As therapeutic activity leaders, our goal is to provide opportunities for people to feel more alive and to live more fully. Completing hands-on projects can be satisfying, but generally not the most important goal of a program. Giving your participants a project to complete can be like giving them a ‘to do’ list they didn't ask for.
I’ve been as guilty as the next person of running project-based programs. But over time I realized that simple interactions between people and plants is what I enjoy most and what seems to bring people most alive. It took courage to approach a group with one or two plants in hand, instead of dozens, but I connected better with the participants and found I could offer a more person-centred approach.
Do you give your participants opportunities to be with each other and with plants? To feel alive by connecting with other living beings? To delight in simple sensory pleasure and story-telling?
Sherry Dodson, the horticultural therapist who delighted me by being the first to buy my garden activity signs, asked me for feedback and advice. She’s well trained in horticultural therapy and brand new to creating and delivering programs. She jumped right in to leading five groups per week at WindReach Farm in Ashburn, Ontario (thanks to funding provided by an Ontario Trillium Foundation Seed Grant), and said in her email, “I'm constantly looking for sources for program ideas.” Rather than suggest another book, of which she has several, I had a different suggestion. Here’s an excerpt from my response to Sherry:
Sherry replied (and permitted me to share this with you):
We did one program with harvesting mint that was growing in the raised beds, and making little tea bags with cheesecloth and twine and having a tea party. I had the participants each hold a stem of mint, talked about feeling the leaves, the square stem, we looked at the roots and how it propagates. It was so simple and yet the participants enjoyed it so much, it was a great social time, and I felt one of the best sessions. By coincidence the Chair of the WindReach Foundation Board of Directors observed some of that class, and afterwards commented to some of the other staff how powerful he felt the program was. After reading your email it really brings home that the simple things are often the best. I have a tendency to overthink things.
Thank you for your advice, it is greatly appreciated.
Sherry's description of her mint activity is a terrific example of keeping it simple. If you’d like more of these simple cold-weather activity ideas, sign up below to receive my monthly newsletter and instantly receive 50+ Winter Activity Ideas for Garden and Nature Programs.
Legacy Health in Portland, Oregon is making therapeutic gardens a top priority for reducing staff stress and fatigue and for encouraging staff to take regular breaks in the garden near their unit. Legacy Health's interdisciplinary garden design process and their randomized controlled trials are leading the way for other hospitals.