One of the more simple horticultural therapy exercises is potting up: taking seeds, bulbs or plants and putting them into a container. The trouble with this exercise, however, is that it can get boring and repetitious for clients so you often need to do something to spice it up. With that in mind I purchased ribbons, fabrics, foils and tchotchkes to decorate the plain plastic pots I had on hand. And since it was around the holidays, I clipped two different types of hollies that we have growing around Ann’s Place as a last-minute decorative thought.
This class had been nearly a year in the making as I was able to purchase 18 amaryllis bulbs for $1 each, down from $9, last January from a local supermarket. I figured that they would keep if I just wrapped them in newspaper and left them in the basement. I checked them during the year and beyond a whitening of some of the early leaves, they were solid and firm. I also went to a local nursery two months ago to purchase some left-over bulbs and placed them chilling in a bucket outside.
I got an extra bonus in material as Ann’s Place had left over bulbs from their Holiday sale so everyone was able to get a pot of paperwhites in addition to the blubs I had purchased. So class just got much busier. And I had a full house who had just smelled up some herbs (see prior post.)
“With the exception of the paperwhites, all of these bulbs will give you flowers in the next few months and can be used later either outside or inside for years to come. . . “ and I explained the few things people needed to do to pot up the bulbs. I had a good mix of bulbs that would let people create different arrangements: Some to start growing now; others to be left outside as they still needed at least 6 weeks of cold to set. There isn’t much to say so I placed a big bin of soil in the center of the tables, got out the different bubs and told my clients to get planting.
As it turned out, nobody found it boring rather they jumped at the fact that they had so many different choices to consider. The table was a whirl of activity with everyone just enjoying the possibility of getting their hands in a bit of mucky soil. As it turned out, decorations were not that desired or needed though the box of holly I cut went pretty fast. Clients used the foil to ensure water would not drip out of their pots when they transported them back home.
I thought we might have too many bulbs (with the extra that Ann’s Place left us) but everyone potted up three containers with interesting mixes. A group of clients were more than happy to stay late to help me pot up 20 paperwhite and amaryllis containers for Ann’s Place.
After cleaning up, I was just walking out the door when a client started her way down stairs. I knew there were no more activities that evening
“Pardon me, can I help you,” I asked.
“Yes, I’m here for horticultural therapy.”
After giving her an amaryllis that had been potted up by another client, I asked her if she would want to pot up some paperwhites as well as other bulbs downstairs herself.
“Oh yes. That would be wonderful,” she said with a hopeful smile on her face.
We then walked down to the art room and potted up some more bulbs and decorated them with the few left over sprigs of holly. I told her about the different life cycle of bulbs and how she could care for them in the months to come. As we spoke, she brightened up and smiled as her hands sunk into the soil manipulating the bulbs into place. She left our little private session with pots of bulbs happy and peaceful.
Potting up is often derided in horticultural therapy as a “last resort” type of therapy. But I think it’s low place on the therapy totem pole is because it is used too often as a simple way to get people to work with plants. In this case though it has had a very different effect as all the clients embraced the ability to get “down and dirty:” something that most folks haven’t done in a while. It reminded me of when I used to work with children at Green Chimney’s and mixed soil in big containers. The children loved getting their hands all cruddy and dark with soil. While my clients were not perhaps as outwardly enthusiastic about getting “dirty” they all seemed to relax and love the fact that their activities would bloom in the months to come giving them lovely flowers and a smell that most of them were looking forward to.