Therapeutic Horticulture at Home

Therapeutic Horticulture is all about a connection to nature. We use a variety of means to enhance an individual’s connection through sensory exploration, observation, creativity, all with a personal touch. Today, the only thing missing is that personal touch. 

Still, there are ways to engage with nature while maintaining responsible social distance.

Take a Phenology Walk

Phenology is a big word that essentially means “observations of change in nature over time.”

  • Choose a plant or tree or an area outdoors, in your yard or on a walk. Observe the changes that occur daily: leaves on a tree, plant changes in height, number of blooms, anything that is of interest. Observing the changes in nature, especially in spring, reminds us of the dynamics of nature.  
  • Simply enjoy observing the changes, or, if you prefer, record them through photos or in a journal.

Try Nature Journaling

Start a journal just for your nature experiences. Making this a daily practice will deepen your connection to nature. In the words of Claire Walker Leslie, famous author and nature journaling expert, “Nature journaling is your path into the exploration of the natural world around you, and into your personal connection with it.”

  • Record the date, time of day, weather.
  • Record any observations of the setting; plants, wildlife, what your senses tell you.  
  • Try drawing. If you are unsure of how to start, simply draw shapes of leaves, trees, and flowers. Adding details will come with practice.
  • A journal entry can be as simple as a list of what you observe; for instance, a tree with peeling bark, tulip buds showing just a bit of color, and buds on a shrub.
  • Over time, record changes from day to day.

Create a Nature Mandala

Gather nature items from the ground and create a mandala, a circular symbol of deeper connection with the self and the universe at large. Take your time and place the items in a circular pattern. The creation should be about the process, not the perfect end result. Leave the creation for others to stumble upon and enjoy before nature dispenses the pieces. 

Savor the Sounds of Birds

Spend time listening to the birds in your yard or neighborhood. They are particularly active in the spring and remind us of the changes that happen in life, in nature, no matter what else is going on around us. Notice the different sounds the birds make. Use a field guide to try identifying the birds you hear and see.

Experiment with Flower Pressing

Create a simple flower press with cardboard, newspaper and rubber bands. Cut cardboard into 4-5 inch squares, about 5 squares. Collect flowers, leaves, grasses and press between layers of newspaper to absorb moisture. Place layers between cardboard pieces. Tighten with rubber bands to create pressure. Check the press in a week and explore ways to use your pressed items. Make greeting cards, decoupage onto a photo box or wooden coaster, press between two panes of glass in a frame; use your imagination!

Cultivate Sensory Awareness

Nature provides us with innumerable experiences through our senses. Each day, focus on a different sense when you spend time outdoors. Taking the time to concentrate on one sense heightens awareness, allows one to be present in the moment, and encourages a slower pace.

  • Sound: Stand or sit very still and follow a single sound—birds chirping, leaves blowing ever so gently. Filter out the unnatural sounds until all you hear is the sound of nature.
  • Touch: We associate touch with our hands. Explore the textures of nature with your fingertips but remember, there is a sense of touch in your face, your feet, etc. Turn your face to the sun and feel the warmth—that is the touch of sunshine! Take your shoes off and explore the feel of the grass or soil on your feet, between your toes.
  • Sight: The vision of spring brings us so much to explore. How many colors can you find in your yard? On a walk? Remember to look all around, enjoy the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds.
  • Taste: Is there a taste to the air? Did you know wild violets, dandelions, and red bud blossoms are all edible? 
  • Smell: Fresh blooms this time of year are particularly fragrant. Take a deep breath of the lilac blooms; is there a fragrance before the flowers are fully open? Plant some pansies and enjoy the sweet scent.

Expand Your Perspective

Everything in nature, as in life, appears differently, depending on your perspective. In this challenging time, try to keep the perspective of hope and resiliency. Nature can be our inspiration for this; no matter what, there is the coming of the seasonal changes and new life.

  • Look at your favorite tree from a distance, paying attention to the form it takes against the backdrop of the sky.  Now approach it and, standing underneath, look up through the branches. Look for new life, buds and leaves and revel in the comfort of its strength.
  • Shapes in nature take on new dimensions. Count the triangles in the tree shape, leaves, branch formations, and blades of grass.

Appreciate Shades of Green

We often take green for granted, especially in spring when everything changes. Looking out over a landscape, pay particular attention to the shades of green. In the big picture, you might notice the differences in leaves, grass, moss, etc. Within one plant, look for different shades of green in the back and front of a leaf, the veins in a leaf, the tip compared to stem. Create a palette of green with yellow and blue paint and try to match your creations to greens in nature. 

Dig In!

Getting your hands dirty in your yard is proven to boost happiness. Plant seeds of your favorite flowers or herb and watch their growth on the windowsill. Before you know it, it will be time to plant a garden outdoors. 

Choose a spot outdoors and claim it as your own. Just sit, relax, breathe, meditate. Feel the warmth of the sun, listen to the wind, focus on your breath. 

Learn Plants

Download an app on your phone (or consult the Garden’s extensive Plant Finder database) and try to identify trees, flowers, shrubs on your walk. Learn one new plant a day.

Jennifer Smith-Simms
Manager of Public Programs, Education

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