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The Transformative Experience of Basil Seed

At a time when gardeners are sowing seeds in preparation for the spring garden, let’s talk about seeds…basil seed in particular.

About a year ago, friend and fellow practitioner Charles Plummer of Youth with Faces told me about how basil seed can change before your very eyes, if you just add water. He had learned this from Rebecca Haller, HTM, during one of the Horticultural Therapy Institute’s courses.

Somewhat skeptical, I said, “Well, what happens?”

He encouraged, “Just give it a try and see what happens.”

It took me a couple more months – when I was preparing to lead a seed sowing session with one of my groups – before I was in the same room as basil seed, an eye dropper, and some water. So in taking Charles’ advice, I gave it a try.

And WOW!

Did you know that basil seed can change right before your eyes in just a few seconds?

In a world of instant gratification, clients can sometimes get impatient with the “slow growing” nature of plants in the garden. This is a great opportunity for a meaningful lesson, or actually a series of lessons, on the phrase “Good things come to those who wait.” The act of nurturing a plant – from seed to seedling to full grown plants that can be harvested for eating or collecting seed – can help the gardener experience the cyclical nature of life in real time. Some things just don’t happen overnight…patience is a virtue.

However, at other times, an activity with instantly gratifying results can be equally as powerful and transformative. Here, watching a basil seed from start to finish can help shift a person’s self-focused attention outside of themselves to something that is so tiny. In a sense, it can be incredibly grounding for one’s perspective to watch a seed that’s a centimeter in size transform itself. (Read more on the transformative nature of awe and the healing power of awe, supported by recently published research in the journal Emotion.)

So what exactly does the basil seed do when you add water? As Charles would say, just give it a try yourself. I’ll give you a sneak peek below.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenTo start, gather together the following materials: basil seed (I used the Genovese type because it was handy, though I’m sure pretty much any basil seed would work), cup of water, eye dropper, and your hands.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenOpen your hand out flat so that the palm of your hand is facing up toward the sky. Gently tap some basil seed out of the seed packet into the palm of your hand. Take note of what the basil looks and feels like at this time. The seed is tiny in size and black in color – it kinda looks like the poppy seeds that get stuck in your teeth after eating a poppy seed bagel. Use a finger from your other hand to roll the dry seed around in your hand. Focus your attention on the sensation of the seed rolling around in your hand.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenNext, get some water in your eye dropper and add a few drops of water over the top of the seed. Make sure the seed has contact with the water.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenNotice how the added water feels to your skin – cool and wet. And watch.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenFocus all of your attention on the seed. Be patient and watch. It doesn’t happen instantly. And, don’t worry, the seeds aren’t jumping beans, so they won’t start popping up into your face. They also don’t grow spikes or turn into orange and blue polka dots.

Just watch…

And watch…

And watch until…

There! Do you see it?!?

What happened? The basil started turning a different color. What color? It’s kind of a gray color, right?

Keep watching…

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenAfter a few seconds – at least 30 seconds, probably more – the basil seed will soak up most, if not all, of the water. The seed will have changed from tiny, black seeds to slightly larger, puffier, whitish gray seeds. If you look very closely, you can actually see the layer of seed mucilage over the seed coat.

So what is seed mucilage? It is a thin gelatinous layer that forms over seeds when exposed to moisture. Basil seeds form noticeable amounts of mucilage. You can even do this same experiment with chia seeds and notice the copious amounts of gel that form. Weird. (Read more about mucilage and its purpose here.)

After I first did this activity, I felt exhilarated and inspired to learn more about why these seeds do this – and every time I have done this activity since then, I’ve felt the same way. There is always a point – typically right when the water is added to the seeds – at which I think to myself, “Will the seeds change?” And then it happens.

Aren’t plants amazing?

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

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?)

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.

Conversation Heart Floral Arrangements

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with this sweet floral arrangement! This vase-within-a-vase centerpiece is sure to spark conversation and offers a new take on the traditional Valentine bouquet.

Jan2015 523Supplies

    • Conversation heart candies (I purchased these at Dollar Tree.)
    • Fresh cutflowers in pastel colors to complement the candies
    • Vase (I used a small “orb,” or fishbowl vase, from Dollar Tree.)
    • Smaller vase that inserts into the larger vase (I used bouillon cube jars, with label removed – and kept the bouillon cubes for my slow cooker.)
    • Watering vessel with water
    • Scissors or pruners
    • Valentine’s embellishment, optional (I used heart floral picks from Dollar Tree – 7-count package for $1.00 – and card picks with Valentine cards purchased from wholesale floral supply.)

*Note: The plastic wrap shown in some of the photos was used to help participants transport their arrangements home, without splashing water onto the candy. The plastic was removed once participants got home.

Step-by-Step Instructions
Insert the smaller vase into the center of the larger vase.Jan2015 773

Add conversation heart candies around the outside of the inner vase. Fill candies to just below the top of the inner vase.

Fill the inner vase about one-third to one-half with water. (Later, you can top off or refresh water as needed.)

Jan2015 783Cut flower stems and insert stems into the inner vase, taking care not to splash the water onto the candies. Keep adding stems until arrangement is complete.

Jan2015 819Optional step: Add Valentine embellishments to complete arrangement.

Jan2015 778Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…
Floral arranging is a high impact, quick results activity for clients and, as a result, is particularly rewarding for my groups in memory care. I am often able to entice reluctant individuals to participate by encouraging them to make an arrangement for a spouse, friend, or family member. Or, for those who don’t consider themselves to be creative or talented enough to exercise their floral arranging skills, I offer assistance and work as part of a “team,” with the client as “teamleader” or “supervisor,” to complete an arrangement. With encouragement throughout the activity, even the most reluctant men, who have never made floral arrangements before and often “pooh-pooh” this type of activity at first, are able to successfully and proudly create their own arrangements. Sometimes the reluctant participants are the most proud of their final products.

I offered this particular activity to my clients who are active seniors living at home or in independent living communities. For my clients in memory care communities, I offered floral arrangements with a different take.

Contraindications
Prior to using any edibles in activities, double check with agency and medical staff on the appropriateness of their use. In some cases, staff may prefer to avoid using any edibles due to dietary and other restrictions.

Jan2015 853Use non-toxic flowers in situations where clients could possibly ingest flowers. Some of the flowers shown here, including Billy balls, daffodils, and tulips, may have toxicity.

Consider safety needs of clients when determining whether to use scissors, pruners, or none of the above. Use pre-cut stems or flowers that break easily with fingers.

Program Notes
Activities using fresh cutflowers can easily get expensive. See my Budget Buster Tips on how to cut costs below. I have also found that sometimes clients have a hard time sharing materials with each other. In some cases, this is a good exercise in encouraging clients to share and cooperate with each other. In other cases, I try to minimize opportunities for severe clashing by pre-sorting and bundling flowers or posting a list with flower quantities allotted per person. With the latter, I may pre-sort the specialty flowers, of which quantities are limited, and give these bundles to each person, then the “filler” flowers, of which quantities are more abundant, are made available for all to peruse. In both cases, I encourage clients to share and swap with each other.

To transform this activity for a different season or upcoming holiday, substitute the conversation hearts for candy corn at Halloween or peppermint candies at Christmas. Or, swap with non-edible elements, like aquarium gravel, festive table scatter (a.k.a. confetti), or even natural materials like moss, twigs, gravel, shells, and other found objects from the outdoors. (Don’t forget to consider potential safety issues.)

Jan2015 607
Budget Buster Tips
When I splurge on certain items for floral arrangements, such as higher priced specialty flowers, floral picks, bows, and the candies used here, I save in other places, such as using recycled vases, cheaper “filler” cutflowers, or spray painted “fillers,” like twigs. In my experience, the different types of mums (notably those referred to as “poms”) and mini carnations (not the “regularly sized” carnations) are consistently the cheapest flowers. Sometimes flowers that are in season are also cheaper – which is why I used daffodils and tulips in these arrangements. Or, I use flowers that are “everlasting,” like statice, baby’s breath, and yarrow, so once the flowers are past their prime and dried, I can reuse them for a future program, therefore justifying their added expense. If you can harvest flowers and foliage from your garden, even better!

When using flowers purchased at my wholesale supplier, I always pre-cut the stems, not just to keep them fresh, but also to cut the flowers to be more in scale with the size of vase being used. From personal experience, I have found that many clients, no matter their functioning or skill level and my guiding instruction, often cut only about two to three inches off the stem, if at all, before they insert the stem into the vase. This can get tricky when you have a stem that is 20 inches long – subtract three inches, and you have 17 inches of stem being placed into a six-inch-tall vase – yikes! The longer the stems, the more flowers that need to be used to fill out that vase. The shorter the stems, generally speaking, the less flowers needed.

When possible, have clients work in small teams to create a group arrangement.

Gourd Snowmen

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

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

Gourd Snowman supplies (not all supplies shown)

Supplies                                                                                          

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

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

Set the gourd on a piece of flat laying newspaper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use the drill to poke two holes into the gourd.

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

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

Set your snowman in a safe location to dry completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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