Tag Archives: inspiration

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.)

A Tale of Tree Rings: Relating a Tree’s Story to One’s Personal Experiences

I recently did a therapeutic horticulture program with a group of women who are from Afghanistan and clients of a local social services organization serving resettled refugees. On this rainy day, we gathered in the one-bedroom apartment of one of the women. Some of us sat on the floor, while others sat on couches. Our hostess passed around cups of hot tea and cookies. A couple of children played around us while we visited with each other. We communicated via a translator, gestures, and lots of smiles.

To start the session, I passed around some of my favorite sensory plants – lavender, pineapple sage, basil, lemon balm, lamb’s ear, mint, among other – and explained about what I do in my job. I talked about how plants and nature benefit us in many different ways – from lowering stress and anxiety to improving our mood and encouraging physical movement. The group made lavender sachets to keep.

The conversation transitioned to hobbies because gardening is a favorite American pastime, and I asked the group about their hobbies.

Then, to deepen the conversation, I talked about one of the reasons that I like to tend to my garden. I explained that I look to nature to provide perspective on my life. One example is the changing of the seasons and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth – as seen through the lush foliage of summer, followed by the falling of autumn leaves, to the dormancy of winter, then to the first buds of cherry trees and other spring flowers, and back again. How can you relate to the cycle of life to your personal experience?

Then I started talking about trees.

TreeRingsTreeCookieTherapeuticHorticultureHave you ever taken a look at the cross section of a tree? There are a bunch of rings, and if you count them, you can determine the age of the tree. And if you look closer, each ring is slightly different. Sometimes the rings are really close together. Other times the rings are further apart. Sometimes there are blemishes in the rings, and other times they are misshapen.

Why are the rings different from year to year? Well, some years the plant receives all the water, nutrients, sunlight, and other things that it needs in order to thrive – those are indicated by the “healthy-looking” or further spaced rings.

Other years, the rings are close together. That may indicate that the tree didn’t receive all the “goodies” it needed to grow vigorously.

Still other years, the rings may have blemishes or are oddly shaped. That may be due to diseases or insect pests that attacked the plant and affected it. Or, maybe there was a fire that scorched one side of the tree. Or, perhaps someone used a string trimmer around the tree and accidentally nicked the bark of the tree.

HanddrawnTreeRingsTreeCookieTherapeuticHorticulture
Don’t have a “tree cookie” (or cross section of a tree) to look at? Draw it yourself. This is my hand-drawn illustration used during this program. Note: larger and smaller tree rings are shown.

Each ring tells a different story for each year of the tree’s life. Some years were great, and the tree grew and flourished. Some years weren’t so good, when it appears that the tree struggled. Sometimes that indicates that the tree may have succumbed. Or sometimes it shows how the tree, resilient as it is, made it through the challenges and came out on the other end, still bigger than it was the year before.

I have to admit that when I started this last part of the conversation, I could feel a shift in the mood of the room…to a quieter, more reflective mood.

Consider how each of us handle challenging situations. One person may be easily angered when encountering a tough situation and react loudly or in an outward fashion, where people nearby may notice immediately. In the same type of situation, another person may be quiet and prefer to handle her emotions internally, with or without others noticing. I relate that to walking through a forest.

If you look at a forest, there is a wide variety of trees and other plants. Some trees grow up big and tall, reaching for the sun. Some trees are smaller and prefer to be in the understory, shaded by the other trees. No one tree is “better” than the other. They just grow that way and have unique individual responses to their environment. Each tree has a different story to tell. And shouldn’t we celebrate their differences?

 

A Visit to the Garden for Professional Development

As a therapeutic horticulture practitioner, I find it invaluable to network with professionals who incorporate horticultural therapy or therapeutic horticulture into their work, as well as with others in allied professions, such as occupational therapy, social work, therapeutic recreation, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, music therapy, horticulture, and more. It can be lonely and unchallenging to work in isolation, so I have developed friendships and working relationships with these professionals and enjoy the shared camaraderie, experiences, and brainstorm sessions. These relationships inform my work and help me to stay relevant and on track.

How do I connect with these folks? Get involved with professional organizations, such as the American Horticultural Therapy Association, and attend their annual conferences and continuing education opportunities. And I don’t just focus on HT-related organizations. For example, the Garden Writers Association has helped me to hone my communication and business skills. Reach out within the community and seek out like-minded people at wellness fairs or other community organizations. I find out about interesting individuals from the newspaper or colleagues and “cold call or email” them in order to connect. Form your own official or unofficial regional network of professionals, such as the Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association.

So in honor of networking within horticultural therapy, I am excited to host another guest post on eat|breathe|garden. This time, registered horticultural therapists Kathy Carroll and Lesley Fleming talk about how a visit to a Florida public garden cultivated their networking friendship and professional work.

________________________________

By Lesley Fleming, HTR, and Kathy Carroll, HTR
Photo credits: L. Fleming & K. Carroll

What do two horticultural therapists talk about when they have a chance to go to a garden for professional development?

The historic Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg, Florida, beckoned us as plant enthusiasts and horticultural therapists – Kathy from Michigan and Lesley from Florida: one visitor and one resident. Recognizing that time with a peer can be an opportunity for professional development as part of the continuous process of acquiring new skills and knowledge related to one’s job, the visit went something like this…

The plants are amazing…

Kathy: Having visited Sunken Gardens over the last 35 years, entering this unique masterpiece of outdoor space is like coming home. Each and every time, I see new and familiar favorite plant specimens. The 50 foot high multiple plant/colored bougainvillea hedge that runs hundreds of feet long is a show stopper when in bloom. It is a reminder of the significance of a century old garden (purchased by George Turner in 1903). The psychological and sensory experience the garden offers as it wrap its arms around the visitor is a sanctuary—an anchor, which slows the frenetic pace of the 21st century just beyond its boundaries. The smells of the soils and scents of flora stimulate the senses like nothing else.

Lesley: The old growth of so many of the trees and vines, some from the original 1920’s garden, is something not often seen because of the desire for perfectly shaped and sized plant specimens. This garden demonstrates how foliage and its dominant verdant green color can provide the beauty—it doesn’t always have to be the Disney eye-popping color of flowers. Many Florida gardens rely on foliage, which is often associated with the tropical look.

I’m working on an article on black plants. Can you help me spot any in the garden?

Kathy: I see black seeds from Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis),

KCarrollBlackpalmseedsinhand
Chinese fan palm seeds

…black elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’),

KCarrollBlackMagicElephantEars
Black Magic elephant ears

…and the tops and undersides of croton leaves (Codiaeum variegatum).

KCarrollBlackCroton
Croton

Lesley: Yes, black plants can be interpreted as dark saturated colors – browns, reds, purples, and not necessarily black per say. *Confirmation of plant identification and plant names was undertaken after the visit.

What is that plant – do you know the name?

Spiral ginger, sometimes called red tower ginger (Costus comosus)

LFlemingSpiralGingerCostuscomosus
Spiral Ginger

Angel trumpet (Brugmansia)  *plant parts are poisonous

KCarrollAngelTrumpetBrugmansia
Angel trumpet

Bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata) with its pink bloom

LFlemingBromeliadAechmea
Bromeliad

 

What makes the design of this garden so interesting?

LFlemingshellginger
Shell Ginger

Kathy: Part of it is the history of the garden as a 1920’s residential garden built from a drained lake, including a sinkhole 15 feet below street level, a “soothing rock,” and very fertile soil. Their mission statement refers to the garden as a tropical forest with many of its original plants preserving and enhancing this unique tropical rainforest space. In the early 1920’s, Mr. Turner was charging a nickel to tour his garden.

Lesley: Sunken Gardens offers a sense of discovery, fascination, and spatial organization — elements that Stephan and Rachel Kaplan (environmental psychologists from the University of Michigan) refer to as landscape preferences. This effectively engages the visitor through a variety of elevations and twists and turns of the paths, gates and hidden garden “rooms.” The very tall plantings provide a sense of seclusion and sanctuary.

Other attention grabbers include shell gingers, mass plantings, scented gardenias (stepping off the path for that sensory experience), signage of plants though limited, and reciprocal admission from American Public Gardens Association (APGA) garden memberships.

What is that?

Kathy: What is that fragrance in the Wedding Garden, the tree with multi-colored bark, and the colorful vine?…

Lesley identified fragrant confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides);

LFlemingTrachelospermum
Confederate jasmine

gumbo limbo tree (Bursera simaruba), which is sometimes affectionately called the sunburnt tourist tree;

LFlemingGumboLimboTree
Gumbo Limbo

Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia macrophylla), which is a larval plant for Pipevine Swallowtail and Tailless Swallowtail butterflies.

LFlemingAristolochiaDutchmanPipe
Dutchman’s pipe

Lesley: What are those seed pods, groundcover that looks like chenille plant and those markings on stems?

Kathy identified the fishtail palm fruit (Caryota mitis);

LFlemingFishtailPalmCaryotamitis
Fishtail palm

dwarf chenille plant (Acalypha pendula) [not pictured] with its shorter upright growth habit for use as a groundcover or trailing plant in a hanging basket;

the signature design left from scars on selloum (Philodendron bipinnatifidum) when leaves yellow with age and fall off.

LFlemingSelloumPhilodendron
Selloum

 

Horticultural therapy inspirations from the Sunken Gardens

  • Glory bush (Tibouchina) – Lesley first used glory bush at the Naples Botanical Garden in Florida, when delivering a program to people with visual impairments for soft and fuzzy tactile stimulation
LFlemingGloryBushTibouchina
Glory bush
  • Variety of leaf shapes for leaf painting activity (therapeutic goal includes working fine motor skills – hand dexterity by tracing and painting leaves)

LFlemingPhilodendron

  • Accessible paths with manageable grades, smooth surfaces, and otherwise safe environment

LFlemingPath

  • Sensory walks, including treasure hunts for numerous and varied scents, visual and tactile horticulture finds throughout the garden.

Professional development can occur in any number of settings and is made more interesting when discussion and hands-on experiences are shared with others who share a passion for their profession.

References

Brown, Sydney Park and Rick Schoellhorn. (2006). Your Florida guide to perennials: Selection, establishment, and maintenance.

Kaplan, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective.

 

 

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
snow_camellia3

The Five Ways to Wellbeing

I was recently introduced to the concept of “The Five Ways to Wellbeing.” The Five Ways succinctly summarizes the actions people can take towards positively affecting their wellbeing and improving their “mental capital.”

Connect
Be Active
Take Notice
Keep Learning
Give

Essentially, they encourage people to:
> Connect and engage with people – and I would also argue to engage with the world around you, not just the human inhabitants, but also the landscape and its furry and photosynthesizing friends who live in it;
> Be active by moving your body – and I would also suggest “exercising” your mind;
> Take notice of what’s going on in the world – be curious, be in awe, be in the moment;
> Keep learning, whatever your age, ability, or interests;
> Give to others, whether it’s volunteering your time, supporting a friend, or simply offering a smile or a compliment to someone.

Considering how wordy and verbose I am, you can imagine my delight when I came across these! As a therapeutic horticulture practitioner, I’m in the business of promoting wellbeing for people through directed experiences with plants and nature. When reflecting on these basic guidelines, I see how they already are an integral part of my programs, and now I have the simple words to summarize it.

The Five Ways were developed by the new economics foundation, as a user-friendly tool for condensing and communicating the overall message from the research presented in the 2008 UK publication from the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing. Check out the nef’s website on The Five Ways to Wellbeing to read more.

Looking ahead…

Keep your face always toward the sunshine
– and shadows will fall behind you.

– Walt Whitman

There’s something about January…

Last week, I was saddened to hear that a client, who was an avid consumer of my therapeutic horticulture program – and not to mention a wonderful human being – had passed away. This passing was the culmination of several clients who passed away last month, many of whom were among my programs’ original participants. Though many of my clients are elders, they are individual clients and people – each have their own personalities, interests, and unique responses specifically to my programs and shine their own light in the world. And when they are gone, they are missed.

I found out the news just before doing a program at that facility and was just “off my game” during the entire session.  We talked about new year’s resolutions and our hopes for 2015. We planted amaryllis bulbs in chalkboard-message flower pots (how-to post to come soon!). I missed my client’s enthusiasm and could sense the other long-time clients’ somber mood, off and on throughout the session.

With this passing, as well as the several others lost in January 2015, I reflected on having lost other elder family members in Januarys past. And I thought, “What is it about January?”

I even asked this question to friends later in the week, when processing this loss over lunch. To paraphrase, my friend said, “You know, in some way, I think that some of us have control over when we leave.” Another friend, in response, shared an account of an elder family member, whose birthday was in early December, wanted to live to age 105. He was able to celebrate this milestone and then quietly passed away a couple of weeks later on Christmas Eve. And somehow, this made sense to me and helped me to find some perspective, as I reflected on my last experiences of all of these individuals in my December programs.

And then…Groundhog Day 2015. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. And despite the grayness of January, I think about how appropriate last week’s inspirational quote was. Though we’re in the doldrums of winter – the part of the season that we just can’t wait to be over – we still have something to look forward to, whether it’s the inevitable change to the spring season, the next holiday on the horizon, or, more simply, the beautiful pansies in bloom, with interplanted daffodil foliage sprouting, just outside my window. And suddenly, I was inspired.

Jan2015 115I recalled how a staffperson attending the session that day wrote a message on the flower pot – the Walt Whitman quote above. We had planted an extra amaryllis bulb in a pot for another client who was grieving the loss of our friend and couldn’t make it to our program that day. Though the session was about resolutions and things to look forward to at the start of 2015, it was a last minute decision to add chalkboard paint to the rims of the flower pots. I thought it would be cool to have clients write a message about their hopes and dreams for the new year, and then plant an amaryllis bulb. As they watch their amaryllis grow and flourish, they can be inspired. How appropriate! And what a surprising “hort therapy” moment, not just for my clients, but for me too!

Though I mourn the loss of my clients and loved ones, I am remembering the various ways, subtle and “in my face,” that they inspired me to be better and do better work. And I know that there will be random ways in which they still positively pop up in my life.

I now recall another client at another facility saying to me in January, “When you are as old as I am, I hope that someone like you comes to do what you do with you.” Amen.

Reflections on Winter

Snow angel created by Isabella, December 2012
Snow angel created by Isabella, December 2012

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

– Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672
British American and Puritan poet
Meditations Divine and Moral (1664)

Primary photo: Spring Snowflake (Leucojum)