Tag Archives: natural craft

Plants for a Cutflower Garden

Floral arranging is a favorite activity for many gardeners, especially in therapeutic horticulture programs. If you’re on a tight budget, you may not be able to buy fresh cutflowers for your arrangements. So why not grow your own cutflowers? This provides a great opportunity to utilize your outdoor space and enjoy the fruits of your labor that much more. (And…this gives you an opportunity to splurge on buying a bouquet of the “fancy” flowers to mix into your arrangement of garden-fresh flowers.)

Additionally, when the first freeze threatens later in the year, it’s a great time to harvest flowers from the fall garden and hang them to dry. For clients with sensitivity to the cold elements, use these dried flowers in a myriad of indoor crafts during winter and other times of inclement weather.

Now I think that you can cut virtually most plants to keep in a vase for at least a few hours. But I do have a few favorites that top my list. Here are a few plants that I grow in the garden and use as cutflowers, fresh and dried. Don’t forget to research the toxicity of these plants before incorporating them into your therapeutic garden.

(Editor’s Note: Check back at this article, as I anticipate updating this list as time goes on.)


I often say that sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are the second most recognized flowers with my clients. Which is the most recognized? Roses, of course! Sunflowers are easy to start from seed, either in small pots or direct sow outdoors in the garden. For HT/TH practitioners, “go vertical” with the topic of sunflowers – talk about how they inspired Monet’s garden at Giverny and his artwork or watch time lapse video on how young seedlings track the sun’s angle in the sky, and more.

Hardygerberadaisy-eatbreathegardenHardy Gerbera daisy

So there are the beautiful annual cutflower types being sold at the garden centers right now (at least where I live), and then there are the slightly less showy, but still beautiful, perennial gerbera daisies that are generally hardy to USDA hardiness zones (7)8. Look for the ‘Patio’, ‘Garvinea’, ‘Drakensberg’, or ‘Garden Gerbera’ series. Note: these are a bit pricy in the garden centers. Invest in at least three plants, and if they’re hardy to your growing area, you won’t be disappointed. Their foliage is evergreen. Mine have been blooming their heads off since late February (probably earlier than that, actually!), and they’re still blooming in late March, with more buds setting.


Plant a variety of daffodil bulbs (Narcissus), with other bulbs like tulips and hyacinths, in the fall. Then harvest a few blooms out of the garden in the spring and mix with spring flowering tree branches like cherry or peach trees in your seasonal arrangements.


An easy perennial to grow in the garden, then divide and make more…and more…and more…well, you get the idea. Cut the flowers or even the sword shaped leaves and put into bud vases. This is a great flower to “go vertical” with and share the Greek myths about Iris.


This drought tolerant perennial is loved by pollinators…and in a floral arrangement. There are so many different varieties of coneflower (Echinacea) with interesting names like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Coconut Lime’, and ‘Fragrant Angel’, flower colors and shapes, and growth habits.


An old fashioned summer annual, cockscomb (Celosia) can used as a fresh or dried cutflower.

Gomphrena_eatbreathegardenGlobe Amaranth

Often confused as bachelor’s buttons (which is a completely different plant), globe amaranth (Gomphrena) is a great drought tolerant summer annual that can be used as a fresh or dried cutflower. I especially love ‘Strawberry Fields’ (red) and ‘All About Purple’ (purple).

Cleome2_eatbreathegardenSpider Flower

Spider flower (Cleome) is an interesting annual with a towering height. Plug it into the middle to back of a flower border. For some, it grows all summer long. For me in Texas, it fades away in the true heat of the summer. I like the lavender flowers and heat tolerance of ‘Senorita Rosalita’.

Aspidistra_eatbreathegardenCast iron plant

Don’t forget your greenery. Cast iron plant (Aspidistra) is a stalwart in Southern shade gardens or an excellent low maintenance, low light houseplant. Its strappy leaves are an excellent foil for more delicate flowers or mix with tropical flowers.


Another option for greenery, fatsia is an evergreen shrub in Southern shade gardens. Its large waxy leaves are also paired well with tropical flowers or as a single leaf with a single flower in a bud vase.

Other Notables

Here are a few additional plants that make great fresh or dried cutflowers or greenery. Whenever I purchase cutflowers, I try to buy flowers, such as baby’s breath, statice, or Billy balls, which I don’t grow but know that they make excellent dried flowers if I have leftovers. To dry flowers, I cut the stems, tie together, and hang upside down in an out-of-the-way spot on a clothes line or herb drying rack.

Southern magnolia
Oakleaf hydrangea
Russian sage
Sweet Annie
Baby’s breath
Billy balls
Sea holly
Globe thistle
Calla lily

Univ. of Missouri Extension, Drying Flowers and Foliage for Arrangements

Catherine Mix, Fine Gardening, Issue 132, The Best Flowers for Your Cutting Garden

Debra Prinzing (2012). The 50-Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local, and Sustainable Flowers. St. Lynn’s Press

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.

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?


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

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.)

Create kokedama – moss wrapped plants – in a therapeutic horticulture activity.

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.

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.

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)


  • 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.

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
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.