Therapy - Jerry Filipski
For many of us that garden we don't normally
stop and wonder what it is about gardening that makes us feel good or
enjoy it so. We are simply grateful that it does and go about our
work. There are others who have not experienced the joy of gardening
in their lives or may have had it removed from their lives by an
ailment or a disability.
Horticultural therapy is an innovative treatment method using plants
and plant-related activities to improve the social, educational,
psychological, and physical adjustment of an individual, thus
improving his/her body, mind and spirit. Horticultural therapy has
been used to improve mobility, balance, endurance, socialization and
Muscles can be strengthened and coordination improved. The bottom
line is that planting a flower may not seem very therapeutic, but
research has proven that horticulture therapy helps people heal and
relax according to Stacey Hager at Kansas State University.
This column was inspired by a wonderful book written by Lynn Dennis,
a local horticultural therapist. In his book 'Garden for Life',
Horticulture for People with Special Needs, Mr. Dennis explains how to
set up a horticultural therapy program in detail. He suggests creative
activities, tools and other considerations and in general makes one
feel compelled to become involved in such a program. Although the book
was intended for use as a manual by professionals and volunteers, it
is written in a manner making it suitable for the disabled gardener,
for example, to use when planning their garden.
Groups for whom the therapy has proven to be beneficial include
people who are physically disabled, mentally ill, developmentally
disabled, elderly, substance abusers, public offenders and socially
disadvantaged. By caring for plants individuals work with a product
firmly anchored in reality. The people using the program get a
hands-on connection with nature and the cycle of life. The
participants realize they have an effect on something else that is
living, that they are important.
Some disabled gardeners feel a reversal of dependency when they see
they can function independently, and actually garden for themselves.
This brings about a large boost in self esteem. Changes in outlook
take place as the participants look forward to what will come up next
week, what they will plant next year or plan what they need to do in
Looking ahead to the future is extremely important in fostering a
healthy, positive mental state especially in seniors according to the
'City Farmer', published by Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture. Gene
Rothert of the Chicago Botanic Gardens concisely sums up the job of
providing a horticultural therapy service in three parts, "Adapt
the garden, adapt the gardener, and adapt the plants." This is
one aspect Mr. Dennis addresses so well in his book as he lists and
shows specialized tools for use by disabled individuals and recommends
the right plants for the program.
My other inspiration, while researching this subject, was provided
through the seniors at Strathcona Place Seniors Residence. The
residence has its own garden program coordinated in large part due to
the efforts of Wayne and Betty McColman with plenty of support from
Rachel Young and Olga Palichuk.
There are 18 garden plots available at the residence, each one being
12'x12' in dimension. The management of the residence does the
rototilling and soil improvements but the seniors do the rest. The
plots are assigned by draw to individual seniors to do with what they
may. The plots contain plants ranging from vegetables, with tomatoes
being most popular,and flowers to oriental vegetables.
Gardening techniques, new plants are exchanged during the socializing
that takes place in and around the plots. This then is not only a
gardening endeavor but also a promotion of the exchange of ideas and
very much a learning process. There are currently 12 seniors manning
Wayne also looks after the on site greenhouse as well as coordinating
the planting and maintenance of the residence'sflower borders.
Management cuts and trims the lawn and maintains the trees. The
borders are all planted by volunteer seniors from the residence.
Funding for the plants and seeds is provided by a joint effort of the
Strathcona Seniors Residence Tenant Advisory Board and the Strathcona
Management Agency that runs the residence. Funds from the advisory
board are matched by the agency.
The importance of this program is echoed in the words of one
resident, "If my garden was taken away, that would be it for me."
Wayne says that " the gardening is therapeutic, not only to
admire the beauty of the flowers and plants but it provides activity."
This activity draws some residents out of their shells and gets them
involved in the responsibility of maintaining the plants.
The people involved in the program are dedicated. Olga was
responsible for rejuvenating some old abandoned beds. As Wayne says, "she
knows how to use a shovel, that's for sure." Rachel is a problem
for Wayne, she is constantly bringing him new plants, when Wayne
laments that the beds are full Rachel reminds him that there is always
room for one more, so Wayne dutifully finds a place.
Age has no place here, they are all too busy worrying about whether
this petunia will survive or when that snapdragon will bloom. The
entire spirit of volunteering and pride in their home seems to be the
motivating force behind their enthusiasm as well as a true love for
gardening. Wayne, who was a long haul trucker before suffering a back
problem was not a gardener until 10 years ago. Now you can't seem to
get him away from it.
I hope that this article may have generated some interest in our
professional care givers or even home care givers who never thought
they could help a loved one through gardening.