I haven’t written much about my horticultural therapy clients in the past few months as the sessions have been quiet and uneventful. This is not to imply that they are uninteresting or clients are indifferent but rather that the class has settled into a comfortable bi-weekly gathering akin to a church pot-luck supper of meatloaf or its vegan equivalent.
With my group of regulars, it is becoming more difficult to surprise them as they have become savvy to my tricks. So each class becomes more challenging to plan as I strive to find something new to teach or show them something that will tickle their imaginations. Recent classes have taken my students to our new herb gardens to experience the differing smells: we now have 14 different types of mints that grow in the back as well as a myriad of lavenders, thymes and oreganos.
“I love this one,” said a new client. “What is it?”
“I have no idea, it is a mint that was planted at my house in Ridgefield when I bought it over 20 years ago,” I said.
“So if I want to get one at a garden center all I have to say is I want the mint planted at Erik’s house in Ridgefield over 20 years ago,” she replied.
“I doubt if that will help, but if you want you can take a cutting and start your own unidentified mint at your house and continue the confusion.”
It is this type of discovery that I am hoping my clients will experience. In classes I wind up throwing lots of different bait (stimuli) out to see what is attractive. During last week’s class I played a Gloria Estefan CD as I thought her music was perfect for the hot and sultry weather we were having. And I was right.
“That music is wonderful,” said one client. “I feel like we are in Cuba. Is that Gloria Estefan?”
On the other hand, the soundtrack for “Little Shop of Horrors,” was not well received when we were working with carnivorous plants so it quickly came off the CD player. Back to Gloria.
When clients sit down with each other, I want them to lose themselves in the moment. And they often do.
At a class I gave a while back on wild greens, the class was divided between those who looked at my pickings as lawn weeds that should be composted rather than digested. But after the more adventurous tasted a green or two with delight the rest of the class joined in. My dandelion, clover, chickweed, mint, plantain, sorrel, garlic mustard, wild thyme salad was a big hit.
“This is delicious,” said one client. “Are there any precautions that you need to take when you are collecting these greens?”
“Not really. Just don’t pick greens from any area where chemicals are applied and wash your greens before eating them,” I said. “Especially if you have a dog or other outdoor pet.” Another client commented, “I guess that follows the rule of never eating yellow snow.”
This type of comfortable banter lubricates the sessions with everyone looking to help each other. But I know that I am really successful when many of my clients are doing their best to not become a crazed Loehmann’s shopper looking to grab that last 70% off cashmere sweater that was mislabeled for $29.99.
“Does anyone want this last plant,” says one client sheepishly hoping that the answer is no. Some do their best to slyly corral the specimens they want by diversion, while others make a quick plunging grab much as would a cormorant diving for a fishy meal. But even these exercises are done with the best intentions as when we finish potting up everyone helps clean up and admire their neighbor’s creations. No one is unhappy with their choices much as all of our children are beautify and above average (as Garrison Keillor would say.) They then leave the basement arms full of pots, herbs and whatever else grabbed their fancy that day happy with soil under their nails and a smile on their faces.