One of the challenges in the discipline of horticultural therapy is that it is not well-understood or promoted. Googling “horticultural therapy” gets you 60,600 hits compared with over 9 million for Paris Hilton. So I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I read two stories in the New York Times that dealt with the healing powers of gardening and nature.
The first, is about how a local Veterans hospital created a series of gardens to bring comfort and peace to their differing clients. As one veteran put it, “But being with the plants gives me time to think and meditate, to feel the soil or clay or whatever you’re working in. I talk to my plants. Maybe it’s crazy, but it’s given me a chance to get out, work with others, grow something and do something that’s right, not just for myself, but for the whole community.”
The hospital garden generated over 1,000 pounds of produce from an area that used to grow only grass. The focus of the program is not about growing food but about patients discovering themselves and finding peace.
The second, is about a kindergarten program in an upstate New York school that requires all students to be outside three hours a day regardless of weather. The article and how children are treated is in sharp contract to a recent Time magazine cover story that talked about how today’s parents are overprotecting their children though control and not leaving anything to chance (such as a skinned knee on a playground.) At the Waldorf school, the children get to experience nature on a daily basis come rain or shine. While unusual in the U.S. such programs are increasingly common in Europe. According to the article, “Children’s senses are so overtaxed in these modern times, so here, it is very healthy for them.” Richard Louv, recently wrote “Last Child in the Woods,” a book arguing that children have suffered from diminished time outside.
This is something that always challenges me when working with children. One of the main topics that my students often bring up are the different video games that they play. I try to change the subject attempting to get the child to focus on a plant or an animal that may be close by. It doesn’t always work as the siren of the Internet and computer games is loud and intoxicating to many. Ironically one of today’s most popular on-line games is Farmville, which lets players create a virtual farm on their Facebook page.
This time of year, it is increasingly difficult to get the children outside as the weather becomes less temperate. Some come to school without coats and others don’t have shoes that are appropriate in the mud. It is nice to know, however, that there are effort out there to get children and adults out in the garden regardless of the season.