Happy September!

I want you to meet another lovely lady I serve in my blog this week. She is a recreational therapist, photographer, and avid ornithologist (bird lover).

She works part time on a psychiatric unit for geriatric patients aged 55 and over.  Her typical client has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, dementia, or post operative delirium.

Katherine’s supervisor has given the go-ahead on doing “anything” with plants and is an indoor gardener herself, counting over 100 houseplants in a single room, so she gave her a little bit of a budget to back our endeavor, too! Katherine attended a workshop I offered on HT treatments at the Therapeutic Recreation Association of Oklahoma state conference.  After that meeting, we’ve met in person several times and have know each other almost a year.  Here is what we’ve been up to with incorporating HT into her Therapeutic Recreation program:

  • I started with giving her a few gardening magazines, old silica gel crystals, and easy care plants (mother in-law’s tongue (Sanseveria) and Aloe) which she has boastingly “kept alive”!
    • She reports that she has used the magazines with clients to make collages and look at actively and that she and patients are ready to divide and transplant the Aloe.
    • Aren’t the pottery decorations adorable?  Since the clients may be a danger to themselves or others, I gave her plastic nursery containers to re-purpose.


Forgo the gloves when gardening to increase the senses engaged and promote grounding.

Transplanting is an example of a mindfulness, or grounding, activity–designed to immediately connect the client with the present moment.

Sensory techniques–those promoting the active use of sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight–help a client to cope with flashbacks or dissociation.

Another vital element we worked on for her programming was the availability of plants of varying texture and color to initiate using the senses and promote communication.

step forth_bridgeKatherine was like a kid in the candy store at the garden center, and it was such a treat for me to share that experience with her and help instill a desire for her to share that experience with those she serves! She could not get enough of the succulent plants in particular and thoughtfully made her purchase selections.

The names of succulents lend themselves to interesting conversation….’Strand of Pearls’, ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, etc.  which she intends to use for reminiscing and comparisons.

  • For example, “Has anyone ever given you a strand of pearls?”, “Do you remember any stories, books, or movies with dragons in them” (I am personally fondly reminiscing Pete’s Dragon at this moment! However, you can easily see that these conversations can go anywhere…dragons lead to loch ness leads to hey I’ve been there leads to I once wore a kilt, it will NOT be a dull conversation.)
  • We also got polka dot plant, which feels reptilian (“Name 3 reptiles” or “Have you ever had a reptile as a pet?”).
  • Artemesia is ONE of my favorite plants.  Not only is it aromatic (smelly), but the greyish blue is noticeably different than any surrounding greens and it is texturally inviting.  It’s typically a garden plant, but Katherine has a west facing window we are using to keep it thriving.
    • This one’s cultivar is ‘Powis Castle’, but a therapist could ask “What would you name this plant? What does it remind you of?” I know what I would call it.  ‘Pillow’ or ‘Cloud 9’…no matter of fact I would rename “Cloud 9” to Artemesia. But I digress.

In addition to these plants, I set her up with a nice garden book with lots of great color photos to look through with patients, pairs of seed packets to make a memory game with, proper soil (sandy gravel mix) to transplant the succulents into, copies of a PLANT Bingo game, the idea of using bulk variety beans to make seed mosaics and decorate pottery, and a re-purposed old fruit tray lid to use as a saucer when watering.

We used less than half of her budget on plants and intend to use the rest to supplement with additional seasonal supplies for nature based activities such as wreaths and ornaments.

Trees live a long time

Check out a suggested activity on facebook.

She has already used several free HT techniques such as drawings, plant rubbings, and writing activities for processing.  She made a lovely simplified worksheet to go through the Tree of Life narrative with her clients and has shared it with me.  See our facebook page for the worksheet!


  • She and her husband will make screens to dry flowers on out of reused wood and screens that they are replacing in their home.
  • She is going to save newspapers and cereal boxes for creating personal plant presses, you can also re-use cardboard as a journal cover.

Her compliment to me near the end of our time together was “There you go, always making something out of nothing”.  Being resourceful is a learned skill and you can do it, too! Even more of a compliment was the text I got from her later! “ANNIE, my boss is tickled pink because I calmed down an agitated patient with plants!” and she texted me the picture below!  More on Kaplan’s attention restoration theory later, but definitely worth the googling if you’re so inclined.


It warms the botanical cockles of my heart to know that Katherine was there, the plants were there, and she knew what to do with them. Especially after the conversation we had earlier in the day when she admitted she was a little reluctant to use HT because of her lack of experience with plants.  This success story my friends is “nail on the head the first time without busting your finger” WHY you need a horticultural therapist to support you.  There is no shame in networking with a specialist, the most successful professionals do it.

HtO’s superpower is that we care about you, your client, and are super passionate and capable when it comes to helping you bring the therapeutic benefits of plants TO people.

A resource that I absolutely love having the opportunity to share with you is from an AHTA colleague whose life work is in horticultural therapy and wellness for those with dementia.  His name is Dr. Garuth Chalfont and he is from the UK, his website is a plethora of knowledge and he has a wonderful handbook to share with you.

Year of the Brain 2015 published Alzheimer Outreach Services Karen Johnson’s  presentation entitled “Helping Brains Blossom” on 8/21/15.  Johnson is a social worker and horticulturalist who used HT activities with dementia affected clients living in a long-term care home for three years.  In it, she passionately shares research and some of the HT activities she found most beneficial.

If you, like Katherine, Karen, and Garuth are a caregiver to our dementia or Alzheimer’s affected elderly, check out these resources and keep an eye on our facebook page for more and more resources on using HT to improve quality of life.  This “state” can happen to ANY one of us.  One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

caregiver-1Being a caregiver is emotionally stressful; take care of yourself using HT activities as well, 40% of caregivers have depression. Check out this online community for caregivers and watch our calendar reminders on this website, I have a caregiver workshop coming up on 3/17/16 at 6 pm.


flowers for Alzheimer's walk

Consider “Stepping Forth” with me at the Alzheimer’s walk on 9/12/15! You can sign up from our facebook page.

P.S. – In honor of our new logo, and all the hard work done by Hollie and Brian at Maya Creative (Isn’t Hollie uber talented?!), I am giving away three books on water gardening to 3 readers who comment and let us know they’ve shared our blog by 9/15/15!

We hope you see why we like the “water” theme.

  1. Derek Fell is a scholar of Monet’s gardens,
  2. James van Sweden is Oprah’s garden designer, among many other things, and
  3. Jacqueline Heriteau and Charles B. Thomas are American Horticultural Society recognized experts on the topic and have put together a beautiful “everything-you-need-to-know” book!
Book Giveaway

I love our new logo! Help us show it off.

Fun Fact: Bloggers at gardenrant.com state that van Sweden’s design of Oprah’s Indiana garden originated because she wanted to replicate the gorgeous field in “The Color Purple” …., but Oprah got with the program and spent HOURS choosing every single plant.

“Everything wants to be loved.”

Are you detecting a pattern yet? I love books.  I’m giving away books. THAT is how much I want to see each of you “step forth” into the garden and share the therapeutic benefits of plants with people.

Love & Sunshine,

from the cockles of my heart

(this is a cockle) 

Soapwort corn cockle

Annie Blossom


My aim in writing for you is to be relevant and resourceful, sharing what I know to be current and sound information.  I do not exclude or include any resources for personal financial gain.  I want you to hire me to do what I’m good at for that. 🙂

2 Responses to Step Forth
  1. Hello Annie,
    I left a job as Executive Director of a non profit organization to do something I’m truly passionate about with individuals with diverse needs. I have started a small business called Therapeutic Horticulture and work in 5 assistive living facilities, at present with residents who have dementia, alzheimer’s and on hospice. I love it and to see the eyes of someone taking their terrarium they’ve made to their room is what it’s all about. The pride and joyfulness is breath taking!
    I do indoor and outdoor projects. We successfully made beautiful raised beds with veggies, herbs to be picked and eaten with their meals. Lots of perennials, sunflowers and climbers in the gazebo have transformed the facility!
    With the cooler weather approaching, we’re trying to button down for our first frost. We made succulent terrariums yesterday. I’m always looking for seasonal ideas for indoors now. Might you have any projects to share? I love your website and will soon do my own.
    Thanks so much!


    • Paula,
      That’s wonderful, I love terrariums for so many reasons! What zone/state are you in? I had scarecrow making groups today, pallet gardens were sown with seeds a couple weeks ago to bring indoors for vertical gardening this fall/winter with supplemental lights, lots of mums and pansies and kale and cabbage and swiss chard growing in various ways, I found GYNORMOUS $2.00 mums at my local ACE Hardware today, also, you can adhere moss to the top of a pumpkin and just glue on leaves of succulents, keep the moss moist and they’ll root and you can plant the moss in soil later. So many wonderful things to do in the fall with nature walks to collect leaves and seed heads and nuts and berries. A beautiful crabapple was the nose on a small pumpkin for one of our scarecrows today. PINECONE projects galore coming up for winter, so take walks on pretty days to collect them, now! I hope that’s helpful, and CONGRATS on following your passion!
      Love and sunshine,


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24Jul 2015

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01Sep 2015

Happy September! I want you to meet another lovely lady I serve in my blog this week. She is a recreational therapist, photographer, and avid ornithologist (bird lover). She works part time on a psychiatric unit for geriatric patients aged 55 and over.  Her typical client has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, dementia, or […]

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