I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

tree of life

I just finished reading one of my father’s recommendations, Man’s Search for Meaning, by the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl describes an experience he witnessed that speaks to a spiritual relationship between people and trees. This is a story from a concentration camp of a young woman who knows she is dying:

“Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious?…Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here-I am here-I am life, eternal life.'”

Afternoon on a Hill

I will be th gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at the cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)


At the St. Ann’s Garden Club this week, a few of the ladies enjoyed reciting Millay’s poetry, bringing the outdoors in.

“a leader must also tend his garden”

Last Friday, as a new member, I attended the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) Annual General Meeting held at the Toronto Botanic Garden. The CHTA began in 1978 and was incorporated in 1987. Its mission is to promote the use of horticultural therapy and since 1997 has provided members the option of voluntary professional registration, based on a points system that values both education and practical experience. The conference provided the rare opportunity of being in the same room with horticultural therapists and others who share a commitment to the field.

A treasure from the day was a handout distributed about Nelson Mandela‘s Garden on Robben Island, where he was held as a political prisoner for 27 years. Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and become the first South African President elected in free and fair elections in 1994. In his autobiographical work Long Walk to Freedom he discusses how he was eventually given permission to plant a garden in the prison courtyard and provided access to seeds and books on horticulture. I have always considered Nelson Mandela a personal hero and in elementary school even presented passionately about his life in a public speaking competition before the whole school. I visited South Africa, the country of my birth, in 2004, ten years after the end of apartheid. I made the important trip to Robben Island trying to understand more deeply this part of my history. I have read and re-read Mandela’s autobiography many times before but returned now, with new eyes, to see what he had to say to the gardener:

“A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.

In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed” (489-490).

*Strelitzia reginae Aiton “Mandela’s Gold” is a rare yellow form of the crane flower. Renamed in 1996 to honour Nelson Mandela. Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, Cape Town, South Africa.

What do you mean by horticultural therapy?

Telling people that I am studying horticultural therapy appears to spark a lot of curiosity. I have been asked if horticultural therapy is pseudonym for having a “grow-op” or if it involves “massaging plants”. I also find that friends are quick to present me with their favorite half-dying house plant, hoping I will provide a miraculous recovery. Having just returned to Toronto, after completing the first of five modules in the Home Farm Horticultural Therapy Certificate, I feel more confident now in my responses. This introductory session focused on defining horticultural therapy, especially the distinction between horticultural activities, like gardening, which many people find therapeutic, and horticultural therapy as an intentional practice.

The Horticultural Therapy Certificate is developed and instructed by Christine Pollard, Master Horticultural Therapist (HTM). Christine offers a model for integrating community development with horticulture and brings the practice to life for her students through story telling, drawing on her past experiences working in horticultural therapy at Providence Farm in Duncan, British Columbia. I am pleased to be able to complement the certificate program with a six month internship, at Providence Farm, starting in January 2008.

The Home Farm Certificate is a mobile training program, currently being hosted by the Calgary Zoo for the first time. The Calgary Zoo is an active horticultural education centre and offers an ideal site with its beautiful botanical gardens. The course is running with 12 very committed participants who bring diverse backgrounds ranging from botany to physiotherapy. As an outsider to the Calgary area, it is exciting to be part of what feels like a groundbreaking training that is already generating ideas and enthusiasm for introducing horticultural therapy to existing social programs, naturalization and community gardening initiatives, as well as, inspiring new horticultural therapy activities in Alberta.

During our time together we worked with different definitions of horticultural therapy including:

“Horticultural Therapy uses plants and the natural world to improve the social, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of individuals who participate in it.” Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association

“Horticultural therapy is the engagement of a person in gardening-related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific treatment goals.” American Horticultural Therapy Association

“Horticultural therapy is a process through which plants, gardening activities, and the innate closeness we all feel toward nature are used as vehicles in professionally conducted programs of therapy and rehabilitation.” -S. Davis in Horticulture as Therapy: Principals and Practice (which remains the authoritative text on the field)

For a horticultural activity to be considered horticultural therapy, it must be part of a structured process that has defined goals, measurable outcomes and includes on-going documentation and assessment. Throughout the five days together we had a chance to experiment with many different horticultural activities, including working with plant material in a greenhouse and garden setting. After completing these tasks, we were asked to record the specific therapeutic values (cognitive, physical, emotional, social, spiritual and creative) gained from participating in each activity. I believe the role of the horticultural therapist is to facilitate purposeful activities that value the strengths and assets of each participant, allowing the individual to meet their own goals towards achieving wellness.

*I encourage my fellow classmates to join the discussion and for those working as horticultural therapists to share your own views on how we define this emerging field.

the family garden

I garden because I grew up in a garden. My mother has always been a gardener and my grandmother was always a gardener. One day I awoke and realized that gardening made sense more that anything else I could do. Above is a picture of my grandmother’s garden, in Cape Town, South Africa, that I visited in 2004. I have never doubted that the magic of a garden can happen anywhere.  Below:  a corner of my mother’s garden that I was appreciating yesterday.

My mother's garden

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