Spring Activities for Horticultural Therapy

Although it may not look like it, spring is on its way, which means it’s time to start prepping for the anticipated spring planting season. This is a great time of year for horticultural therapy contracts. Everyone is itching to start planning and prepping for a successful horticultural therapy outdoor garden program, and our excitement level is right there with them.

Sunflower seedlings
The emergence of the radicle through the seed coat of a sunflower seed.

I am frequently asked, “what kinds of activities do you do in the early spring to engage participants in horticultural therapy?” I turn to garden prep activities for both engaging and therapeutic plant-based sessions this time of year. The possibilities are endless with the added perk of being very affordable and therapeutically significant.

When gearing up for gardening season, I focus my horticultural therapy activities on three topics: seed plantings, propagation, and transplanting. All three topics not only have a wonderful educational component, but also serve as meaningful therapeutic activities.

Planting Seeds

Seed planting, or seed germination, activities serve an educational and therapeutic purpose. For the educational component, focus on the life cycle of a seed with the group of participants. Visuals, such as a seed germination chart, help participants understand the process of seed germination. It never ceases to amaze at least one participant (especially young students) that plants, even those as great as sunflowers, start out as tiny seeds.

Seedlings just starting to sprout.

Therapeutic significance

Seed germination activities allow horticultural therapists to connect the importance of seed germination and plant care to the care of oneself or others. In health care facilities or special education programs, many individuals are taken care of around-the-clock due to an inability to solely provide for themselves. Something as tiny as a seed carries great significance because it allows anyone the opportunity to care for a living thing. Participants are educated on appropriate sun exposure (typically on a light cart or windowsill) and watering techniques to guarantee the plant’s health and success. Each participant receives a variety of seedlings to tend to as we approach the planting season. The intent is to enable each individual to care for their own plant so that, when the time comes, it can be combined with other plants to create a beautiful, outdoor therapy garden.

Plant Propagation

Plant propagation is another great activity for a group of any size or ability. All that is needed are containers, soil, a mother plant and some snips. Some of my favorite plants for plant propagation also add a wonderful sensory component to the activity. Coleus are great plants for propagation and they come in a variety of beautiful colors; succulents propagate easily and create fun talking points pertaining to desert plants;  lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) adds a tropical element as well as the excitement of a potential beautiful red bloom.

Coleus cuttings for plant propagation.

Therapeutic significance

Plant propagation activities can be used to teach valuable lessons in a health care setting. They teach a lesson about taking something old or overgrown to start something fresh and new. This activity can also be paired with a pruning activity to add to its therapeutic benefits.  The concept of taking away or lessening a load in order to become more healthy is a theme that resonates with many horticultural therapy participants.

Transplanting Activity

When the time comes to begin planting in the garden, a lesson on transplanting can greatly enhance the garden’s immediate beauty while increasing the feeling of ownership among the participants. Ideally, the seedlings and cuttings that were previously done have developed into mature, healthy plants that are ready to transplant into garden beds/containers. Each participant has the opportunity to place their plant(s) in an area of the garden to continue to watch it flourish throughout the growing season.

An HT participant at Shriners Hospital for Children, collecting flowers for the days activity.

Therapeutic significance

The feeling of ownership or pride over a space greatly enhances the success of a garden and horticultural therapy program. When  participants get the opportunity to place their own plants within a shared space, their individual ownership and care over the space is heightened. They feel a sense of responsibility, not only for their plant, but for the entire garden. On numerous occasions, I have seen participants pull family members or friends out to “their” garden to show what they’ve planted.

While we all continue to stay busy, start thinking of all the different activities and ways in which to engage enthusiastic gardeners with easy, horticultural therapy activities. If Punxsutawney Phil thinks spring is just around the corner then we better be ready! Until then, get those seeds going, stay warm, and dream of snow drops, crocuses, and early spring showers.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Dedicated to the one I love

Early last summer I noticed a small row of books, bracketed by nice-looking bookends, on a shelf behind the front desk at the Lenhardt Library. “Those are our dedication books,” explained Leora Siegel, library director. “If visitors or members would like to pay tribute to someone special or mark a special occasion, they can dedicate a book in the library in the same way that they might dedicate a tree or a bench in other Garden areas.”

Click here to find out more about a book dedication or other tribute gift today.

Later that summer, my mom passed away. As my thoughts eventually turned to a memorial or tribute, I remembered Leora’s words, and asked her to walk me through the process of book dedication. Turns out there are three “levels” to consider for dedication. Here’s how they work:

Level 1: General Book Dedication

Each year, approximately 100 newly-purchased books are set aside specifically for the tribute program—that’s the bookended group you’ll find on the shelf. Topics are garden-related, of course, but very diverse—and if you don’t see the topic you’re looking for, the staff will work with you to find the right book.

  • Ask a librarian to share the list of current selections, and page through the books you’re interested in.
  • Choose a title, then fill out a book dedication form, including copy for the bookplate.
  • After the bookplate is printed and mounted, you’ll be notified that it has taken its place on the library shelves.
  • The fee ($50 to $150, depending on the book) helps to fund the tribute program.

Your dedication remains there for the life of the book on our library shelves.

Level 2: Conservation Book Dedication

By dedicating a book in need of conservation—the TLC that mends, rebuilds, and stabilizes it—you not only pay special personal tribute, but also save a badly damaged book for future generations to enjoy. Quite a tribute, indeed.

  • Review the library’s list of books in need of conservation—a truly interesting, unusual, and long list (lots of books need TLC).
  • Make an appointment to view your choice in the Rare Book Room at the library.
  • Discuss the conservation required and appropriate fee (generally $500 to $1,000).
  • Provide text for the special conservation tribute bookplate.

Naturally, every conservation book requires a labor of love—a typical restoration time frame is three months. After conservation work is completed, you’re invited to view the restored volume before it takes its place in the Rare Book area.

Level 3: Rare Book Dedication

Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are Intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.
Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.

When I decided to look into book dedication, I had two ideas in mind: first, that a book from 1933 would be a good choice, as that was the year of my mother’s birth; and, second, that a book about orchids would also work, as orchids were my mother’s favorite flowers.

Leora searched the rare book lists and, incredibly, came up with a volume that fit both ideas: Native British Orchidaceae, a beautifully-illustrated monograph on orchids that was published in 1933 (at right). The book was originally in the Chicago Horticultural Society library–that’s our parent organization.

The process for a rare book dedication is akin to a conservation book (although without the repair/wait time). Naturally, the fee for a rare book dedication is greater, depending on the rarity of the book (fees available upon discussion and request).

Ultimately, I chose to honor my mother with a dedication in this orchid book, knowing that she would have loved it, and that my donation would go toward other restorations and rare book purchases.

The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.
The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.

And I’ve come to realize that a library is so much more than a place of communal knowledge—it is also a place of communal memory. Now, every time that I open a library book, I peek at the endpages first to see if there’s a bookplate. Who will this book be dedicated to? Perhaps it’s from a group that wants to honor a leader or friend. Or it’s to celebrate a memorable trip, or a fantastic garden, or a new baby born into the family. Or maybe it’s to a mom who loved orchids.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org