Tag Archives: spring

Celebrating Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, this month, we have been celebrating Mother Nature by getting outdoors and showing our gratitude in a number of ways. We have been admiring nature’s beauty and curiosities, noting our innate desires to connect with nature (biophilia) and the restorative effects nature has on us, brainstorming ideas of what actions we can take on behalf of our environment and other living things, and then taking steps to beautify our environment for ourselves, each other, and hopefully pollinators (if outdoors).

Check out the gallery of activities:

workingsoil_eatbreathegarden
Cultivating soil can be a sensory engaging and grounding experience.
wateringplants_eatbreathegarden
The act of nurturing a plant through watering and other gardening tasks can be a therapeutic activity.
plantedcontainer_geranium_eatbreathegarden
Limited on outdoor growing space? Plant container gardens.
hangingbaskets_eatbreathegarden
Or, plant hanging baskets to put on display. (Here, they’re waiting to be hung.)
raisedbed_eatbreathegarden
Raised beds elevate gardening activities, making them more accessible for gardeners.
transplantseedlings_eatbreathegarden
Pot up spring seedlings started from seed during winter.
AfricanViolet_propagate_eatbreathegarden
Don’t have easy outdoor access? Propagate and transplant easy to grow houseplants that brighten up the indoors.

Hanami – Celebrating the Ephemeral Beauty of the Cherry Blossom

The Yoshino cherry trees are blooming here in North Texas – celebrating the start of spring right along with us. Now is the time to get outdoors and enjoy their beautiful white and blush pink floral displays. And quick – check them out before their striking beauty fades, or you’ll have to wait another year before they bloom again.

eatbreathegarden_cherrytree_HanamiCherry blossoms represent the ephemeral beauty of nature, a time of renewal and rejuvenation, and, more largely, the fleeting nature of life itself. Also known as sakura, cherry blossoms are treasured in Japanese culture, depicted in ancient and modern Japanese art, and celebrated each year during the Hanami festival. Hanami is a time when people in Japan celebrate the bloom time of this magnificent harbinger of spring. Translated as “flower viewing,” Hanami is when plantings of various Prunus are viewed and enjoyed all over the country. This practice dates back to the 8th century and has grown in interest over the years. In Japan, cherry trees bloom first in the southern part of the country in March and last through May when the last of the cherries bloom in the north. Just like meteorologists predict the weather patterns, so-called blooming forecasters study the weather in order to predict the bloom time of the cherry trees across the country. (Check out a cherry bloomtime map of Japan here.)

eatbreathegarden_springflowers_cherrytrees“We Japanese can’t miss Hanami,” says Japanese culture consultant Motoko Ishihara Evans. “Hanami is just like a picnic under cherry blossoms. It’s a long tradition to appreciate beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. Even [in the] 16th century they enjoyed Hanami.” Families celebrate Hanami by picnicking, socializing, and playing games under the blooming cherry trees. Motoko talks about the eager anticipation and festivities of this time of year. “We eat lunch, under the trees. At night there are lanterns, and [we] eat and drink sake or beer. In Japan it’s not illegal to drink in public places. Some people sing. It’s like a party. Even children go to Hanami with snacks and drinks. We go out for Hanami with friends, family, and coworkers. All over Japan we wait for cherry blossoms in bloom.”

eatbreathegarden_springflowersHanami and the application for horticultural therapy practitioners

Horticultural therapy clients can derive personal meaning from this message about honoring the ephemeral yet beautiful nature of life through the metaphor of the cherry blossoms, especially through the example of Hanami. Though the cherries bloom for a short time, the Japanese people celebrate this time with their loved ones, enjoying quality time with one another. “Celebrating special moments, like cherry blossom time, can mark the cycle of life by using tangible plant material as a symbol for the annual passage of time or to evoke special, pleasant memories where the client recalls happy or poignant experiences and occasions,” wrote Margaret Shillingford, BS, MEd, and Lesley Fleming, MA, HTR, in their article “Cherry Blossoms, Symbolism and HT,” originally published in The American Horticultural Therapy Association News Magazine, volume 40, number 2.

eatbreathegarden_springflowers_cherrytreesIn working with clients, share photos of cherry blossoms and Hanami celebrations depicted in Asian art, day and night time celebrations of Hanami in Japan, and even the blooming Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. (The 3,000-plus Washington trees were a gift from Japan to the United States, as a goodwill gesture, in the 1912, and celebrated during the Cherry Blossom Festival each spring. Read more about it here. You can even watch the cherry trees in bloom with the “Cherry Blossom Cam” in Washington here.) Pass around cherry branches and examine the buds and blossoms. Reminisce about favorite seasonal family gatherings and celebrations. Create individual or group floral arrangements using cherry branches and other spring flowers.

eatbreathegarden_springflowers_cherrytrees
Client-created floral arrangements with cherry blossoms, daffodils, and tulips

Celebrating National Horticultural Therapy Week!

Happy First Day of Spring! We are celebrating National Horticultural Therapy Week during this first week of spring. As we enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the new season, check back all this week for new posts in honor of the use of horticulture as a therapeutic modality. Learn more about the practice of horticultural therapy through the American Horticultural Therapy Association.

What Florists Know [And What We Wished We Knew] About Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat

Bursting with new life, spring flowering bulbs herald in the season of renewal. Recognizing beauty in each stage of growth, florists maximize the versatility of bulbs and use them creatively in a variety of ways.

Bare bulbs are architectural. Stacked as a mass or as a singular specimen, a bulb’s color, shape, and roots intrigue, particularly when presented in glass vessels. Bulbs can be purchased in soil or soil-less. Rinsing off the soil will offer the cleanest presentation and will not hinder sprouting. (Read more about bulbs here).

For dramatic style, place bulbs at the base of a flower arrangement. Juxtaposing blossom with bulb, soft with hard, adds depth and layers of dimension.

eatbreathegarden_daffodil_spring_bulb
Emerging daffodil flower

The crack of the bulb, when the greenery starts to emerge, is one of nature’s wonders. Whether it is a forced bloom or seasonal cycle, observing the bulb’s daily growth is life affirming and beautiful. (Read more about forcing bulbs indoors and forcing paperwhite bulbs.)

eatbreathegarden_allium_spring_bulb
Alliums

Blossoms from spring flowering bulbs — alliums, tulips, daffodils, muscari — are beautiful as cut flowers meticulously arranged or placed simply in a vase.

eatbreathegarden_hyacinths_spring_bulb
Fragrant hyacinths

The fragrance of lily of the valley, freesia, or hyacinths provide immediate pleasure and memories of springtimes past.

The many lives of bulbs…once they’ve finished their show in vases, bulbs can be planted in the ground for another chance at nature’s cycle, in growing zones where hardy. The carbon footprint of a bulb’s journey can be positive and renewable. Note: Bulbs used at the base of an arrangement are less likely to be viable.

eatbreathegarden_iris_freesia_spring_bulb
Client-made floral arrangement using freesia and California iris (alternative for Dutch iris).

For your own spring awakening, try bulbs in any of these renditions. Or consider inspiration from international bulb showcases: Dallas Arboretum in Texas, Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa,  Floralia Brussels at Chateau de Grand-Bigard in Belgium, or the Netherlands’ Keukenhof.

Bulbs planted in fall produce spring flowers. Bulbs planted in spring bring summer blossoms.

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses cut flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers Co.

This is the third in a series of four articles sharing tips on spring bulbs. The fourth article will offer tips for floral arrangements.

Tips to Engage Elder Clients in the Outdoor Garden during a Therapeutic Horticulture Activity

Taking advantage of the beautiful spring weather, I have been bringing my elder groups outdoors as much as possible lately. We have been busy gardening in raised beds and sowing seed.

The act of going outdoors can be a bit challenging sometimes. I work mostly in residential facilities and find that some individuals aren’t inclined to go outdoors, even if they are physically and medically able. Some prefer to stay indoors where they feel more comfortable. At one of my client locations, residents are less inclined to go outdoors if they see a waving flag on the flagpole just outside the main hall window. Regardless of the time of year, they naturally think that it must be “cold out there.” So in these circumstances, I employ different strategies to gently encourage clients outdoors.

It is my goal to have clients choose to come outside into the garden with us. And not be taken there. Sometimes I am able to monitor this, sometimes not.

And when clients arrive in the garden, I encourage everyone to get involved, in one way or another. Some people have no interest in working directly at the garden beds. However, they may be enticed to work at tables or other areas adjacent to the garden. As a result, I have employed the following methods to engage clients wherever they choose to be.

Getting Outdoors

FebMar2015 672Extend the olive branch. When approaching individuals before a session, I often bring a flowering plant, colorful watering can, a package of seed (which I often shake when entering the room and talking with people), or other visually interesting object with me and use that as a physical invitation to join the group outdoors. They can get an idea of the task at hand, with the visual and the verbal reinforcing each other.

Be descriptive about today’s activity. As necessary, I elaborate on the activity and use descriptive language to outline the Who, What, When, Where, and Why – the people who are involved, what tasks we intend to accomplish and why, the plants to be worked with, a description of today’s weather and seasonal interests, and so on. Outline the role that you hope they will fill in helping the group achieve the specific goal.

Provide reassurance of assistance. Reassure hesitant individuals that there are others there to help – this reassurance is essential for those who may not have prior gardening experience or lack the confidence to participate. So I might say, “Here [offering the individual the desirable object used as a physical invite], would you like to help us in the garden? We could really use your help and support. We’re getting our garden open for the spring, and I would appreciate your help to plant these beautiful geraniums.” I respond with additional information as necessary.

Therapeutic Horticulture - Tips for Engaging Elders in the Outdoor GardenStill hesitant? “Come and keep us company.” For some, just getting outside is an accomplishment. A simple invitation to “just come and sit with us” is often the trick to entice someone outdoors. And more often than not, these individuals see others having fun and doing different tasks, and then want to participate themselves. Or, they simply do just want to come and sit with the group. And I’m grateful for that too.

If at first you don’t succeed…loop back around. After bringing others outdoors, go back and check in with individuals who originally didn’t want to go outside. They might want to come outside now that they see everyone else out there!

Sometimes there are individuals who can’t be enticed outdoors, no matter what you do or say. With the nature and goals of my programs, that is ok. I respect each individual’s right to make that choice. And, during my next visit, I will extend the same invitation and hope they will come then.

Once Outdoors

So clients have made the decision to join us outdoors. Since I like to give them the ability to make choices about what they can do while outside, I prepare additional activities when appropriate, aside from planting or tending directly to the garden. Some clients don’t want to do those activities, so I strategize about other relevant tasks and make these alternatives available. (Note: I have agency staff and volunteers assist during sessions and employ these strategies when practical.)

Therapeutic Horticulture - tips on engaging elder clients outdoors - sowing seedSowing seed – Think ahead and plan for future plantings. Have clients work together at a table to prepare soil and plant seeds for future gardening activities.

Grooming plants – Show clients how to deadhead and groom plants that are to be or already are planted in the garden. Engage them in conversation and encourage them to make observations about the plants being tended and the garden itself.

Organizing and cleaning pots – When planting, I hand empty pots to clients who love organizing or appreciate a challenge. Organizing and stacking pots is like working a puzzle, so make sure to provide encouragement and direction as appropriate.

Therapeutic Horticulture - tips on engaging elders outdoorsWatering plants or filling up the birdbath – Some individuals view working with water as less “dirty” or easier than other gardening activities. I see it as another opportunity for sensory stimulation, social interaction (working in partnership with those who are planting), and working motor skills.

Therapeutic Horticulture - Tips on Engaging Elders in the Outdoor GardenTouring the garden and making observations – Some individuals want to enjoy the sunshine and walk around the garden. Or some clients are agitated and don’t want to be around people. If possible, make an assignment to locate a favorite plant or see how the bird’s nest full of eggs is progressing, and have a friend or staff member go with that person to explore together. Jot observations in a notebook or pick a flower to tuck behind your ear.

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

Herbal Recipes: Pineapple Sage, Lavender, Basil, & Lemon Verbena

Woohoo! The trees have leafed out. Though the cherry trees, tulips, daffodils, and forsythia have already finished blooming, the azaleas, iris, and hardy gerbera daisies have started flowering. I have even taken my first two trips to my favorite garden center, scouring for my top picks of herbs, veggies, annuals, and other cool plants for my garden.

Some of the first plants I look out for in the spring are lemon verbena, basil, lavender, and pineapple sage, among others. I plant these in my own garden, as well as in the gardens I help plant in my therapeutic horticulture programs. Every time I walk past them, I can’t help but reach out and touch their leaves, and then smell the fragrance transferred to my fingers. Every time.

Plus, I love how they attract pollinators to the garden throughout the warm growing season. In fact, I often say that if it wasn’t for the pineapple sage, my two hummingbird friends would never have sought refuge in my garden.

With all this excitement at the beginning of the warm growing season, I look forward to a favorite activity that incorporates the use of herbs for culinary and other purposes. Recently, I invited the volunteers who assist me with my therapeutic horticulture programs over to my house for a “Thank You and Did I Say That I Appreciate You So Much?” lunch. (Did I say just how much I appreciate my volunteers? Well, let’s just say that it is A LOT.) I displayed potted plants of these four herbs and then we ate a dish featuring that herb. I will share these recipes (and links to their inspiration) below. At the end of lunch, the volunteers got to take home a tray with a 4″ pot of each of the four herbs, plus a bonus coleus for added ‘thanks’ and a container of pineapple sage salsa.

This makes for a great activity with therapeutic horticulture groups and can be replicated and delivered in a variety of ways year-round. Participants can be actively involved in the growing of the herbs – from seed to harvest – and recipe preparation.

Before doing any food-related programs, always ask ahead to see if it is ok for participants to make and sample food. Some facilities have dietary and other restrictions.

Pineapple_SagePineapple Sage
Salvia elegans is a perennial hardy to USDA Zones 8 to 11 or can be grown as an annual. It grows two to three feet tall in one season and has beautiful red flower spikes in late summer to fall. California’s Mountain Valley Growers appropriately calls pineapple sage a “hummingbird highway” for hummingbirds’ attraction to the red flowers. When rubbed, the green leaves produce a pineapple scent. The flowers and the leaves are edible and can be used to flavor salsas and drinks and make floral sugars.

Apr2015 083Pineapple Sage Salsa
Large handful of Pineapple sage leaves, washed
8-10 Roma tomatoes
1 red onion
1 red, yellow, or green bell pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 can of pineapple (you can use canned crushed pineapple – no dicing necessary – or fresh pineapple too)
1 lime
Tortilla chips

Dice tomatoes, onion, peppers, and pineapple and mix together in a bowl. Rough cut pineapple sage leaves and add to mixture. Cut lime in half and squeeze juice over the salsa. Serve with chips or other dipper. (This would also be yummy served on top of chicken or fish.)

Recipe based on Nat’s Pineapple Sage Salsa from Sweet Valley Herbs.

Basil
There are so many varieties of basil (Ocimum basilicum) out there – Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil, lime basil, cinnamon basil, purple leafed basil, (the ball shaped) boxwood basil, Thai basil, and the straight-up Genovese sweet basil, among many others. I love the variegated Pesto Perpetuo – though I can NEVER find it for sale locally. It has a green-creamy white variegation that ornamentally looks great in a mixed border and is also good for culinary use. Check out this link at Hobby Farms to find uses for 10 varieties of basil. With the recipes below, I used Genovese basil.

Apr2015 069To-mozza-basil Salad (Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil Salad)

Generous handful of sweet basil leaves, washed
1-2 container(s) of red cherry tomatoes, washed (You can also use large tomatoes and slice them)
1-2 container(s) of yellow cherry tomatoes, washed (I like to encourage the eating of a variety of colors. Check out Prevention’s comparison of the health benefits of yellow vs red tomatoes)
8 oz package of fresh mozzarella “pearls” (You can also slice or tear apart a larger wedge of fresh mozzarella.)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine red and yellow tomatoes and mozzarella pearls in a bowl. Rough cut basil leaves and add to mixture. Add balsamic vinegar and olive oil and mix well. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow vinegar and oil to infuse into the mixture. Or serve immediately.

Recipe based on Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Salad at Food.com.

Apr2015 052Compound Basil Butter

2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
Handful of sweet basil leaves
Handful of parsley
2-3 sprigs of oregano
1-2 garlic cloves
1 t onion powder
Bread or pita chips
Parchment paper

Add softened butter to a mixer bowl. Finely cut basil, parsley, and oregano and add to bowl. Mince garlic and add to bowl. Add onion powder. Turn on mixer and combine well. Apply butter mixture to bread or chips and enjoy. To store, spoon butter mixture onto parchment paper and roll into a cylinder shape. Secure ends by twisting parchment paper to close. Refrigerate when not in use.

Recipe inspired by DIY Herb Butter at Sisters Saving Cents.

Lemon_VerbenaLemon Verbena
There are several herbs that have lemon scented foliage, including lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon grass, and lemon scented geranium. For therapeutic horticulture programs, it would be fun to do a lemon scented plant centered program and have participants discover the variety of plants that offer their own version of lemon fragrance. One favorite, lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora), is an annual with lemon-scented leaves and delicate white flowers. It grows to about 18 inches tall. I grow it in pots during the warm season – then in late fall, cut it back and bring it indoors to overwinter. Next spring, bring it outside and watch it leaf out. It can be used to flavor salsas, floral sugars, baked goods, cold desserts, and drinks.

Apr2015 131Lemon Verbena Fizz

1 cup sugar (Reduce amount to 1/2 cup if desired)
1 cup water
Handful of lemon verbena leaves
1 lemon
Sparking water
Ice

To create the lemon verbena simple syrup (shown in above photo), combine sugar and water in a small pan over medium high heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add lemon verbena leaves to simple syrup mixture and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain simple syrup mixture and discard lemon verbena. Add the juice of one lemon to the syrup.

Fill glasses with ice – I made ice cubes by filling ice cube trays with water and then adding lemon verbena leaves before freezing. Pour 3-4 tablespoons (or a shot glass worth) of the simple syrup over the ice. Fill glass rest of way with sparkling water. Optional, rub lemon verbena leaves on the rim of the glass and add lemon slices to glass before drinking. Enjoy a light and refreshing drink!

Recipe inspired by Herbal Sodas recipe from Martha Stewart.

Lavender2Lavender
Oh, lavender, how sweet you are! There are so many therapeutic programming opportunities for lavender (Lavandula) – sachets, herbal spritzers, handmade spa products – and it is also edible. I buy edible dried lavender buds (which has been processed for consumption) at the natural food market and use this for culinary purposes. I also buy bulk lavender buds online for the other aforementioned uses. When growing lavender, I have had the most success with fernleaf lavender (L. multifida, annual) and ‘Goodwin Creek’ lavender (tender perennial), over any of the other options available. That may be different in other areas of the country (and with different gardeners).

Apr2015 034Lavender Lemon Sorbet
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 T dried lavender buds
Juice from approximately 15 lemons

To create the lavender simple syrup, combine sugar and water in a small pan over medium high heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add lavender buds to simple syrup mixture and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain simple syrup mixture and discard lavender. Combine lemon juice and 2.5 cups of the lavender simple syrup. Refrigerate.

Add lavender simple syrup / lemon juice mixture to ice cream machine. Turn on and run for 30 minutes. Then scoop sorbet mixture into container and freeze for about two hours. Enjoy!

Lavender simple syrup recipe and Lavender Lemon Sorbet recipe inspired by Cuisinart.

Bonus Plates

Apr2015 098Bowl Full of Berries, with Mint

Apr2015 123Edible Flowers and Greens Salad (Did you know that pansies have a slight root beer taste?)

Horticulture and Health

I am thrilled to host our first guest post from Lesley Fleming, MA, HTR. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who has worked with elder, youth, veteran, rehab, and inmate populations through her private practice in Florida. She served as editor-in-chief of the AHTA News Magazine, a publication for the members of the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), and is a former AHTA board member. Lesley continues to be a prolific and passionate writer and public speaker on a variety of horticultural therapy and people-plant related topics. Here, in her eat|breathe|garden guest post, she addresses the benefits of nature and horticultural activities on human health and wellbeing. Enjoy!

____________________________________________________

By Lesley Fleming, MA, HTR
Cover photo: L. Fleming

How does horticulture impact human health?
HandholdingfernHorticulture, defined as the art and science of cultivating flowers, vegetables, ornamental plants, and fruit, can encompass a wide ranging variety of activities that can span all of the health domains: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual. Health practitioners from across disciplines shed light on the scope of impact horticultural elements can have on human health and well-being. Substantiated by a growing body of evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, society seems intrigued by connections between horticulture and health in our current technology-heavy lifestyle.

What are some of the connections between horticulture and health?

The healing power of natureVis Medicatrix Naturae concept attributed to Hippocrates, refers to healing powers of nature (including horticulture), as a guiding principle for human health and medicine. Ecotherapy, ecopsychology and nature-based therapies are emerging as viable treatment approaches. Rooted in what E.O. Wilson emphasized as the biophilic need for humans to connect to the natural world, these nature-based therapies are often mentioned as antidotes to society’s increasing reliance on technology, environmental decline, increasing mental health issues, and low levels of contact with nature. Environmental psychologist Stephan Kaplan’s 1995 research on the restorative benefits of nature have been embraced by many in the medical and therapeutic communities and are the basis of attention restoration therapies used for treating many patients, especially those dealing with cancer.

Physiological benefits from plants and gardening – Research continues to demonstrate the health benefits from growing, being near, and even breathing in fragrances from plants. Research conducted by Qing Li, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo has provided data that blood pressure, cortisol levels and NK (cancer fighting) activity can be improved through ‘forest breathing,’ where aromatic compounds called phytoncides release chemicals that when breathed in, can improve physical well-being. Research published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society suggests that walking a reflexology path, which stimulates the feet’s pressure points, can improve blood pressure when done on a regular basis. Smelling lavender and rosemary can address the body’s ability to fight disease and decrease levels of cortisol. Research continues to explain other physiological benefits from plants and gardening activities.

The emergence of gardens in healthcare settings – Gardens in hospitals have a long history dating back thousands of years. In the last 15 years, more and more healthcare facilities have integrated green spaces into their physical facilities. In part responding to the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals Organization’s 1999 report calling for opportunities for patients and visitors to connect with nature, as well as a response to client-based preferences for views of, and access to plants, both of these reflect Ulrich’s (1984) research conducted in a hospital setting where patients with views of nature had faster recovery time.

Social movements rooted in gardening activities – These include community and school gardens, World War II victory and allotment gardens, permaculture communities, community social agriculture (CSA), fair trade, poverty and social justice concerns, social groups–garden clubs, master gardeners, 4-H, Future Farmers of America clubs, and high school environmental clubs, to name a few. Often correlated to food security, social movements involving gardening activities have been able to sustain themselves because they address a basic human need—growing food—while providing social, educational, recreational, and political connectors.

Horticultural therapy and other treatment modalities – including recreation, physical, occupational, and eco- therapy have incorporated gardening and plant-based activities (assessment and treatment) into their disciplines. Though the historical roots of gardening for rehabilitation can be traced back to the 1800s, the popularity of therapeutic practices using horticultural activities has dramatically grown in the last decade and a half. Newer approaches like nature-based therapies (NBT), ecopyschology, and wilderness therapy have broadened how nature and horticulture are used to improve human well-being and target specific health deficits.

Veteran to farmer programming – Integrating vocational, therapeutic, educational, social enterprise, and rural community restructuring elements into innovative programs for those transitioning from military to civilian life, it is the connection between horticulture and health that has spurred the development of alternative approaches for addressing the mental, physical, social, and economic challenges faced by Post 9/11 soldiers. Likened to European care farms, this hybrid model of social, vocational, and health programming has as its core value, connecting human to nature. Few of those who have initiated veteran to farmer programs use terms like horticultural therapy or therapeutic outcomes to describe their programs or the changes observed in participating veterans, but this is another example of how horticulture (one aspect of nature) connects to human health. (The author’s research, titled “Veteran to Farmer Programs: An Emerging Nature-Based Programming Trend” was published in 2015 in the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture 25 (1) pp.27-48. )

In summary
The positive health outcomes attributed to contact with nature, specifically horticulture, continue to be recognized and validated through empirical research in a wide array of health disciplines. Linking horticulture to health – be it through treatment, social engagement, improved nutrition, garden design, or other – speaks to the impact plant-based activity can have in all health domains. The sense of hope for cancer patients growing their own healthy food, reduced recidivism rates for incarcerated individuals who participate in horticultural therapy programs, greater parent involvement in their children’s school gardens, active aging populations who socialize at community gardens—all serve as examples. No longer relegated to the narrow category of fiber, food, or medicine, plants and their related plant-based health services broaden the scope of impact horticulture is having on human health and well-being.

References
Atsumi, T, and K Tonosaki (2007). Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva. Psychiatry Research 2007; 150:89–96.

Farmer Veteran Coalition (2014a). About Us. http://www.farmvetco.org/about-us

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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
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