Archive for category horticultural therapy

An Act of Love: Restoring Leila’s Gardens

Leila’s lilies the first spring after planting, June 2014. [Click on any photo to see a larger version.]

My friend Leila has been fighting stage four cancer for several years now. Thanks to her extraordinary response to experimental drugs, she has battled the tiny tumors that remained after surgery to a virtual standstill.

After she recovered from her initial surgery, I persuaded her that she needed gardens on the sunny flatter side of her new house perched on the top of a rocky North Carolina Piedmont ridge dominated by a canopy of white oaks and a ground cover of wild grape vines. Leila had never gardened. She was always too busy traveling to remote corners of the planet, first working for the Peace Corps, then the World Bank. Her speciality was helping disenfranchised groups (often women) start small businesses that would generate income used to support families.

A visitor to Leila’s June 2014 garden.

I thought the gardens would be an excellent form of horticultural therapy for Leila, providing her with beautiful flowers that would draw wildlife to her door and light work that would get her moving in fresh air as she planted, weeded, and watered. Leila loved the idea, and over the years, the two beds created with help from strong friends and occasional hired helpers have become filled with a diverse array of spring bulbs, native wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs both native and non-native — all chosen by Leila for the emotional response they created in her. Some were old friends from childhood, and many were chosen for her aesthetic response to them. Probably because of the location of the beds on a hilltop in the middle of a forest, during the growing season her gardens are alive with fluttering butterflies, stalking praying mantises, and busy native bees and wasps. In short, the gardens have worked exactly as I had hoped they would for Leila — until this summer, when Leila’s health declined.

A deer beside Leila’s deck in June 2014. Note the ground cover of wild grape.

It seems to me that fighting cancer can become a frustrating game of whack-a-mole, wherein the steps taken to quell the cancer create new challenges that can become as debilitating as the original disease. About two months ago, Leila developed headaches that have become increasingly severe. One eye no longer tracks correctly, which creates such severe double vision and vertigo that she has trouble walking. She hopes to have some definitive answers — and treatments — for these new issues very soon, but for the last several months, her normal activities have been significantly curtailed. Her gardens were understandably neglected.

Leila has not been up to socializing, but a few weeks ago I came to her house to drive her to a doctor’s appointment. It was then that I saw her overgrown gardens. The person Leila had hired to help her maintain the beds had quit on her unexpectedly earlier in the season, and Leila had not felt up to finding someone else. She expressed her dismay at the state of her once-beautiful gardens.

Overgrown bed beside Leila’s house

The beds are too large and were too overgrown for me to tackle by myself. I am woefully behind on tending my own gardens these days, and abundant rains have amplified the weeds a thousand-fold. That’s when an angel whispered in my ear, “What about Leila’s neighbors?”

Overgrown bed in the center of Leila’s driveway

Leila had told me about the neighborhood community in which she lives. They all know each other, and even have community seasonal celebrations from time to time. And as it happens, I know one of Leila’s neighbors fairly well, because she only recently retired from working at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. I took a chance and wrote to her about Leila’s illness and neglected gardens. That was all it took. She and her husband sent out a note to the neighborhood and nearly instantly, volunteers for a workday materialized.

Many hands made light weeding and pruning work.

We settled on yesterday. The weather was phenomenal, with skies hinting of fall — with low humidity and lower-than-normal morning temperatures. There were so many volunteers yesterday that I didn’t get a final head count. I think it was somewhere between 12 and 15. Some neighbors even brought their children, who pulled weeds as enthusiastically as their parents. It was, frankly, amazing. In addition to all of Leila’s neighbors, whose names I didn’t always catch (sorry), three of my Facebook friends appeared to help. Leslie and Beth are both serious gardeners and were thus able to help folks discern weed from desired plant. And the third Facebook pal, Sally, also recently retired from the North Carolina Botanical Garden, where she was known far and wide for her expertise in identifying weed and native plants. I was thrilled to have her there to guide Leila’s neighbors as we all worked to restore order to Leila’s beds.

Volunteers working on both of Leila’s garden beds.

It was Sally who immediately noticed a pernicious annual weed recently introduced through the nursery trade that is so aggressive it must be collected and thrown away in trash bags when found. If you simply add Hairy Crabweed  to a compost pile, it will go to seed and spread everywhere. Volunteers filled a half dozen trash bags with the weed, so we hope we have at least slowed down its reappearance in Leila’s gardens.

Love in action.

One neighbor arrived early with his mower and weed-eater. He quickly cut back the grass growing in Leila’s driveway and along the rocks bordering the garden beds, making it much easier to access the beds and less likely that the driveway grass will invade the beds. At Leila’s request, we cut back overgrown shrubs and pruned back spent wildflowers. When all the weeds were pulled and plants pruned, it was easy to maneuver between plants to spread the fresh mulch that had been delivered the day before. Many hands made for light work. I don’t think anyone was more than pleasantly tired at the end of the two-and-a-half hours it took to complete our tasks.

While all that work was going on, Leila’s neighbor, Stephanie, and her husband (whose name I have forgotten — sorry), worked on rearranging the planters on Leila’s deck so they could set up the new grow bag Leila had acquired. Due to heavy deer predation, Leila gave up this year on growing summer vegetables in her garden beds and instead grew them in a large grow bag on her deck. The plants are thriving, so she decided she wanted to try some fall veggies in a new grow bag. Stephanie and her husband set up the grow bag and added the three kinds of soil amendments Leila uses. The filled bag is ready for planting when Leila feels up to it and the weather has cooled a bit more.

Volunteers relocating leftover mulch.

When the volunteers had finished their work, we were left with the remaining mulch piled in the middle of Leila’s driveway, where the delivery person had dumped it. Leila’s neighbors grabbed their shovels and wheelbarrows and relocated every speck of leftover mulch to an out-of-the-way spot nearby.

Mulching the center bed.

Leila’s neighbors arrived at 9:00 a.m. yesterday morning. By 11:30, they were strolling back down Leila’s driveway, pushing the wheelbarrows and carrying the tools they had used to transform Leila’s gardens. Quiet descended on the top of the hill so quickly that it all felt a bit like a dream to me. I was glad I had taken photos to prove it was not a dream.

Lately, the news has upset me so much that I only listen to the local TV newscasts long enough to hear the weather. Then I turn it off. To keep up with larger events, I scan newspaper reports online. Somehow, reading horrifying news is easier than hearing about it, probably because it is easier to skim it briefly. Frankly, the news has shaken my faith in humanity — so much perversion of truth for selfish ends, so much inhumane treatment of fellow humans. But yesterday, my faith was restored.

I think most folks are basically good souls who long to make better worlds for themselves and their children. That instinct can become dulled by TV and internet broadcasts designed to manipulate minds and separate us, denying the power of community. Yesterday, I was privileged to witness that power firsthand.

Thank you to Nancy and Chuck, Alan and Julie, Stephanie and spouse, Jennie, Raj, and all the other neighbors who came out yesterday to help Leila. Special thanks to my Facebook pals, Leslie, Beth, and Sally, who also generously gave their time to this effort. And a big shout-out to Cosi, Leila’s dearest friend, who provided volunteers with cool water, lemonade, and an array of fruits and other snacks.

I know Leila has been deeply touched by your act of love, as I have been. May this love spread to communities everywhere.

Mulched center bed

 

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Please go vote for a great horticultural therapy cause

Attention my garden peeps: I need a favor. The National Garden Bureau is offering a grant to horticultural therapy programs that submitted videos. They have narrowed it down to three options and want folks to vote for the video they like best. The folks running the horticultural therapy program at the NC Botanical Garden submitted one for the work they do with The Farm at Penny Lane. It is a great program that is chronically under-funded.

I just went to the NGB site and voted for them, and when the results page came up, they are way behind compared to the other two programs. This is the only finalist from the southeast region, and I would appreciate it if you folks would go visit the link and vote for The Farm at Penny Lane.

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Horticultural Therapy

Iris cristata, cultivar forgotten

Iris cristata, cultivar forgotten, currently blooming in my yard

Most serious gardeners have long recognized the therapeutic effects of gardening — to their bodies, minds, and yes, their souls. These effects are well-recognized, and embodied in the discipline known as horticultural therapy. Where I live in central North Carolina, horticultural therapists work with an array of clients — from teenagers with eating disorders to folks recovering from brain damage to children enduring long-term hospitalizations, those suffering from mental illness, and those afflicted with memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Swelling blueberry flower buds

Swelling blueberry flower buds

I don’t think this discipline gets enough recognition, so I’ve decided to feature articles about its therapeutic effects from time to time in this blog. Today’s entry features a description of a an upcoming two-day (March 18-19) conference led by several horticultural therapists working in Greensboro, NC. They are welcoming all horticultural therapists — and gardeners interested in learning more about this discipline and in visiting some of the beautiful gardens of their city — to attend this event. The conference is free, but they ask that you e-mail them a completed registration form, or call the organizer,  by next Friday, March 11.

Flowers of witch hazel 'Amethyst' currently blooming in my yard

Flowers of witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ currently blooming in my yard

Here are all the details from Sally Cobb, the horticultural therapist organizing this event:

Hello Horticultural Therapy Enthusiasts!

Fountains, statues, bridges, wandering pathways, fresh air, and plants of all descriptions: let’s spend time outdoors and honor the foundation of our profession’s source of power – NATURE!

Greensboro has four public gardens, eager to rejuvenate us through exploration and contemplation. Come join us Friday and/or Saturday to hear about the programs of the three Horticultural Therapists living in Greensboro and lose yourselves in the beauty of the Greensboro gardens!

Friday: March 18, 2016

3:30-4:00 — Meet at Gateway Gardens, at the Book Stage, East Gate City Boulevard,  Greensboro, for welcome and immersion in Greensboro’s newest public garden which integrates elements of history, movement, discovery and community into its landscape. Socialize between 3:30 and 4 and we will get started at 4:00.

6:00 — Reservations at Southern Lights Bistro and Bar, 2415 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro, NC 27408

Saturday: March 19, 2016

 8:30-9:00 — Gather at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro, 2500 Summit Avenue, Greensboro 27405, for a light breakfast. Socialize between 8:30 and 9 and we will start at 9:00, hearing about the happenings of Greensboro’s three HT’s: Jennifer Manning, Catherine Crowder, and Sally Cobb.

11:00 — Meet at Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden, 1105 Hobbs Road, Greensboro 27410 to explore this popular and relaxing garden. Wander to the Bog Garden, directly across the street, to experience its elevated boardwalks and massive, recirculating waterfall feature.

12:30 — Lunch at one of the many offerings at Friendly Shopping Center, within walking distance, less than a quarter of a mile from these two gardens!

1:45 — Meet at the Greensboro Arboretum, 401 Ashland Drive, at the entrance. Then we will go to the outdoor circular seating area for sharing experiences and reflections. Afterwards, spend as much time as you like walking the paved and woodland paths of the Arboretum with its ten woody plants collections and fabulous structural features.

Information on one of Greensboro’s reasonable and centrally located hotels, the Battleground Inn:

  • Double — $79.00 ( $89.56 with tax)
  • King — $76.00 ($86.18 with tax)
  • Queen — $68.00 ( $77.16 with tax)

 

Continental Breakfast: No hot food. (Cereal, muffins,pastries etc coffee, tea, juice)

They have a total of 48 rooms. The website is www.battlegroundinngso.com. The phone number is 336-272-4737.

Please return the form below, if you will be joining us, by March 11, 2016.

Hope to see each of you here in March!!!

 Sally, Catherine and Jennifer

Sally Cobb

Horticultural Therapist
(336) 544-2289

scobb@hospicegso.org
http://www.hospicegso.org

Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro
Carolinas Horticultural Therapy Network

 

There is no fee to register for this networking meeting; however, please complete the form below so we can make dinner reservations and other preparations as necessary.

 

Name:                                                             

 

I will be attending the following session(s):

 

            Friday afternoon at Gateway Gardens

2924 E Lee Street, Greensboro, NC 27406

 

            Friday dinner at Southern Lights

http://www.southernlightsbistro.com/

2415 A Lawndale Dr.           Greensboro, NC 27408

 

            Saturday morning, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro

2500 Summit Ave, Greensboro, NC 27405

 

Please help us by identifying your area of work in HT

 

  Yes No
Work in HT    
If yes where    
Volunteer in HT    
If yes where    

 

Please return the completed form to Sally Cobb at:
scobb@hospicegso.org or call 336-314-0931.

Accommodations: Battleground Inn www.battlegroundinngso.com 336-272-4737

Rapidly growing spring greens in my greenhouse

Rapidly growing spring greens in my greenhouse

I’m going to try to attend at least some of the meeting. I hope some of you gardeners — especially all you master gardeners out there — who live nearby will consider attending this event. You’ll never meet nicer people than those who practice horticultural therapy, be it formally or informally. And those of us who interact with the public regarding gardening will almost certainly pick up some useful tips from these experts.

Close view of flowers of Cornus mas 'Spring Glow blooming in my yard

Close view of flowers of Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow blooming in my yard

I can’t think of a better way to usher in the spring season. Can you?

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