Decorate 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.
Glue 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.
Carve 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a memory care community and a local plant nursery on a special planting of a new renewal garden. A group of Girl Scouts, from age 3 (sibling of a Girl Scout) on up, and the general public came out on a lovely Texas Saturday morning to help the residents and staff plant their beautiful garden.
I worked with the three-year-old on planting a ring of pansies and dianthus around a tree. We worked as a team – I pushed the short handled shovel into the ground with my foot and provided moral support and encouragement, and she wiggled the shovel to loosen the soil and then planted each plant in the ground. We exchanged a High-Five of Pride when we finished.
While some of the residents planted the raised beds, others came outside to sit and watch the little ones in action. They got a kick out of the carrots that kids had eagerly harvested from an earlier summer planting of the root vegetable. Everyone was interested in tasting the harvest…though the carrots needed a good wash before that was gonna happen.
Watching the generations of gardeners work together reminded me of an article by Anne Harding that I read earlier in the year. It talked about why gardening activities – or a dose of Vitamin “N” (for Nature) – are good for us. And on Saturday, I saw these benefits in action.
Here are a few highlights from the article (with a few additions):
Gardening exercises the body…and the mind.
Get your body moving by working out in the gym…and tending the garden. General gardening tasks, like weeding and digging, are good examples of low impact exercise. And, by the end of the “workout,” you can reap the visual benefits of your physical efforts – an inviting garden. The garden is a safe place to “get lost,” exercise your muscles while allowing the mind to wander, and stimulate the senses, which may trigger memories of childhood play or tending a grandparent’s garden plot.
Nature has the ability to help renew our sense of wellbeing.
The more plugged into technology and removed from the outdoors we are, the more likely we are to be stressed out, tired, and generally cranky. Research suggests that immersing ourselves in nature helps to clear the mind, reduce mental fatigue, and improve mood. In fact, doctors in Japan have been prescribing shinrin-yoku – or “forest bathing,” which involves a relaxing walk through the woods – to patients as a means for reducing stress, alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and restoring a sense of self efficacy in daily life.
Gardens naturally bring people together.
Enjoy a family picnic under the shade of a tall tree. Bring an arrangement of garden grown flowers to a friend in need. Share the bounty of homegrown tomatoes or freshly divided iris with neighbors and coworkers. Plants can be the vessel to connect people and form social bonds.
Cultivated landscapes promote a sense of security & community pride.
Research studies have suggested that areas with an abundance of well maintained vegetation have overall lower crime rates of certain types. Why? The researchers think that the people living in these areas have a deeper sense of pride and connection within their community and are involved in increased surveillance of their surroundings.
Plants (and soil) can help improve our overall health.
Gardeners involved in growing their own food, including kids, are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables than their peers. New research also suggests that coming into contact with a certain type of soil based bacteria can help to release serotonin in our brain, thus improving mood.