natural materials to embellish. You can use leftover flower petals from a floral arranging activity. Or harvest marigold flowers from the garden, tear apart the petals from the flowers, and dehydrate the petals (I use a food dehydrator). Once dried, the marigold petals keep their color and are great to use in an art project like this.

Kissing Balls

Kissing Balls

No more (parasitic) mistletoe…kissing balls offer a romantic alternative activity to making wreaths or swags in winter. Clip greens from evergreen trees and shrubs, like boxwood, holly, spruce, pine, juniper, and more, considering the variety of their textures and colors as well as their toxicity. Purchase wet floral foam balls (I used Oasis brand), presoak in water, tie on a long piece of ribbon to be used as a hanger, and then insert greens.

Mardi Gras Floral Masks
Mardi Gras Floral Masks
Teacup Florals
Teacup Florals
Going "vertical" with sunflowers
Going “vertical” with sunflowers
Sunflower program visual cues
Sunflower program visual cues
Air Plants and Sand Cubes
Air Plants and Sand Cubes
Pallet Planters
Pallet Planters
Fireworks Florals
Fireworks Florals
Kentucky Derby Floral Crowns
Kentucky Derby Floral Crowns

 

A Roster of Nature Based Activities, Part 1

Many thanks to those who attended my session at the American Horticultural Therapy Association annual conference in Portland, Oregon! I presented a lot of information but wasn’t able to get to explain the task analyses, supply lists, or nuances of delivering the activities. Over the next few days, I will be sharing a sampling of nature based therapeutic activities and will hopefully be able to share enough of the details to illustrate each activity. So keep checking back with us!

“Reinventing the Wheel”

I’m constantly challenging myself to reimagine some tried-and-true activities, like seed sowing, so each activity’s delivery is fresh and interesting for clients, as well as myself. So I bring seed sowing outdoors and offer it as an alternative to engage clients who prefer something besides planting the raised bed. Or experiment with sowing new seed we’ve never grown before. Or mix it up by using different types of pots – peat pots, 4″ square pots, round quart pots, and more. Or arrange seed and recycled flower petals from yesterday’s floral arranging session to make finger labyrinths on the tabletop.

Budget Busting Tips

I present a variety of activities on this blog and invest in materials that reflect the quality of my company’s services and brand. There are ways to keep supplies from getting too expensive – via thrift shopping, shopping sales or seasonally, recycling items, swapping items for inexpensive items, growing or producing your own items in the garden. I love analyzing a photo of an activity product on Pinterest and dissecting it for the supplies needed to make the product…and then get creative on what to use in delivering the activity. Be on the lookout for tips throughout – you can check out some budget busting tips on the activities found here and here.

The Story of a Tree, as told by the tree rings - A Metaphor
The Story of a Tree, as told by the tree rings – A Metaphor

A Tree’s Story, as told by the cross section of tree’s trunk

Dendrochronology is the scientific study of tree rings to analyze climate changes, environmental conditions, and other events in the past. I first heard about dendrochronology in college when my husband participated in a research project studying the fire history of certain areas of Appalachia with his major advisor. My interests were piqued when he said the dendrochronologist had examined the wood of a rare violin made by Stradivari in order to better tell that instrument’s story. In studying tree rings, we can tell a lot about a tree’s history. First, by counting the number of rings, one can tell the age of the tree. Then measure the distance between each set of rings – during periods of drought, the rings are close together as the tree didn’t have all the moisture it needed in order grow very much that year(s). During periods of adequate rainfall, the rings are further apart, meaning the tree utilized the abundance of moisture to grow a lot. Certain blemishes on the tree’s cross section can also tell the damage caused by insect pests, disease, or fire. The wheels are already turning in my head about how we can relate a tree’s story to one’s own personal story – identify times of positive personal growth or challenging times, such as illness or difficult life events. This can be a powerful metaphor for those dealing with trauma or illness. I blogged about using this activity with a group of women who are refugees resettled to the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Painted Gourds
Painted Gourds

Oh the variety of gourds there are! What a sensory experience! You’ve got caveman club gourds – they look like a caveman’s club! – or birdhouse gourds – yes, you can transform them into birdhouses for our feathered friends – or apple and pear gourds – they resemble the fruit they’re named after – or loofah gourds – I originally thought loofahs were sponges from the sea, but nope, they grow on land. Google gourd art, and you’ll be inspired by the creative artists out there who have transformed hard shelled gourds into penguins, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and other forms of painted or woodburned pieces of art. I’ve even used puffy paint (also called 3-D paint) to embellish gourds. Check out how to make this snowman gourd.

Fernleaf Prints
Fernleaf Prints

Fernleaf Prints

Ferns are a fascinating and diverse group of plants. They are primitive and prehistoric plants that reproduce through spores – no flowers or seeds here. There’s Japanese painted fern, Autumn fern, Christmas fern, holly fern, Australian tree fern, maidenhair fern, lady fern, wood fern, tassel fern, sword fern, shield fern, bird’s nest fern, rabbit’s foot fern, staghorn fern, and much more. Some ferns have straplike leaves, some have waxy leaves, others have fine and delicate leaves, some have giant leaves. Some have hairy stems and rhizomes. You must check out Oriental chain fern (Woodwardia orientalis) and its reproductive methods – so cool! Have samples of various ferns – cuttings or live plants – on hand to compare and contrast leaves. You can use these leaves to do a matching game or make leaf printing art. Include ferns as part of a study of prehistoric plants, along with ginkgo, Wollemi pine, cycads, bald cypress, and horsetail (Equisetum). Check out these articles on prehistoric plants by Kids Gardening and the Eden Project.

Dog Days of Summer Suncatchers
Dog Days of Summer Suncatchers

The phrase “Dog Days of Summer” is derived from the Greco Roman beliefs around the meaning of the dog star Sirius’ position in the sky and the coincidence that this event occurs during the hottest part of the summer. (Read more about here.) During this activity, we talk about the dog star Sirius and analyze its position in Orion’s belt and nearby Canus major and Canus minor with pictures or illustrations used as visual cues. We discuss stargazing and astronomy. We read the imagery and imagine the sensory experience of this poem by Marilyn Lott. Then, we use clear self sealing laminating pouches to arrange pressed flowers and star stickers for a “Dog Days of Summer” suncatcher. (Shown here in a clear acrylic photo frame.)

Keep checking back as we update this post!

Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Herbal Monograms
Herbal Monograms
Kissing Balls
Kissing Balls
Plant Pollinators: Butterfly Visual Cues
Plant Pollinators: Butterfly Visual Cues

A Summer of Therapeutic Horticulture Activities

Whew, it’s a scorcher! Check out a few therapeutic horticulture activities that have kept my clients active this summer, in spite of the heat.

SandArt7-2015A Day at the Beach – Colorful Sand Art Cubes

Clients apply layers and layers of colored sand into glass cubes. Then add a Tillandsia (or a succulent plant) to the cube. I always like to give clients an additional option to embellish their work and put the proverbial “cherry on top” – here, a pink flamingo, beach umbrella pick, and/or seashell. We talked about and passed around photos of beach imagery, listened to the “ocean” in a conch shell, examined sand dollars and seashells, passed around cuttings of tropical plants that grow in our climate, and even played in the sand and water for a little bit.

Lavender2015All About Lavender

I like to take interesting plants that are “in season” and develop out an activity focused entirely on that plant. In this case, it’s all about lavender. Participants learned about the history, use, and benefits of lavender. (Insert deep breath here. Now don’t you feel relaxed?) We passed around photos of a lavender field in Provence, applied cotton swabs of lavender essential oil to the pulse points (wrist), compared the fragrances of dried versus fresh English lavender, and did a brief meditation exercise. I even brought in various products that incorporate lavender. We had a chuckle over Secret’s Clinical Strength “Ooh-La-La Lavender Scent” Deodorant. Participants then made lavender sachets and Tussie Mussie corsages with lavender and other material cut from the garden.

FireworkFlorals2015Floral Fireworks

For Independence Day, we compared the explosions of fireworks to the structure of different flowers. Can you see the similarities? Participants discussed Hanabi (Japanese term – “hana” means “flower” & “bi” means “fire” – compare to flower viewing festival Hanami and the Japanese language of flowers Hanakotoba), then we discussed our traditions of Fourth of July celebrations. Incorporate the 5 senses in this discussion – Sight: fireworks / Smell: burgers on the grill / Taste: watermelon / Touch: swimming in the pool / Sound: patriotic songs played by the marching band in the local parade. We even played some random trivia questions about the history and fun facts of fireworks. Then the group made floral arrangements with white daisies and poms painted with red and blue floral paint. Add an embellishment of star stickers, buddy bows, or patriotic picks. (For inspiration, check out the Flowerworks photographic collection of Sarah Illenberger – who studied firework patterns and then collected and took beautiful photos of a variety of flowers that resembled those patterns.)

July2015 921Rustic Pallet Planters

Use basic woodworking skills and recycled pallet wood to assemble planters. Plant with herbs or easy-to-grow houseplants. Personalize with stenciling, paint, or hot-glued clothespins for displaying plant tags.

ContainerGardeningSpr2015Container Gardening

Container gardening provides opportunities to garden in small spaces or locations where finances, manpower, and space are limited, as well as experiment with interesting plants, enhance existing garden features, develop additional programming, and much more. Can’t bring your group outdoors? Bring the outdoors in! Put lightweight outdoor containers on wheels and bring them indoors for planting in hot climates or working with clients who are sensitive to heat or sun. This is how we were able to plant containers during our unexpected rainy “monsoon season” in late spring. When containers are planted, wheel them back outside, water, and watch ’em grow. (Yes, even the most drought tolerant plants require ongoing maintenance, so make sure you have clients willing to help with upkeep.)

More Therapeutic Horticulture Programming Ideas for Spring

My oh my, it has been a busy April! In honor of Earth Day, I am sharing more of my favorite springtime therapeutic horticulture activities recently done with clients. Check out previous  spring activities here. Hope they inspire your work!

Kentucky Derby Floral Crowns therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegardenKentucky Derby Floral Crowns
Fashion wire into a circle to fit your head and use floral tape to attach mini bouquets of cutflowers. Embellish with ribbon, feathers, wired butterflies and birds, and VOILA – you have a floral crown that honors the tradition of the fancy and whimsical hat fashions from the Kentucky Derby. We used a combination of fresh, dried, and preserved flowers and foliage. Since the Kentucky Derby was a couple of weeks away from the day of this program, I used everlasting flowers – which are flowers that hold their shape and color even after they have dried – so that program participants would still have beautiful headwear after some time had passed.

Kentucky Derby Floral Crowns therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegardenHere, I used purple statice, sea holly, baby’s breath (I recommend using ‘Million Star’ with its large flower heads – I think it’s the best variety of baby’s breath for drying), strawflower, red spray roses (the red rose is the official flower of the Derby), goldenrod, yarrow, and preserved & dyed eucalyptus. [NOTE: When selecting plant material, be mindful of the toxicity of some of these plants, if this may be an issue with the group you are working with.] Some participants didn’t want to make a crown so they made bouquets, floral arrangements, or mini wreaths. Don’t forget to bring a handheld mirror so that participants can look at themselves wearing their handmade crowns!

During the program, we discussed the traditions and iconic imagery of the Kentucky Derby – mint juleps (I brought sprigs of mint to pass around), the garland of roses (red spray roses were available to include on the crowns), Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, the fashions of the hats and clothing, and Triple Crown. I shared Derby-themed fun facts and trivia. Some sources include KentuckyDerby.com and Wikipedia.

Seed sowing therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegardenSeed Sowing
Seed sowing is among the most loved activities with my groups, and sowing sunflowers has become an annual event for one group in particular. I think many of the participants like to know that they are planting something so tiny for future benefits, as well as enjoying getting their hands immersed in soil – the phrases “play in the dirt” or “making mudpies” are often heard.

Seed sowing therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegardenOther reasons: they enjoy the social and collaborative aspects of working with a partner to accomplish something important, like preparing the soil, filling pots with soil, and adding seeds to each pot; the “romance” of a sunflower, which, aside from the rose, is the most recognizable and embraced flower with elder clients; and the change in pace of the daily routine – how often do you get to go outdoors to “play” or stick your hands in soil?

In February we sowed nasturtium seeds, which are the size of peppercorns, and this month we planted the nasturtium plants out in the garden. In March and April, we have been sowing a variety of sunflower seeds for succession plantings. When the plants are ready, we’ll plant them in the garden – hopefully next month. The larger seed, like nasturtium and sunflowers, are easier for many of my clients to work with than small seed. I typically save the smaller seed, like parsley, basil, and black-eyed Susan vine, for challenging the skills and tolerance levels of individuals who are higher functioning.

SpringWreathSpring Wreaths
Use various preserved mosses, wired butterflies and birds, dried florals, and ribbon to embellish grapevine wreaths. To help save on program costs, plan ahead. Therapeutic Horticulture Spring WreathI buy wreaths, ribbon, and other materials when they’re on sale. (I stock up on red, green, and other colors of ribbon after Christmas, when they’re 75-90% off at my favorite craft store.) Or, I use my handy 40% off coupons at my favorite craft store – though, yes, it does require going into the store daily and using the coupon to buy one thing at a time. I also use everlasting cutflowers in other floral arranging activities and save and dry these flowers for future use. Even better, grow and harvest plant material from your own garden.

Spring gardening therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegardenOutdoor Gardening
‘Tis the season to be enjoying the outdoors! We have been busy planting a variety of seasonal annuals, herbs, and veggies.

Spring gardening therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegardenSpring gardening therapeutic horticulture eatbreathegarden

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.

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.