Fun with flowers and plants: Horticultural therapy cultivates friendships, joy

Fun with flowers and plants: Horticultural therapy cultivates friendships, joy

Fun with flowers and plants: Horticultural therapy cultivates friendships, joy

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Horticulture therapy at Episcopal Retirement Services

A horticultural therapy program at Deupree House and Deupree Cottages sows joy and friendships among residents, who gather twice a month.

Not only do they experience the joy of creating beautiful flower arrangements or plantings to take home to their apartments or balconies, but they also benefit from horticultural therapy, which has been shown to help people’s physical and mental well-being.

A thoughtful daughter planted the seeds.

About eight years ago, a daughter wanted to reconnect her mother to the joy she had experienced from gardening.

She asked Robert Evans of Aarrowood Plants & Flowers, who had tended her mother’s flower boxes, to create a program for the Deupree House resident and meet with her weekly. The woman’s husband joined in the fun.

About six years ago, the program spread to Deupree Cottages, the Marjorie P. Lee’s Memory Care households, and later, to Deupree House itself. At Deupree Cottages, where residents live for their Memory Care or other healthcare needs, Evans offers the program twice a month throughout the year, as he does at Deupree House, with the arrangements or plantings reflecting what’s happening outside in nature or the season of the year. For example, around the holidays, he’s always sure to include fragrant pines in the arrangements.

Reconnecting with nature

Here’s one reason residents love his program, especially those with gardening experience. Evans said: “They love dirt. I tell you what, when I show up with dirt, it makes people happy.”

Why is that?

“It’s a connection to nature. It connects us to the outside,” he said. In the program, I’m always connecting to what’s going on outside, what’s in bloom. If we’re able, at the cottages, to work out in the pavilion, if it’s warm, it connects people to the outside world, which I think for many people, they feel bound by being inside, and it’s an escape.”

Also, it’s therapeutic because the gardening programs pull us out of our current mindset, connecting us to the moment because we’re focused on what we’re doing. And again, it’s a link to nature.

When Evans created Aarrowood Plants & Flowers almost 25 years ago, his original goal was to connect people with nature, “even if it was just plants in an office space because we spend so much of our time at work and in an office space, it’s a way of having a little bit of nature around us,” he said.

So the horticultural therapy program isn’t a detour from that goal but another step in that direction.

Studies have found multiple benefits for people who participate in horticultural therapy.

One recent study in Taiwan found that a 12-week program effectively strengthened the “sense of coherence” – a person’s perception of their mental health – after a 12-week horticultural program for older adults who were living in a long-term care facility.

Research published in the Journal of Housing for the Elderly also found various benefits.


Loving the program

Evans’ twice-per-month programs “are excellent,” said Deupree House resident Nancy Gottschalk. “And the mix of people there is great. It gives people an opportunity to get out of their apartments and to do something constructive.”

Evans “does an excellent job,” she added. “He’s very pleasant. He teaches easily. He’s very inclusive to the variety of people who are there. Some are quite knowledgeable, some aren’t, and he’s very helpful.”

Gottschalk enjoys arranging flowers, planting bulbs in a pot, and putting them on her porch. Also, “It’s just a pleasant afternoon.”

Marilyn Sesler, another resident, enjoys the camaraderie.

“We have a nice group. We all are interested in the same subjects – flowers, plants, and that sort of thing,” she said. “And our leader is a wonderful guy, and quite knowledgeable, and willing to share. And he often shares with us films and slides and places around the country that he’s been, and he’s familiar with.”

For example, when the group recently was working with potted tulips, Evans showed a video of the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, touted as the most beautiful spring garden in the world, “some of the Deupree residents had visited there,” Evans said, “and they shared their stories of what it was like when they visited.”

Evans said that just as the residents do, he finds the gatherings therapeutic and enjoys hearing stories from residents who have lived rich lives, which often included various interesting travels.

Sesler enjoys Evans’ pro tips about gardening and updates on the latest floral trends.

“The nice thing is he is a professional, so we learn from him and then can take some of our learnings into our own homes and do some things in there that we might not have done without a little expertise,” Sesler said.

“We’re very fortunate to have Robert as our leader because he is very capable – very talented – and also has a commitment to us, meaning older adults and Deupree House.”

“Gardening restores the body and soul,” says the Mayo Clinic—and horticultural therapy is accomplishing exactly that for our community members. You can ensure the continuation of this impactful program by volunteering or donating. For more other upcoming activities for seniors at Deupree House, view our monthly calendar.


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Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’s efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public re... Read More >

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