Shelagh Smith, HTR, MAEEC: Horticultural Therapist, Educator, and Creator of Garden Activity Signs
Connecting people with nature has been my profession and my passion for over twenty years. Thousands of times while leading garden and nature activities, I've witnessed joy and capability arising from engaging with nature:
More than anything else the smile of delight, indicating that nothing else matters in that moment except the flower that’s caught their attention, the birdsong they’ve just tuned into, or the fragrance that is captivating them. In that moment, they are happy. Their whole being is connecting with nature and experiencing the benefits to their health and well-being.
But there’s a problem.
While working as a horticultural therapist in healthcare and social service settings, I discovered that many people need permission, encouragement and instruction to interact with nature in gardens: to look closely, to smell and touch the plants, to do simple hands-on activities. Yet so often the garden is open for many hours per day without a guide or program leader available.
To encourage independent interactions with nature, I designed a set of twelve garden activity signs and made prototypes in-house with the help of students and volunteers. This took a lot of extra hours and effort, but it was all worth it because the signs were well-received and proved successful.
I was delighted that I’d found a way to extend my reach beyond the few hours per week that I worked on site!
After twenty-three years I ‘retired’ from facilitating ongoing garden programs. I enjoyed it immensely, but I was drawn to extend my reach even further. Offering the garden activity signs to a wider audience is my way of being of service to many more patients, clients and residents of health and social service agencies, and to the hard-working professionals who care for them.
My hope is that by designing and producing these garden activity signs, a seed of encouragement will be planted in each individual, and will grow into a regular habit of enjoying nearby nature without requiring the prompting of a sign.
I’ve been nourished by nature my whole life, and I wish to share the joy and the abundant benefits that are so freely given to us by the natural ecosystems we inhabit. I also believe what the science says: that if we pay attention to nature in our everyday lives, we care more about it and actively care for it. Then nature can continue to sustain and nourish us.
May your garden visitors smile with delight at the wondrous world they live in!
Callum MacLeod is my husband, wise business advisor and number one fan and supporter.
Emily Damstra is the talented illustrator who brought my ideas to life with her drawings. Emily's website.
Cast of Characters: The people quoted on this website are my real-life colleagues and friends. If you're a customer, send me stories about your garden signs. Photos and videos welcome too!
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