Springing Forward with Gardening Programs
By Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

The warm weather, sunny skies and desire to be outdoors is a common inspiration to introduce gardening programs within our communities. Many activity professionals get very excited and schedule some spring planting with seeds and small planting containers. Sadly, the plantings are sometimes forgotten and found a few weeks later – dried up and dead on a sunny windowsill. This article will explore the positive aspects of a year round gardening program which can provide your residents with countless benefits.
As defined by the American Horticulture Therapy Association, some of the benefits of gardening programs include:
Physical –increased muscular strength; stretching muscles and increased range of motion; improved fine motor skills; improved coordination and balance
Mental -increased autonomy and independence; outlet for stress, anger and emotional expression; increased self esteem; increased attention span; intellectual stimulation and opportunity to learn.
Social – opportunity to interact with others; cooperation and team working skills; opportunity for reminiscing.

     Gardening programs can be conducted indoors and out; can involve planting from seeds or working with houseplants; and can include a wide variety of nature crafts and outdoor projects. The community must first decide what kind of program they want and who to involve. One of the biggest contributors to a failed gardening program is not having a plan. A plan will guide the community in keeping the gardening program viable throughout the year. The following are some suggestions for an active gardening program:
~Introduce a formal Garden Club into your monthly calendar. Begin by discussing gardening options with the residents. If they are not interested to taking care of tomato plants in the courtyard, then the project will fail. The residents should be part of the decision making process in developing the gardening program.
~Identify areas where outdoor planting can be introduced. If waist high or wheelchair high gardening beds are needed – they can be purchased through various catalogs and web sites. The local boy scouts, vocational schools and even prisons may also build the beds at your request. There are directions available on the internet.
~Explore the availability of the Master Gardener Program, local garden clubs or botanical societies in your area as a resource. Seek out available Green Thumbs amongst facility staff. They may assist in planning, developing and implementing your garden.
~Obtain adaptive tools for the residents to garden with. Hand tools with built up grips or retractable handles can be found in Home Depot or similar stores.
~Ensure there is a nearby water source for easy watering. It sounds simple but many gardens have been planted and it was discovered later that water had to be carted from a distance.
~Introduce Plant Education Programs through the formal Garden Club meetings. Focus discussions on types of houseplants, flowering plants, succulents, exotic plants. Having the actual plant and introducing a multi-sensory experience is effective.
~Schedule a room to room program called “Plant Doctor Visits”. A cart equipped with water, soil, pots for re-potting, fertilizer and a good plant book can make the rounds to those residents with plants in room.
~After holidays, schedule a “Plant or Flower Show” where residents can bring their plant gifts to a central location and display them.
~After holidays, schedule a bulb planting day where the residents can bring their dying flowering gifts to a designated area and assist in planting them for future growth.
~If vegetable gardening has been successful, the produce should seqway into a cooking program. Tomato sauce, Eggplant Parmigianino, and zucchini salad taste better when you grow the vegetables yourself.
~Schedule seasonal crafts according to the blossoms or nature items available. Pressing pansies or other flat flowers turns into simple note paper projects; collecting acorns, pinecones and other fall items turns into seasonal wreaths; drying flowers is an easy project with long lasting results and the list goes on and on.

These ideas are just a few to get your gardening program not only started but to continue throughout the year. There are numerous resources available, as listed below.

Horticulture Therapy Links 
Gardening as a Therapeutic Approach Independent Study Program
NCCAP Approved 6.5 Hour Program  20% Discount this month!
Pinterest Spring Gardening Ideas
Pinterest Summer Gardening Ideas
Pinterest Autumn Gardening Ideas
Pinterest Winter Gardening Ideas

I think Thomas Jefferson said it best – “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”