Young Danny (not his real name) resisted going to daily treatment at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program until his recreation therapist gave him an orchid to look after. Knowing that the orchid was there waiting for him and requiring his care made all the difference to Danny (and to his mom).
This heartwarming story describes the chance events that led to Danny bonding with an orchid; events that might easily not have happened.
Luckily, I’d brought my phone into the garden with me when Michael (Danny’s recreation therapist) called me to ask for ideas of plants that require daily care. I suggested a few fast-growing plants, and threw in the idea of spraying the flowers of an orchid plant as many times a day as desired. Orchids grow in tropical rain forests where the rain falls frequently as a gentle mist, which makes the flowers last for weeks or even months.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that a young boy would be interested in an orchid, which simply reflects my lack of experience in gardening with kids. Michael’s not a gardener, and I’ve gardened mostly with adults and seniors, so it took both of us putting our heads together to arrive at a solution.
Michael latched on to the orchid idea and purchased an orchid and a spray bottle. And it worked!
After Danny’s treatment was complete, I asked Michael to share the story.
Julia contributed to the conversation too. She was instrumental in developing the therapeutic garden just outside the hospital building.
The time that Danny spent in the garden provided the all-important information that he’s fascinated with plants and flowers. Without that garden, Danny’s mom and Michael may never have hatched the idea of enticing Danny to daily treatment by giving him a plant to care for.
Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Michael and Julia as we sat in the therapeutic garden.
Michael: I’d phoned you, Shelagh, about a little boy who was having difficulty coming in in the morning. He was here about social anxiety and just getting in the door with mom was a huge struggle for him every day.
We’d noticed just in coming out into the garden that he was immediately drawn to the plants and flowers. The daffodils were out and we’d pick some for his mom. That brought up that he showed a lot of care for animals and plants.
I got in touch with you to find out if you could suggest any plants that would require his care on a daily basis and that would be motivating for him to come into the hospital in the mornings. On your advice I bought him an orchid to tend and brought it into his room.
The next day when he came in he was clearly moved that he had this beautiful flower in his room.
I asked him if he could take care of this plant for me and told him if he was successful at it then he might as well take it home because I was no good at taking care of this plant.
He was extremely proud and then came in with no trouble at all for the remainder of his stay here, because – and this was very clear – he would tell mom that he had to go and take care of his beautiful flowers. And that was central to his admission and care here.
Julia: Isn’t that great?!
Shelagh: That is amazing!
Michael: I was really, really lucky that I got in touch with you just then, and we had just reconnected and it was kismet.
Shelagh: It’s amazing that you thought of that idea, too.
Julia: You were following that thread: noticing the daffodil, like a little doorway and what could that lead to. That’s what I think is so cool about this line of work because you get the clues, and then you facilitate, but ultimately the magic happens between him and the orchid. You don’t do that part.
Michael: Yeah, that’s right. That was happening very privately between him and the orchid.
Oh! That was the other thing, is that he wanted to keep it private. He didn’t want to share this with the other children, not even with other staff.
Shelagh: Just with you?
Michael: This was his special thing with me. I don’t know if it was because he wanted to make it special with me or he just wanted to make it special with the orchid, but he didn’t want to share this with everyone. I somehow clued in intuitively and asked his permission before telling another staff member about it and he said no, he didn’t want the other staff member, his own caregiver, to know about it.
Shelagh: How often do kids get to keep things private?
Michael: It’s rare, especially when you’re coming in to an institution and it’s so invasive of your privacy and everybody knows all your business.
Shelagh: Thank you, Michael. Thank you for sharing the story with me.
Michael: Well, thank you for the recommendation. The orchid was perfect.
Julia: To find the orchid for each person, whatever works for them…
Shelagh: Yes, and that’s one of the wonders about using nature, there are so many different kinds of elements you can use: plants and various themes…
Michael: And it really gave him a sense of competence, to be the one who took care of this plant. He was the only one who had a spray bottle in his room. You don’t often entrust boys his age with spray bottles because the next thing you know they’re spraying their neighbour. But he didn’t.
He never sprayed anybody, he always kept it adjusted to mist and only misted his orchid. And he knew full well that you could adjust it the other way and spray across the hall, but he never did.
Shelagh: That’s self-regulation, plus attachment.
Michael: Yeah: attachment, competence, self-regulation, all hit by this one orchid. And it cost $18, compared to how much medication? Yeah, it was really neat. That orchid changed his life. And his mother understood that his behaviour was due to the orchid.
I still get goose bumps when I think of it.
There are stories like this in any healthcare setting that has an outdoor garden or indoor plants, providing glimpses of the power of nature to enhance treatment outcomes.
If you have a similar story, share it with me and with your healthcare practitioners to raise awareness and encourage more frequent use of plants as therapy.
Gotta wonder: what’s Danny busy taking care of now?
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