Healing with plants
Horticultural therapy is the science that describes the healing that comes from working with plants. At some point after my husband died, I began gardening. It wasn’t something I expected to enjoy. After days spent at bedside in the hospital, I didn’t like the feel of the sun on my skin. I didn’t want to leave the cocoon that was the inside of our house. It where, I felt, his spirit lingered. Inside our house, I felt safe.
In the beginning, gardening was just something that needed to be done. I could not afford to pay my son’s private school tuition and a gardener. But I also couldn’t let my home run down and go to weed (in Los Angeles, homeowners can be issued citations for not maintaining their properties). My inadvertent, horticultural therapy started with me cutting the grass each week with a Scott’s Classic mower. In 2007, it cost just $99 at my local home store (you might find a cheaper one on eBay). I specifically searched for that brand and model when went looking for a mower. It was the one my widower father had used back in the 1970′s. I felt a sense of solidarity each time that I cut the grass.
After weeks of simply cutting the grass, I decided that the shrubs at the front of my house needed to be trimmed. As more time passed, I decided to spend a bit of time on the back yard shrubs. Then one day, I suddenly realized that weeds were choking my once prized roses. I felt that I simply had to do something about that. Without my being aware of it, I was slowly spending more and more hours each Saturday working in the garden. I even got my son involved in my homegrown horticultural therapy program.
He wanted yet another video game. The news was rife with child development articles suggesting that kids should do extra chores to earn pocket money. So… He was a bit outraged when I first set him up with the mower. It was tough going for him in the beginning. He was 8 years old and only weighed about 65 pounds. I “paid” him $2 to cut the grass in the backyard. If I were feeling generous, I would allow him to share in my weeding fun We had an emotion-improving summer together under the healing, California sun.
My son has since returned to his video games. However, I still work in the garden. On days when I have little time or simply nothing special planned, I just go outside and touch the plants.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were practicing horticultural therapy. Therapists who work in that field, design gardening programs (and in some cases “homework”) to help the bereaved and mentally wounded heal. Some American universities teach horticultural therapy. Certification programs are available so that horticultural therapy practitioners can help others heal. There are also national associations in the United States and Canada.
Here are some links to sites relating to horticultural therapy in the United States. To visit the sites, click the underlined name.
The Horticultural Therapy Institute in Denver, Co
American Horticultural Therapy Association
University of North Carolina, Chapell Hill
Horticultural Therapy Certificate; Portland Community College
California Horticultural Network (of therapy practitioners)
The Ohio State University Horticultural Therapy Certification
Scott’s Classic Mower. A favorite of my father.