Tag Archives: therapeutic horticulture

What Florists Know [And What We Wished We Knew] About Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat

Bursting with new life, spring flowering bulbs herald in the season of renewal. Recognizing beauty in each stage of growth, florists maximize the versatility of bulbs and use them creatively in a variety of ways.

Bare bulbs are architectural. Stacked as a mass or as a singular specimen, a bulb’s color, shape, and roots intrigue, particularly when presented in glass vessels. Bulbs can be purchased in soil or soil-less. Rinsing off the soil will offer the cleanest presentation and will not hinder sprouting. (Read more about bulbs here).

For dramatic style, place bulbs at the base of a flower arrangement. Juxtaposing blossom with bulb, soft with hard, adds depth and layers of dimension.

Emerging daffodil flower

The crack of the bulb, when the greenery starts to emerge, is one of nature’s wonders. Whether it is a forced bloom or seasonal cycle, observing the bulb’s daily growth is life affirming and beautiful. (Read more about forcing bulbs indoors and forcing paperwhite bulbs.)


Blossoms from spring flowering bulbs — alliums, tulips, daffodils, muscari — are beautiful as cut flowers meticulously arranged or placed simply in a vase.

Fragrant hyacinths

The fragrance of lily of the valley, freesia, or hyacinths provide immediate pleasure and memories of springtimes past.

The many lives of bulbs…once they’ve finished their show in vases, bulbs can be planted in the ground for another chance at nature’s cycle, in growing zones where hardy. The carbon footprint of a bulb’s journey can be positive and renewable. Note: Bulbs used at the base of an arrangement are less likely to be viable.

Client-made floral arrangement using freesia and California iris (alternative for Dutch iris).

For your own spring awakening, try bulbs in any of these renditions. Or consider inspiration from international bulb showcases: Dallas Arboretum in Texas, Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa,  Floralia Brussels at Chateau de Grand-Bigard in Belgium, or the Netherlands’ Keukenhof.

Bulbs planted in fall produce spring flowers. Bulbs planted in spring bring summer blossoms.

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses cut flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers Co.

This is the third in a series of four articles sharing tips on spring bulbs. The fourth article will offer tips for floral arrangements.

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?

Scintillating Tidbits About Orchids

By Lesley Fleming, HTR, and Jeanne Willis, with Susan Morgan
Photos by L. Fleming

When a man falls in love with orchids, he’ll do anything to possess the one he wants. It’s like chasing a green-eyed woman or taking cocaine…it’s sort of madness…

Norman Mac Donald, The Orchid Hunter, 1939

Orchids attract passion and mystery. What is it that stirs the hysteria for these intriguing plants? Check out this interesting list of orchid facts.

Paphiopedilum spicerianum eatbreathegarden
Paphiopedilum spicerianum

There are more than 25,000 documented species of orchids, making the Orchidaceae family one of the largest families of flowering plants (Kramer, 2013). (Learn how to pronounce Orchidaceae here.)

The word orchis is derived from the Greek word meaning “testicle,” referring to the shape of bulbous roots found in some orchid genera (Flowerweb).

The term orchid, as a shortened version of Orchidaceae, was not introduced until 1845 (Flowerweb).

Many scientists suspect that hybridized orchids would not occur in nature and that there are more species yet undiscovered, especially in tropical areas (Kramer, 2013).

The smallest orchid is believed to be Platystele jungermannioides at 2mm in size (Flowerweb). (Read more about the world’s smallest orchid here.)

Some orchid species can survive up to 100 years (Flowerweb).

Brassocattleya Tangerine Jewel x Bc. Richard Mueller eatbreathegarden
Brassocattleya Tangerine Jewel x Bc. Richard Mueller

Botanists studied “one thousand wild orchids for fifteen years and during that time only twenty-three were pollinated.” Some orchid seedpods are filled with millions of tiny dust-sized seeds (Orlean, 1998).

The world’s first orchid book Orchid Guide for Kuei-men and Chang-chou, written by Chao Shih-ken, was published in 1228 in China (Orlean, 1998).

During the Ming dynasty, orchids were used to treat a range of health issues, including diarrhea, venereal diseases, neuralgia, and sick elephants (Orlean, 1998).

A record setting two-ton Grammatophyllum speciosum orchid was displayed at the first world’s fair – the 1850-1 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, England (Orlean, 1998). (Read more about this large orchid here.)

Brassocattleya Maikai 'Mayumi' eatbreathegarden
Brassocattleya Maikai ‘Mayumi’

Orchids have symmetry similar to a human face. Scientists think that the orchid’s symmetry is one of the reasons for human fondness for this plant (Kramer, 2013). (Read more about the bilateral symmetry of orchid flowers here.)

Rhyncholaeliocattleya Donna Kimura 'Paradise Tami' eatbreathegarden
Rhyncholaeliocattleya Donna Kimura ‘Paradise Tami’

Victorian women were forbidden from owning orchids because the flower shapes were considered to be sexually suggestive (Orlean, 1998).

Suffragettes destroyed several orchid specimens at Kew Gardens in London, England, in 1912(3) (Orlean, 1998). (Read more about the Kew Orchid House attack here.)

Vanilla, the popular flavor and fragrance is extracted from the pod of Vanilla planifolia, a species of orchid (Flowerweb). (Read more about the Vanilla orchid here.)

The Florida connection to orchids began in 1874, when it is reported that avid gardener Jane Kenniburgh moved from Carickfergus, Ireland, to Tallahassee, Florida, with her Phaius grandifolius orchid, often referred to as nun’s lily. This orchid was recognized as the first greenhouse-cultivated orchid in Florida (Orlean, 1998).

Some orchids are considered to resemble creatures from the animal kingdom, like the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera). It lures the males of a certain species of bee because of its appearance and enticing smell (Dearringer). (Read more about the fascinating bee orchid here or watch a video about it here.)

The orchid Dendrophylax lindenii, also known as the ghost orchid, grows wild in Florida and is considered to be one of the most sought after specimens (Orlean, 1998). (Read more about the ghost orchid here.)

Orchids in this article were photographed at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.


Dearringer, M. (no date). Seven Little Known Orchid Facts. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2015 from http://www.orchidplantcare.info/a-few-fun-facts-you-might-not-know-about-orchid-plants/.

Flowerweb (no date). 15 Amazing Facts About Orchids. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2015 from http://www.flowerweb.com/en/article/190242/15-Amazing-Facts-About-Orchids.

Kramer, M. (2013). 5 Surprising Facts About Orchids. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2015 from http://www.livescience.com/28547-surprising-orchid-facts.html.

Orlean, S. (1998). The Orchid Thief. New York: Random House.

Horticulture and Health According to Three Wise Men

By Lesley Fleming, HTR

Hippocrates, Roger Ulrich, and E.O. Wilson…their perspectives on how nature impacts human health brought about seismic changes in medicine, research, healthcare facility design and much more.

Hippocrates, 460BC-370 BC, who is considered to be the father of medicine, introduced Vis Medicatrix Naturae — the concept of the healing power of nature. It became a guiding principle across disciplines and is still considered today to be powerful and relevant, linking nature (including horticulture) to human health.

Roger Ulrich, 1984, conducted research which revealed that views of nature influence faster health recovery in hospital patients. Frequently cited for this research and his work on evidence-based healthcare design, Ulrich has had global influence on nature-health connections.

E.O. Wilson, 1986, popularized the hypothesis that humans have an instinctual need to connect with nature. This concept — and Wilson’s book of the same name — Biophilia has come to signify the need to integrate nature into our lives…using it to find balance and understanding of the inter-relatedness of all living things.

Warrior Plants

[Note: This article was originally published in the AHTA News Magazine for the American Horticultural Therapy Association. In honor of the women and men who have served and currently serve our country, and Veterans Day, I am posting it here.]

I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so…heroic.

– George Carlin, in Brain Droppings, p. 100

Resilient, strong, tough, hardy, adaptable, vigorous – these are all adjectives used to describe someone who is a warrior…as well as to describe plants as botanical warriors in their own right. Some plants grow fully submerged in water or germinate from a minuscule seed, while others grow perched atop the tree canopy of a tropical rain forest or have thick leaves that help them retain moisture in the most arid growing conditions. Plant characteristics, such as their growth habits and forms, growing requirements, methods of reproduction, and other biological functions, play a major factor in determining how they thrive or fail in an environment.

Due to their adaptations over time and resilience enduring nature’s elements, plants are often used as symbols of strength, hope, and inspiration. For example, trees are often referred to as symbolic representations of strength and power with their sturdy woody stems, extensive root systems that hold them upright and steadfast, lengthy life spans, ability to provide shelter and food, and other qualities.

When horticultural therapy clients learn about how plants endure tough growing conditions to flourish, these observations can help clients find perspective about situations they are dealing with or give them something to view as a symbol of inspiration. Consider incorporating these plants with strong characteristics or names or that have historical use by mighty people into an inspirational lesson on building personal strength and overcoming obstacles.

GinkgoGinkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

A living fossil with unique fan-shaped leaves, ginkgo is a long lived tree with prehistoric ties. Its length of time on Earth and long life span has made it a symbol of resilience and endurance. In fact, several trees, including at least four ginkgos, survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima, Japan, and are still growing today. Note: Has toxicity if eaten in large quantities. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8.

GladiolusGladiolus (Gladiolus)

In the language of flowers, gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, and legend even has it that gladiolus was the representative flower of the Roman gladiators. With its sword shaped leaves and colorful flower spikes, gladiolus’ name is derived from the Latin word for “sword.” Other plants known to symbolize strength include fennel, thyme, garlic, oak, and bamboo. Note: Has toxicity. Commonly used as a cut flower; hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.

Tillandsia xerographica air plantAir Plant (Tillandsia xerographica and others)

Epiphytes, or air plants, are resilient plants that grow on something else, such as on a tree or a rocky ledge, yet are not parasitic. Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, they have special adaptations on their leaves and roots that help obtain their water and nutrients from the air, rainfall, leaf litter, and other nearby sources. Epiphytes include several orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and other air plants, such as Tillandsia xerographica. Spanish moss (shown in feature image), which is often seen growing in live oaks in the deep South, is not an actual moss but, rather, is a Tillandsia. Some grown as houseplants; Spanish moss (T. usneoides) is hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.

ZZ plantZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamifolia)

The phrase “ZZ plants are E-Z” is true and makes ZZ plant a candidate for the top of any list of low maintenance houseplants. Though they are slow and steady growers, this tough houseplant has a high tolerance level for neglect. It does well with infrequent watering and in low light conditions when a light stand or sunny window is not available. Note: this plant has toxicity. Grown as a houseplant.

Osage orange Bois d'arcOsage Orange (Maclura pomifera)

Ethnobotanical researchers have described how Native Americans historically used the dense, tough wood of the Osage orange, otherwise called bois d’arc, to fashion bows. (Watch out for the female trees that wield softball-sized green fruit that plummet to the earth.) Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and various species of serviceberry (Amelanchier), juniper (Juniperus), and cedar (Thuja) were also used for making bows, arrows, or totem poles by various Native American tribes. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

LotusLotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

The lotus is an aquatic plant that grows in the muddy margins of ponds and marshes. Its flower is considered sacred in Buddhism and Hinduism and is commonly used in imagery of rebirth and enlightenment in Asian art. Leaves and flowers grow from the rhizomes buried underwater in the mud and rise up tall above the water surface. In addition, its leaves are hydrophobic, meaning that water droplets bead up on leaves like drops of mercury and fall off easily. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10.

Aspidistra Cast Iron PlantCast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)

As its name suggests, cast iron plant is the houseplant that is tough as nails – cast iron nails, at that – as its name suggests. It thrives in low light and with minimal watering. Commonly grown as a houseplant; also hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 11.


Over the course of three and a half billion years of environmental fluctuations and catastrophes, organisms of all types have developed tremendous powers of regeneration. Some species, typically referred to by humans as weeds, seem especially adept at not merely surviving severe disturbance, but of actually flourishing in the face of it.

– Peter Del Tredici, Hibaku Trees of Hiroshima



Del Tredici, P. Hibaku Trees of Hiroshima. Retrieved on 29 October 2013 from http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/892.pdf.

Laufer, G.A. (1993). Tussie-Mussies: The Language of Flowers. Workman Publishing Company, Inc.: Hong Kong.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. (2013). What are epiphytes? Retrieved from http://www.selby.org/about/what-are-epiphytes.

Missouri Botanical Garden. (2013). Biology of Plants: Plant Adaptations. Retrieved from http://www.mbgnet.net/bioplants/adapt.html.

University of Michigan – Dearborn. (2013). Native American Ethnobotany Database. Retrieved from http://herb.umd.umich.edu/.

Pumpkins Galore

Pumpkins are one of the icons of October. They provide a seasonal cue for fall. You can carve ’em, eat ’em (along with flesh, seeds, and flowers), and decorate ’em. You can even float ’em in water.

A few activity ideas…

Grow pumpkins, gourds, and squash in the garden in spring and watch them grow all season long. You can even do pumpkin scarring as the fruit forms on the vine.

Themed PumpkinsDecorate Jack O’Lanterns, either by carving them or creating no-carve themed pumpkins made to look like black cats, spiders, witches, ghosts, fall flowers, fall leaves, traditional, and more. Before pumpkins became the traditional fruit or veggie of choice to carve, some cultures like the Irish were known to carve other objects, such as potatoes, rutabagas, gourds, turnips, beets, and more. Some of today’s traditions are, in fact, rooted in Celtic history.

Blooming pumpkinGlue dried flowers and other natural elements onto mini pumpkins.

Do a sensory exploration activity. Float pumpkins in water and try to push them underwater. Carve out a lid, remove it, and pull the pumpkin “guts” out. Examine the contents – what does it feel like? What does it smell like? Save the seeds and do a separate activity with them, like seed drying, seed dying, finger labyrinths with seed, and so on.

Pie Pumpkin CenterpiecesCarve out a lid, remove it along with the pumpkin “guts,” insert a cup inside the pumpkin, fill it halfway with water, and use it as a vase to create a floral arrangement in a pumpkin. Pie pumpkins or Millionaire pumpkins are great for this.

Examine pumpkins for their interesting features and/or funny names. There are white, yellow, orange, striped, and almost red ones. There are pumpkins with bumpy “warts” all over them. There are miniature, small, medium, large, and giant sized pumpkins.

Take a look at this variety of pumpkins.

Knucklehead pumpkin
Knucklehead pumpkin
Red Warty Thing
Red Warty Thing
Turk's Turban
Turk’s Turban squash
Cheddar pumpkin
Cheddar pumpkin
Pink Banana squash
Pink Banana squash
Millionaire pumpkin
Millionaire pumpkin
Wolf pumpkin
Wolf pumpkin
Blue Hubbard squash
Blue Hubbard squash
Chioggia pumpkin
Chioggia pumpkin
Kushaw squash
Kushaw squash
Naples squash
Naples squash
Monster gourd
Monster gourd
Apple gourd
Apple gourd
Big Mac pumpkin
Big Mac pumpkin
One Too Many pumpkin
One Too Many pumpkin
Crystal Star pumpkin
Crystal Star pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin
Miniature pumpkins
Miniature pumpkins
Cinderella pumpkin
Cinderella pumpkin
Table Ace squash
Table Ace squash
Speckled Hound squash
Speckled Hound squash

A Roster of Nature-Based Activities, Part 2

Continuing along on our last post, A Roster of Nature-Based Activities, Part 1…about pollinators, herbal monograms, and kissing balls. (Images for visual cues found here – butterfly life cycle and monarch migration map.)

Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals


In September, we had an in-depth conversation about pollinators. (This conversation can be discussed at other times of the year.) For some groups, we explored a variety of different pollinators – butterflies, bees, flies, bats, moths, wind, water, humans, and more. We discussed how plants have adapted to attract different pollinators. The USDA Forest Service has an excellent online resource about plant pollination strategies – it’s an interesting read and can inspire a variety of interpretations on the relationships between plants and their pollinators.

Here are a few examples of topics we discussed during these sessions:

Orchids attract different pollinators in a variety of ways – from flower shapes and colors to differing aromas. The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) looks and smells like the female of certain types of bees, attracting male bees who come to mate with the flower. Read more here.

Many flowers have ultraviolet colors on them to attract bees who can see these colors which are otherwise invisible to the human eye. It appears as though some flowers have an ultraviolet “bulls-eye” at the center of the flower, inviting the bees by saying “Land here! Land here!” Read more here.

The shapes and colors of some flowers, like salvia and beebalm, are designed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Read more here.

And it is thought that certain beetles or possibly flies can’t get enough of the rotten meat smell emanating from the giant corpse flower, or Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum).

The Monarch Butterfly

During some of these sessions, we focused on the interesting story of the monarch butterfly – its journey across North America twice a year as it winters in certain regions of Mexico and summers in the United States and Canada. (Google images of the monarch migration and you will find some beautiful photos of trees full of butterflies.) We examine my collections of mounted native and exotic butterflies, including monarchs, swallowtails, and even the blue Morpho. (I don’t endorse the purchase of insect collections as art. You can substitute photos of different types of butterflies, as necessary.) We admire the different colors and patterns on the butterfly wings. We imagine how much they weigh.

Then ask “Can you imagine what it would be like for a monarch butterfly to fly 2000 miles across a continent?” “What must that feel like?” “Can you imagine walking 2000 miles yourself – without a car?” Inevitably there is conversation about stopping off at a rest stop during a long journey – “what do you do at a rest stop?…Eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, stretch our limbs, and more.” We discuss strategies about how we can invite butterflies to use our garden as a “rest stop” or a place to live during the summer. We examine the butterfly life cycle and talk about incorporating host and nectar plants into the garden that invite butterflies at all stages of their lives. President Obama has been working in connection with the leadership in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada on a plan to protect pollinators, including an initiative to declare Interstate 35, which runs through Dallas, as a “pollinator highway.” If we don’t have a garden to plant with host and nectar plants, then we may make floral arrangements using some of these host and nectar plants.

Herbal Monograms

Herbal Monograms

To provide opportunities for clients to make personalized art, consider making monograms with pressed flowers and dried naturals. Trace stencils of letters from the alphabet onto watercolor paper or artist canvas panels. Fill in letters with paint or other colorings. Apply glue and add floral and natural materials to embellish. You can use leftover flower petals from a floral arranging activity. Or harvest marigold flowers from the garden, tear apart the petals from the flowers, and dehydrate the petals (I use a food dehydrator). Once dried, the marigold petals keep their color and are great to use in an art project like this.

Kissing Balls

Kissing Balls

No more (parasitic) mistletoe…kissing balls offer a romantic alternative activity to making wreaths or swags in winter. Clip greens from evergreen trees and shrubs, like boxwood, holly, spruce, pine, juniper, and more, considering the variety of their textures and colors as well as their toxicity. Purchase wet floral foam balls (I used Oasis brand), presoak in water, tie on a long piece of ribbon to be used as a hanger, and then insert greens.

Mardi Gras Floral Masks
Mardi Gras Floral Masks
Teacup Florals
Teacup Florals
Going "vertical" with sunflowers
Going “vertical” with sunflowers
Sunflower program visual cues
Sunflower program visual cues
Air Plants and Sand Cubes
Air Plants and Sand Cubes
Pallet Planters
Pallet Planters
Fireworks Florals
Fireworks Florals
Kentucky Derby Floral Crowns
Kentucky Derby Floral Crowns


A Roster of Nature Based Activities, Part 1

Many thanks to those who attended my session at the American Horticultural Therapy Association annual conference in Portland, Oregon! I presented a lot of information but wasn’t able to get to explain the task analyses, supply lists, or nuances of delivering the activities. Over the next few days, I will be sharing a sampling of nature based therapeutic activities and will hopefully be able to share enough of the details to illustrate each activity. So keep checking back with us!

“Reinventing the Wheel”

I’m constantly challenging myself to reimagine some tried-and-true activities, like seed sowing, so each activity’s delivery is fresh and interesting for clients, as well as myself. So I bring seed sowing outdoors and offer it as an alternative to engage clients who prefer something besides planting the raised bed. Or experiment with sowing new seed we’ve never grown before. Or mix it up by using different types of pots – peat pots, 4″ square pots, round quart pots, and more. Or arrange seed and recycled flower petals from yesterday’s floral arranging session to make finger labyrinths on the tabletop.

Budget Busting Tips

I present a variety of activities on this blog and invest in materials that reflect the quality of my company’s services and brand. There are ways to keep supplies from getting too expensive – via thrift shopping, shopping sales or seasonally, recycling items, swapping items for inexpensive items, growing or producing your own items in the garden. I love analyzing a photo of an activity product on Pinterest and dissecting it for the supplies needed to make the product…and then get creative on what to use in delivering the activity. Be on the lookout for tips throughout – you can check out some budget busting tips on the activities found here and here.

The Story of a Tree, as told by the tree rings - A Metaphor
The Story of a Tree, as told by the tree rings – A Metaphor

A Tree’s Story, as told by the cross section of tree’s trunk

Dendrochronology is the scientific study of tree rings to analyze climate changes, environmental conditions, and other events in the past. I first heard about dendrochronology in college when my husband participated in a research project studying the fire history of certain areas of Appalachia with his major advisor. My interests were piqued when he said the dendrochronologist had examined the wood of a rare violin made by Stradivari in order to better tell that instrument’s story. In studying tree rings, we can tell a lot about a tree’s history. First, by counting the number of rings, one can tell the age of the tree. Then measure the distance between each set of rings – during periods of drought, the rings are close together as the tree didn’t have all the moisture it needed in order grow very much that year(s). During periods of adequate rainfall, the rings are further apart, meaning the tree utilized the abundance of moisture to grow a lot. Certain blemishes on the tree’s cross section can also tell the damage caused by insect pests, disease, or fire. The wheels are already turning in my head about how we can relate a tree’s story to one’s own personal story – identify times of positive personal growth or challenging times, such as illness or difficult life events. This can be a powerful metaphor for those dealing with trauma or illness. I blogged about using this activity with a group of women who are refugees resettled to the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Painted Gourds
Painted Gourds

Oh the variety of gourds there are! What a sensory experience! You’ve got caveman club gourds – they look like a caveman’s club! – or birdhouse gourds – yes, you can transform them into birdhouses for our feathered friends – or apple and pear gourds – they resemble the fruit they’re named after – or loofah gourds – I originally thought loofahs were sponges from the sea, but nope, they grow on land. Google gourd art, and you’ll be inspired by the creative artists out there who have transformed hard shelled gourds into penguins, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and other forms of painted or woodburned pieces of art. I’ve even used puffy paint (also called 3-D paint) to embellish gourds. Check out how to make this snowman gourd.

Fernleaf Prints
Fernleaf Prints

Fernleaf Prints

Ferns are a fascinating and diverse group of plants. They are primitive and prehistoric plants that reproduce through spores – no flowers or seeds here. There’s Japanese painted fern, Autumn fern, Christmas fern, holly fern, Australian tree fern, maidenhair fern, lady fern, wood fern, tassel fern, sword fern, shield fern, bird’s nest fern, rabbit’s foot fern, staghorn fern, and much more. Some ferns have straplike leaves, some have waxy leaves, others have fine and delicate leaves, some have giant leaves. Some have hairy stems and rhizomes. You must check out Oriental chain fern (Woodwardia orientalis) and its reproductive methods – so cool! Have samples of various ferns – cuttings or live plants – on hand to compare and contrast leaves. You can use these leaves to do a matching game or make leaf printing art. Include ferns as part of a study of prehistoric plants, along with ginkgo, Wollemi pine, cycads, bald cypress, and horsetail (Equisetum). Check out these articles on prehistoric plants by Kids Gardening and the Eden Project.

Dog Days of Summer Suncatchers
Dog Days of Summer Suncatchers

The phrase “Dog Days of Summer” is derived from the Greco Roman beliefs around the meaning of the dog star Sirius’ position in the sky and the coincidence that this event occurs during the hottest part of the summer. (Read more about here.) During this activity, we talk about the dog star Sirius and analyze its position in Orion’s belt and nearby Canus major and Canus minor with pictures or illustrations used as visual cues. We discuss stargazing and astronomy. We read the imagery and imagine the sensory experience of this poem by Marilyn Lott. Then, we use clear self sealing laminating pouches to arrange pressed flowers and star stickers for a “Dog Days of Summer” suncatcher. (Shown here in a clear acrylic photo frame.)

Keep checking back as we update this post!

Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Herbal Monograms
Herbal Monograms
Kissing Balls
Kissing Balls
Plant Pollinators: Butterfly Visual Cues
Plant Pollinators: Butterfly Visual Cues

A Daily Dose of Vitamin “N”

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a memory care community and a local plant nursery on a special planting of a new renewal garden. A group of Girl Scouts, from age 3 (sibling of a Girl Scout) on up, and the general public came out on a lovely Texas Saturday morning to help the residents and staff plant their beautiful garden.

I worked with the three-year-old on planting a ring of pansies and dianthus around a tree. We worked as a team – I pushed the short handled shovel into the ground with my foot and provided moral support and encouragement, and she wiggled the shovel to loosen the soil and then planted each plant in the ground. We exchanged a High-Five of Pride when we finished.

While some of the residents planted the raised beds, others came outside to sit and watch the little ones in action. They got a kick out of the carrots that kids had eagerly harvested from an earlier summer planting of the root vegetable. Everyone was interested in tasting the harvest…though the carrots needed a good wash before that was gonna happen.

Watching the generations of gardeners work together reminded me of an article by Anne Harding that I read earlier in the year. It talked about why gardening activities – or a dose of Vitamin “N” (for Nature) – are good for us. And on Saturday, I saw these benefits in action.

Here are a few highlights from the article (with a few additions):

Gardening exercises the body…and the mind.

Get your body moving by working out in the gym…and tending the garden. General gardening tasks, like weeding and digging, are good examples of low impact exercise. And, by the end of the “workout,” you can reap the visual benefits of your physical efforts – an inviting garden. The garden is a safe place to “get lost,” exercise your muscles while allowing the mind to wander, and stimulate the senses, which may trigger memories of childhood play or tending a grandparent’s garden plot.

Nature has the ability to help renew our sense of wellbeing.

The more plugged into technology and removed from the outdoors we are, the more likely we are to be stressed out, tired, and generally cranky. Research suggests that immersing ourselves in nature helps to clear the mind, reduce mental fatigue, and improve mood. In fact, doctors in Japan have been prescribing shinrin-yoku – or “forest bathing,” which involves a relaxing walk through the woods – to patients as a means for reducing stress, alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and restoring a sense of self efficacy in daily life.

Gardens naturally bring people together.

Enjoy a family picnic under the shade of a tall tree. Bring an arrangement of garden grown flowers to a friend in need. Share the bounty of homegrown tomatoes or freshly divided iris with neighbors and coworkers. Plants can be the vessel to connect people and form social bonds.

Cultivated landscapes promote a sense of security & community pride.

Research studies have suggested that areas with an abundance of well maintained vegetation have overall lower crime rates of certain types. Why? The researchers think that the people living in these areas have a deeper sense of pride and connection within their community and are involved in increased surveillance of their surroundings.

Plants (and soil) can help improve our overall health.

Gardeners involved in growing their own food, including kids, are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables than their peers. New research also suggests that coming into contact with a certain type of soil based bacteria can help to release serotonin in our brain, thus improving mood.

Credit to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. for popularizing vitamin “N” for Nature.

What Florists Know [And What We Wish We Knew] About Cut Flowers

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat

Photos by Susan Morgan

There is nothing better than flowers cut from your own garden (or, the next best thing, from your local floral supplier). Keeping flowers looking their best once cut takes talent, know-how, and experience. What do florists know that we wish we knew? Let the following tips on these cut flowers be your primer!


This flower’s lollipop shape is beautiful and appealing…but the smell not so much. Add a few drops of bleach to reduce onion smell. Adding a few drops of bleach to all vases of flowers are a great inhibitor of bacteria and murky vase water.

eatbreathegardenCalla lily

The warmth from your hands can manipulate and curve stems for even more dramatic architectural lines.


Blooms open quickly after cutting. This delicate looking flower can last up to two full weeks in a vase.


Handle petals as little as possible. They brown quickly when touched.


Select these long-lasting blossoms based on color and fragrance (chocolate, nutmeg, apple, coconut, to name a few!). They perform well as cut flowers and potted plants.


Dip stems of this perennial plant, also known as Christmas rose or Lenten rose, in hot water to cut. Then place stems in cool water right up to blossom to sit overnight.


When preparing the flower, make two cuts – one horizontal and one vertical – so that the woody stem can absorb more water. Dip cut ends into alum powder (also known as pickling spice at grocery store).


Don’t like how these can leave a stain on hands and clothes? Just as blooms crack, gently and carefully remove stamen inside the lily with a tissue at this stage, before the pollen appears.


Submerge bud & blossom in water to remove ants, sometimes requiring several dunks, which also hastens blossoming.

Poppy seedpods, shown here


Immediately burn the cut end of stems to extend blossom, then place in water.


Keep water level low in vase to prevent their hollow stem from rotting. This advice also goes for anenomes, calla lilies, and gerbera daisies.


To maximize blossoms for photography or parties, use warm water in vase and blow into their center to open and separate petals. Removing center petals to expose the seeds creates the look of garden roses.


They will dry on their own without additives and are beautiful as cut & dry flowers.  The same applies to thistle and statice.


Like ornamental kale, both tend to have smelly stems when submerged. Change water often…they are cousins to cauliflower and broccoli.


After use in arrangements, place on sandy soil mix to sprout roots and grow.


Prolong use by incorporating seedheads into arrangements after petals fade.

Sea holly (Eryngium) and hydrangea

Bonus tips:

* Use sharp knives or garden shears to cut stems.

* Select clean vases and place stems in room temperature water as soon as possible.

* To hasten blooming, use lukewarm water.

* Remove greenery below the water line.

* Re-cut stems, especially if they droop.

* Use flower food (preservative) in vase or 1 tsp sugar for every quart of water with a few drops of bleach for both nourishment and bacteria deterrent.


The 50 Mile Bouquet Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers, by D. Prinzing and D.E. Perry

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses cut flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers.

This is the first in a series of articles sharing tips on seasonal plants.