Under the Glass: News from the Greenhouse

We’ve had a busy few months in the therapeutic horticulture program and in addition to updating you on the goings-on under the glass, I’d also like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about how the therapeutic horticulture program works. Each activity we do in the program is related to plants in some way and most of the time we work with live plants; planting, propagating, harvesting, and nurturing. We learn a lot about different plants and horticulture techniques along the way. We also use plant materials to create art from time to time. No matter the activity, the aim is to do the activity in such a way that we can emphasize certain therapeutic benefits in the people-plant interaction.

For example, we might introduce a basic plant propagation activity such as planting seeds or taking stem cuttings. Depending on the techniques and tools that we use in the activity, we can emphasize gross or fine motor skills or eye-hand coordination. Depending on the plants we choose to propagate, we can emphasize sensory stimulation through choosing plants with bright colors, fragrance, or interesting texture. And depending on the information that we introduce or share during the activity, we could emphasize leisure education or social interaction. The list goes on because there are so many ways to use horticulture to improve physical, cognitive, and social skills, as well as mood, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. The thoughtful design and implementation of the activity allows us to focus on particular therapeutic benefits that we think will be of value to the group. Although the end result is an exciting component of the activity, the process is really what’s important.

Although it was quiet in the greenhouse over the holidays, November and December were bustling as we prepared for the plant sale and experimented with new plants, propagation techniques, and creative activities. We received a wonderful donation of heirloom foliage plants – some fairly unusual – and all of our program groups got to work with them and take them home. We also had the great fortune of working with a horticulture student who taught a series of propagation workshops in the greenhouse, and many of our participants got to try air layering, grafting, and leaf propagation. We also did a lot of work with succulents this fall, growing and propagating lots of interesting varieties, but also creating some beautiful holiday decorations with them (see the images). Many of the creations were snatched up at our fall plant sale.

Therapeutic horticulture craft example

Now it’s time to look forward to the spring semester of therapeutic horticulture programing, and that involves planting lots of seeds. We’ll be planting spring and summer flowers, but our main focus is on herbs and veggies. Picking out an assortment of tomatoes is always fun and we usually try to include a couple of crazy varieties (have you ever had a cream sausage tomato?). Basil is another big crop for us and we usually have 6-10 varieties, including lime basil, cinnamon basil, Thai basil, and more. We grow many to sell at our spring plant sale, but our participants take lots home to grow, share, and eat. And many of the plants we grow get planted in our gardens, including coleus, sedum, alyssum, and many others. Come visit the greenhouse and see for yourself!

Elizabeth “Leah” Diehl, RLA, HTM, Director of Therapeutic Horticulture, Wilmot Gardens

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