By: Gabrielle Sanderson
On October 5, 2018, an Extension Master Gardener from Green Spring Gardens had the opportunity to spread the word about therapeutic gardening by presenting at the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) in Denver, Colorado. Kathleen Wellington was able to incorporate her background of being a licensed counselor and her passion for horticultural therapy into a presentation that demonstrates the Extension Master Gardeners’ work with the Healing Gardens at the Woodburn Crisis Care Center. Not only has Kathleen helped to expand on the integration of therapeutic gardening with the Woodburn staff, but she has facilitated an interest in therapeutic gardening among other Extension Master Gardeners.
To begin, the Woodburn Crisis Care Center is not a hospital but a place for individuals to check into for a two-week period in order to receive help during a crisis. Ruth Janet, a member of the Woodburn Crisis Care Center, states that during their process of developing gardening lesson plans for the staff to use with clients they realized that they were missing the aspect of horticultural therapy. “Thanks to Kathleen and her expertise, we now have a month-to-month written program that incorporates gardening “to do” along with lesson plans on therapy that Woodburn staff can easily initiate.”
Kathleen worked hand-in-hand with the counseling staff at the crisis center in order to help open their eyes to the benefits of gardening. Pamela Smith, the Community Horticulture Supervisor at Green Spring Gardens, says that “with so many individuals and families now dealing with crisis situations, providing a respite through gardening is a wonderful way to help them find solace and possible hope for the future.”
Kathleen’s presentation at the AHTA Conference was called “Planting Seeds of Hope: Therapeutic Gardening in a Crisis Stabilization Program,” and she discussed how Extension Master Gardener Volunteers collaborated with clinical staff in implementing and sustaining the therapeutic gardening program in the adult crisis stabilization center. Kathleen has been able to present at the conference a couple times before, but she was excited and honored to receive monetary support from the Green Spring Gardens and the Fairfax extension service for her recent presentation. During the conference she received feedback from various people in the audience that they were interested with the idea of replicating the work that the EMGs did with the crisis care center into their own programs. One lady approached her at the conference explaining that she is “really excited to hear from another person with a vision to merge horticulture therapy with mental health work.” With guidance from Kathleen, several of the Extension Master Gardeners have earned their Health Department volunteer training so that they can work directly with clients, and Smith states that Kathleen is continuing to “introduce them to different forms of therapeutic gardening,” through presentations in Fairfax County.
While Kathleen’s presentation has made a significant impact on other Extension Master Gardeners around the state, the EMGs’ work at the Woodburn Crisis Care Center continues to make a lasting impact on the Fairfax community. “We have already received requests from a senior living facility for a sensory garden for its residents,” states Smith. The 2017 Green Spring Master Gardeners are also doing work for the Wounded Warrior Program, helping to write “The USO Resiliency Garden Guide” for the counselors and volunteers to use when working with military personal who are also in similar crises. “I think it is a great service to the community and certainly the EMGs feel a great sense of purpose and satisfaction from working with these groups,” says Smith. “They have an incredible amount of compassion and generosity of spirit and they are able to see the impact on the clients and counselors.”
While therapeutic gardening at the Woodburn Crisis Care Center has had lasting impacts on the patients, the work with the crisis care center has helped the Extension Master Gardeners to understand how they can use gardening as a tool to help people heal. “I think everyone should know how beneficial gardening is, both emotionally, physically, and socially,” states Kathleen. Not only has therapeutic gardening allowed for there to be seeds of hope planted at the Woodburn Crisis Care center, but therapeutic gardening has allowed people to see that gardening can heal.