Annual Giving: Inspirational Stories


At the memory care residence where she lives, Kay was always sitting in her chair, close to the television. She was a creature of habit and did not like changing things. Every week, week after week, month after month she was invited to join in the horticultural therapy sessions. Every time she refused with an emphatic ‘oh no’ and a smile. After 8 months she replied with a ‘yes’. Oh joy! But as soon as she settled at the table she would promptly ask to be taken back to the television room, her anxiety building as she awaited an escort back inside.

Gradually she came outside, not to the table, rather on the outside looking interested in what was going on but not joining. Eventually she came to the table and observed, still declining  to participate. One year after weekly or bi-monthly sessions Kay not only said yes and stayed at the table, she looked forward to the sessions. Now, upon me entering the living room, her head turns, her eyes light up and she smiles and eagerly say yes to joining the group. There is no more anxiety about being with the group, at the table or joining in the activity, and she leaves with a large smile.

Trish Hildinger, HTR
Horticultural Therapy Santa Cruz
(831) 713-7997

I came to meet Patricia during our first yard transformation project. Patricia is a US Army Veteran, and she was homeless.  She had suffered a stroke, had lost her teeth and could barely walk. She was guarded, but curious about what we were doing outside of the transitional housing unit where she and 11 other female veterans lived in West Philadelphia, PA. For months, our team came back to clear out bamboo, and trash that was holding the space back.  Each time, Patricia greeted us as best as she could. She could not physically get to the garden, but she could watch and would often shout out words of encouragement. Eventually, I came to learn about her favorite flowers. She didn’t know the names, but described them to me and together, we ‘found’ them.  When I told her that she’d be choosing the types of plants for the garden, she looked dumbfounded. “You know there is no choice in the military.” Patricia immediately chose forget me nots and lily of the valley because ‘they were my grandmother’s favorite.” Soon, her rehabilitation enabled her to walk and to tend to the garden. She regularly reported back on what was blooming, what the squirrels feasted on and which plants she might have overwatered. She shared this with me: “To me, it’s healing to watch mother nature at work, it’s healing me on the inside. It helps with my process of getting back to my life.”

Collie Turner, Horticultural Therapy Certificate Student, Temple University

I work as a horticultural therapist with kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in dense urban areas.  Most of them live in apartments and have little to no ability to grow anything at home.  One day I watched an exuberant group dig up sweet potatoes with joy on their faces as they uncovered the dirt covered jewels.  It really struck me at that moment how this would be such a vivid memory for them when they were older and out of school.  I thought of my memories from grade school and some of the strongest are from playing in a huge grassy field.  I know those times helped shape me as I know this important time in the garden for my students is shaping them.  Together we learn so much about the world in the garden.  We learn patience, careful observation, gentleness, planning and how to deal with disappointment as well.  These lessons are woven throughout our time together outside and it is remarkable how much I see improvements in behavior and increased engagement with my students through the use of horticultural therapy.  

Arleen Ferrara, HTR
Sustainable and Attainable Gardens by Design / 310.663.9529

Assoc. of Professional Landscape Designers
Certified in Permaculture and Sustainable Landscape Design

Superstar HT Student!

T. is a high school student with significant special needs whose growth in horticultural therapy has given him the opportunity to shine in his community. When he first came to the Monarch School of New England in 2015, his behavioral challenges required two staff to be with him at all times. He refused to participate in structured activities, with the exception of horticultural therapy. At risk for running away, he was unable to go to the garden, so horticultural therapy was provided at his classroom desk. Gradually, he safely transitioned to join his peers for group sessions in the garden. His love for watering plants soon expanded to other skills and interests, enabling him to become a special garden helper to the horticultural therapist during his free time. Now, four years later, based on his interest in horticulture, T. is working with a job coach at a local community garden center, where his enthusiasm is appreciated by staff and customers alike.

Kathy Perry, MA, OTR/L, HTR
Occupational Therapist and Horticultural Therapist
Monarch School of New England

Most of the usual activities don't interest television, no bingo, no arts and crafts. He's not much of a talker, however, when a bustling cart of plants and pots, essential oils and seed catalogs enters the room, he is the first to exclaim "what are we doing today?!" I have learned he loves the smell of fresh cut grass, the warmth of a hot summer day, and all the joys a bright red rose brings. 

Our first summer together, he chose a tomato to grow, knowing exactly what he was craving. From seed to seedling, moving out to the garden and seeing its first blooms — he asked about it, talked about it, watered it with care. When the first fruit finally ripened, we set out to the garden together with a brown paper bag of supplies. With tears in both our eyes, we shared the most delicious BLT. 

-Therapeutic Horticulture participant, Regeis Care Center, Bronx, NY

Gerry Leigh Sherman
Horticultural Therapy Certificate - New York Botanical Garden
Owner of HELLO, DAHLIA! Horticulture

Emily Blumstein
Student, Rutgers Horticultural Therapy Certificate Program

In a deep squat, head down, sun beating on my sweaty neck and back, I massage the soil. It is the best lesson in mindfulness I can think of. It may not be therapeutic for my knees, but the process of growing and caring for plants is absolutely cathartic. I am in nursing school and I love it! Healthcare is my vocation and passion, but I see a lack of holistic treatment options in the field. I am so excited to be able to educate and share the empowering healing modality of Horticulture Therapy with my fellow healthcare providers and patients.

Living and learning in the “Garden State” has taken on a whole new meaning since starting the HT program at Rutgers. From volunteering on the student farm to exploring the Floriculture greenhouses on campus, the resources available to HT students are endless. One of the courses I am currently taking, “Plant People Relationship” with Gary Altman, places plants into a cultural context. The roles plants and agriculture play in our day to day lives vary greatly in different communities and populations. Especially working in the field of behavioral health, I see a need for HT in my patient’s treatment. For patients struggling with symptoms of depression, the tangibility of HT is extremely grounding. With the expansion and integration of Horticulture Therapy in medicine, I see a future where patients can feel more productive, mindful, and healthy.