Plant Activities Using Paper Materials


With therapeutic horticulture professionals in mind, here are some ideas on how to do plant- and nature-oriented activities using paper materials. This may be helpful when supplementing activities that utilize natural materials without potting media or live plants or looking for budget friendly alternatives to activity materials. The information in this blog post was featured in the fall 2020 issue of the Nova Scotia Horticulture for Health newsletter, “Digging In.” Post written with input by Lesley Fleming, HTR.

Therapeutic horticulturists use a variety of materials for plant-based programs. Paper, a plant product, can be key components or supplemental accessory for hands-on activities.


Plant photos – When certain plants or scenery are unavailable, pictures can be used to supplement the activity, particularly to show the context or location of a plant.

Leaf matching activity – Create a template tracing and copying uniquely shaped leaves like redbud, sweet gum, maple, oak, tulip poplar, ginkgo, and pine. Give each person a master sheet so that real pressed leaves can be fitted within the traced shapes. This works well with a range of cognitive abilities. Individuals with cognitive deficits are challenged to match shapes while others may be engaged to discuss the variety/shape/color of leaves.


Pressed flower cards and suncatchers – Decoupage pressed flowers and leaves onto cardstock cards with deckled edge for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or other special occasions. Frame them with mats or inexpensive frames. Create bookmarks, mandalas, or “stained glass” patterns using self-sealing laminating sheets for art that glows backlit from sunlight when hung in windows.


Inspirational quotes celebrating flowers that open and close each day – Flowers such as morning glories, four o’clocks, and night-blooming plants like evening primrose, cirrus and certain cactus provide an opportunity to discuss why some plants have these daily characteristics for pollination or energy conservation. Make pre-printed inspirational quotes about the moon available for pressed flower cards as an adjunct activity.


Gift it forward – Decorating small plants/flowers by wrapping them in tissue paper and tying with ribbon or jute can be an activity done individually or cooperatively with a buddy. Line tissue with waxed paper or cellophane wrap and cinch around plant. For facilities that prefer to have participants not take plants back to rooms, gather decorated plants into a large basket to display in a community gathering area for a few days, followed by gifting plants to loved ones for holidays, thank-you to staff members during Nursing Home Week. Purchasing a flat or six pack of flowers makes this activity cost effective.


Flower and leaf printing – Cut flowers like daisy, buttons, or pom style mums can be dipped into paint, printing flower heads onto thick watercolor paper. Use leatherleaf stem from the grocery store florist to make leaf prints using stamping ink pads. To do, lay leatherleaf stem on paper towel or newspaper and press ink pad all over the top of the leaf, ensuring good coverage of ink on leaf. Turn leaf upside down onto watercolor paper, place paper towel or newspaper as blotting paper over top of leaf, and press firmly. Experiment with variations of this technique.

Paper quilt with flower prints – Follow flower printing session with a group activity to create a paper quilt using uniform sized paper, complementary or multiple shades of paint color, and construction paper border to unify flower prints together. Combine everyone’s artwork and display both the quilt and paint-dipped flowers. Themes of Fourth of July and Christmas flowers can augment activities.

Bingo with leaf markers – Add zest to this popular game by substituting paper or real leaves as markers. Consider nature/garden related bingo cards.

Paper bag vases for floral arranging activities – Use inexpensive paper gift bags as vases for a substitute to water filled vessels. This activity has several dimensions including applications for populations likely to spill water in vases or with restrictions using glass containers, flower arranging without water using cut greens, baby’s breath, statice, and button moms that last a few days without water. For groups where water does not pose a challenge, place a plastic cup within gift bag for floral arrangements. Inexpensive ornaments can be added for extra flair.

Making houseplants and flowers out of paper – The internet, Pinterest, and numerous books offer instructions on making flowers and houseplants from paper (Handmade Houseplants: Remarkably Realistic Plants You Can Make with Paper by C. Hogg, Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand by R. Thuss). Position live inspirational plants and flowers in the table center to encourage participant creativity.

My Social Media Garden


In the time of the Coronavirus, social distancing, and self quarantines, I am sowing seeds indoors under grow lights, potting up iris starts (also indoors), and dreaming of my warm season 5b garden – when I can squeeze in time from the computer and homeschooling kids. I feel lucky to be able to stay home where my family is safe (and so far COVID-free, fingers crossed).

With our ongoing intermittent snowfall – such as the blizzard going on outside right now, I’ve been spending most of my time indoors. When the weather is nice – and there isn’t snow on the ground, the family has pitched in to build a raised bed that will be about the length of the barn (more on that soon in another post). Until we can get outdoors and really start working on developing our new garden, I’m periodically checking my social media feeds, enjoying the sights in others’ already warm season gardens, and taking notes on ideas for my own soon-to-be garden, currently buried under six inches of snow and counting.

I’m dreaming of spring flowers.

I’m careful to balance my screen time with other activities, as well as keep my mental wanderings and health in check. I realize that, for my sanity, cultivating moments of awe is essential. (Read more on the transformative nature of awe and the healing power of awe, supported by recently published research in the journal Emotion. Here’s another article I wrote on positive emotions and awe for the Horticultural Therapy Institute blog on The Power of Nature and Awe.)

So the social media I follow is limited to family and friend activities, funny memes, and beautiful nature and garden imagery. Essentially I’m actively curating my small moments of awe indoors by looking at beautiful tulip fields in Holland, wild animals roaming the National Parks, creative cutflower arrangements by professional floral designers, majestic mountain scenes posted by National Geographic, blooming cactus at the Desert Botanical Garden, and flowering fruit trees in my former professors’ gardens. These are all images I see in my cultivated garden of nature themed social media.

Tulips in spring

Here are some of my favorites…not all of them, just some.

Floret Flower Farm – as I write this today, Floret has just posted a photo of the stunning frilly pink peony flowers of Tulip ‘Cool Crystal.’ This picture is in the midst of other photos of floral arrangements filled with what’s in season, romantic shots of favorite flowers, and the latest happenings on this Washington farm, including their upcoming docuseries on the new Magnolia network (coming later in 2020).

Layla Robinson Design – this Welsh floral designer creates beautiful arrangements, wreaths, and other ephemeral art using dried flowers and other materials. It has inspired me to plant certain seasonal flowers in my garden, just so I can harvest them and attempt to use them in a similar way. To see beauty in flowers in this unique way…I appreciate perspectives that challenge the way I view and experience the world.

Gomphrena in the garden

National Geographic – some of the world’s best photographers catch amazing sights of the natural world, with the human species occasionally in there too. I’ve seen some of the most spectacular shots of rare and endangered animals, exotic locations around the world, and unusual sights that I never knew even existed. It’s an education and marvel in one.

Jamie’s Jungle – avid houseplant gardener Jamie Song often gives video and photo tours of his indoor London flat “garden.” I love the unique assortment of tropical houseplants that he displays like an art collection. The pots in which his plants are planted are also pretty cool.

Homestead Brooklyn – fellow urban houseplant gardener Summer Rayne Oakes features the plant collection in her New York City “apartment garden.” She has been YouTubing her world travels and 365 days of (house)plants, with information about one plant and its care – YouTube channel Plant One on Me. And I was quoted in her recent book How to Make a Plant Love You.

Corrie Beth Makes – can’t get your hands on that cool new houseplant? Artist Corrie Beth Hogg makes her own with paper! Sometimes I have a hard time telling which plant is real and which is paper. Her creations are THAT good! You can learn to make your own too from her book Handmade Houseplants. Might be something fun to do during quarantine.

Flora Grubb Gardens – amazing California plants are featured by this San Francisco garden center. The spiky plants and even spiky flowers are a nice escape from my Colorado winter-spring.

Edible pansy flowers in salad

Niki Jabbour – having just moved from my warm Zone 8a garden and learning to navigate my new Rocky Mountain 5b cold weather garden, I really appreciate the gardeners makin’ it work in cooler climates. Niki Jabbour has figured out how to grow year-round in her Nova Scotia garden, even amongst the deer (it’s been a long time since I had to deal with deer). She uses cold frames, covers, and hoops, and I’ve already learned so much through her social media and website, SavvyGardening, which she co-hosts with fellow horticulturists and writers Jessica Walliser and Tara Nolan. I’ve also been consulting Niki’s books The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, Veggie Garden Remix, and soon Growing Under Cover.

Leslie F. Halleck – among the horticulture industry people I follow, I appreciate Leslie’s perspective on horticultural topics, business, and women in the industry. She shares interesting articles, along with photos of her favorite Sinningia, grow light systems, and veggies from her garden. Since I’ve been starting a lot of seed using grow lights, I have been consulting Leslie’s books, Gardening Under Lights (I have a signed copy!) and Plant Parenting.

Grow! with Katie – Known for her appearances on QVC, Katie Dubow interviews horticulture industry movers and shakers on her Facebook Live videos. She has interviewed a variety of really interesting people on different topics – you should be able to find something that appeals directly to you. Katie is a second generation business owner of Garden Media Group, which studies and communicates about industry trends.

Palm House, Kew – circa 2008

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – I love the storied history of this 260+-year-old botanic garden, as well as old school collections of plants gathered together by trained horticulturists and plant hunters, present and past. To be honest, one of my favorite memories is from my studies at Kew in 2008 – our classroom overlooked the pond and, just beyond, the iconic architecture of the Palm House, how lucky was I? I loved walking through the Waterlily House and Princess of Wales Conservatory or across the treetop walkway (which had just opened). I remember walking quickly through the gardens, past the formerly caged Wollemi pine, to the Orangery restaurant to grab lunch and then stroll the gardens near Kew Palace. It’s a nice stroll down memory lane when I look at Kew’s Instagram.

Caged Wollemi pine at Kew – circa 2008

Chanticleer, a pleasure garden – as I create my own new pleasure garden in the Rockies, I’ve always been inspired by the horticultural wonders and creations at Chanticleer since I first visited in 2003. Even though I’m in the mountain setting, I’m still gonna grow my spiky succulents and tropical caladiums, inspired by the plantings I often see on their social media. Perhaps I’ll start floating flower petals in a water feature (note to self: build one first) or grow my own sweeping ornamental grain planting in the pasture. Maybe I will!

Eye candy hydrangeas

A few more “eye candy” social media I follow:

Hilton Carter, artist and author of Wild Interiors

Desert Botanical Garden, in Phoenix, Arizona

Becky Crowley, English cutflower grower who grows flowers for Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Terrain, inspired garden lifestyle shop

M Creative J, botanical fiber artist

Plant Adaptations: Metaphors for Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

Originally posted on the Horticultural Therapy Institute blog

Plants have acclimated to grow in all sorts of climates and growing conditions, whether they are cloud forests and rainforests or aquatic, alpine, or desert habitats. Native plants in these ecosystems have adapted to the soils, temperatures, precipitation, wind, and other unique conditions of their habitats. This is evidenced by their growth habits, methods of pollination and seed dispersal, and other plant characteristics.

Through in-depth examination and discussion of plant adaptations to their habitats, horticultural therapy clients can translate stories of plants’ resilience to personal experiences in challenging situations. Plant adaptations don’t happen overnight, and this perspective may help cultivate insight on current personal challenges. One might ask, “If a plant can grow, flower, and survive in a tough environment, I might be able to adjust and thrive despite the challenges of my own situation.”

One example of adaptation involves plants that grow in the hot, arid conditions of the desert. We may think of the desert environment as extreme and brutal, but the plants that live there have adapted to flourish in these conditions. Check out some of the ways in which desert-inhabiting plants have learned to survive despite the odds.


Many plants have thick succulent leaves, stems, and roots (which are often extensive root systems). These allow plants to soak up as much water as possible during infrequent periods of rainfall and store it for the dry spells. The plants then often conserve resources and expend less energy, resulting in slow growth habits. The slower they grow, the less food and energy is used.


Some desert plants have minimal to no leaves or shed leaves during times of drought so as not to use all the plant’s energy in sustaining a sizable leaf canopy. Despite having no leaves, cactus stems are able to conduct the process of photosynthesis. Ever notice how some cacti, like barrel cactus, have a “ribbing” on their stems? This acts like an elastic waistband, allowing the stem to swell as it absorbs water when it rains and shrink as it conservatively uses its resources during dry spells.


The “hair” on plants helps to shade the leaf surface and reduce water loss. Plus these hairs and thorns of plants make them much less palatable for animals to munch.


The waxy coating of leaves and stems also help to reduce water loss.


The leaf arrangement and growth habits of some plants help to efficiently manage exposure to the sun and elements.


Several flowering plants conserve energy by opening their blooms for a brief period at certain times of the day. Blooms open up at the time of day when their pollinators are most active and then are closed the rest of the day.

Examining plant adaptations with clients in therapeutic horticulture activities

To engage clients, research and make a list of your area’s growing conditions and native plants. Or, select a different ecosystem to study. This can be done either with clients or during pre-session preparation. Have living specimens, pressed plant material, and/or photos of native plants in their habitats available for client interaction. Discuss what qualities make them suitable for growing in this environment. Note how plants don’t all adapt in the same way – for example, some plants have thorns that are a visual and physical deterrent that keep them from being eaten by animals, while others contain poisonous compounds that make them undesirable. Encourage client discussion to similarly evaluate the characteristics of their own environments (the people, situations, culture, etc. in these surroundings) and identify personal adaptations and healthy coping strategies that can enable them to grow and thrive in these surroundings.

SucculentTrough_SusanMorganFor succulent plant activities, plant individual or group dish gardens or open terrariums with succulent plants that offer diverse characteristics. Encourage clients to select a favorite plant and explain what is interesting about it. Explore the senses by blending a special soil mix with sand and/or gravel, ideally suited for succulents. Add a creative flair with colored sand and aquarium gravel as a mulch. Repurpose objects, like colanders, old shoes, and strawberry jars, as planters for succulents. Use woodworking skills to craft wood scraps into planting troughs and then use a woodburning tool to etch inspirational phrases on the side (as shown in photo). (Note: use caution when working with thorny or caustic succulents and gravel and when using woodworking and woodburning tools.)


Missouri Botanical Garden, “Biology of Plants: Plant Adaptations.”

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “How Plants Cope with the Desert Climate.”

National Park Service, “Plant Adaptations.”

Originally posted on the Horticultural Therapy Institute blog





Inspiring Quote by Biologist E.O. Wilson


Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.

– E.O. Wilson, American biologist, naturalist, conservationist, researcher, teacher, and writer who popularized the ‘biophilia hypothesis’ – our innate connection to other living things, including the humans, flora, and fauna of the world.