Posts Tagged North Carolina Botanical Garden

Online Class Opportunity: Introduction to Therapeutic Horticulture

This was my friend’s garden the first year after I encouraged her to add gardens around her new home. Leila had been diagnosed with stage four liver cancer and was recovering from major surgery. Leila’s work had taken her all over the world, but she returned to the county she considered to be home after her diagnosis. She had never gardened in her life, always too busy heading off to her next adventure. She liked the idea of sitting on her deck and enjoying flowers and butterflies, and so my amateur attempt at horticultural therapy began. I thought bulbs might provide a quick return on effort expended, and the lilies that came up that first spring were proof of concept.

Leila was thoroughly hooked. She continued to expand her garden area, adding mostly native wildflowers and small shrubs. Her home sitting atop a wooded ridge became an enchanted garden full of life and color that turned Leila into a strong proponent of the benefits of horticultural therapy. I like to think her gardens were a secret weapon as she battled her disease for over six years before finally succumbing to it.

Nearing the end of her battle, her gardens became neglected. But Leila had chosen her neighborhood wisely. One Saturday morning, many of her neighbors showed up to restore her gardens to their past glory. I like to think that day was therapeutic for all who participated.

My work with Leila was not professional horticultural therapy. Although I had volunteered a bit with the Horticulture Therapy staff at the NC Botanical Garden (NCBG), and I do have a B.A. in psychology, I was improvising without a plan. Having worked with the HT staff at the NCBG, I knew that the practice of professional therapeutic horticulture is a discipline backed by decades of research that demonstrate its benefits for a wide range of clients, including those dealing with memory issues, mental illness, eating disorders, mobility limitations, and other challenges. Plants heal — of course, I knew that much.

Vegetables and herbs on Leila’s deck, where the deer could not reach them.

Many Occupational Therapists and other related practitioners are adding a certificate in Therapeutic Horticulture to their personal toolkits, because it expands the ways they can help their clients. I believe the time put in to earn that credential is well worth the investment. And now there’s a way to begin this learning process online at your own pace on your own schedule.

The NCBG has partnered with the NC State Extension Gardener Program to develop a series of online courses that teach Therapeutic Horticulture. The first in the series, Introduction to Therapeutic Horticulture, will begin next week, May 23. All the details you need to learn more are provided in the link in this paragraph. I know and have worked with one of the instructors, Sally Haskett, for many years. Her breadth of experience and friendly approach to the subject made interactions with her a consistent pleasure. I feel certain that this online course will reflect that.

Teachers of all kinds may well find the techniques used in Therapeutic Horticulture to be of great use. Volunteers who work with the elderly, children, or clients with mobility and/or psychological challenges would also likely find that adding this knowledge to their toolkit would aid their work.

If you are such a person, please ponder the detailed description in the link above, and if you are moved to do so, consider taking this first step in your journey to learning how to heal hearts, minds, and bodies with the help of the green world.

A visitor to Leila’s June 2014 garden.

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Native Herbs — An Expert Lecturing at the NC Botanical Garden

Most of us are familiar with standard culinary herbs: rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, etc. I love them all, and I grow most of them.  However, a wide world of possibilities beyond those standard culinary herbs exists.

North America is home to many plants that have been used in cooking, for medicine, and for fragrance — just like the Old World herbs. Some of our North American herbs reminded early European colonists of herbs they knew from back home, and they used them in similar ways.

For example, the leaves of Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) have a sweet-spicy tang that reminded colonists of bay leaves from the Old World, and they were used the same way. Native Americans were using North American herbs for medicine and cooking long before Europeans showed up, and many people still use those plants for such purposes.

Specialists in ethnobotany travel all over the world interviewing native peoples about their uses for the native plants in their environment. One of North America’s leading experts on the ethnobotany and chemistry of herbs will be lecturing at the North Carolina Botanical Garden Sunday afternoon, March 27, 2011.  Dr. Art Tucker will not only describe some of his favorite native North American herb plants, he’ll even let you taste some in a simple dish he prepares during the talk.

You can find a full description of the lecture and information on registration here.

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Sunshine on a cloudy spring day: Florida Flame Azalea

Florida Flame Azalea lights up the landscape

I think you’ll agree it’s a beauty. That’s Florida Flame Azalea, or Florida Azalea — Rhododendron austrinum, for those who like the Latin binomials. This native deciduous azalea not only looks good, it smells divine.

In my area of the North Carolina piedmont, it blooms in mid-April. The plant in this photograph grows at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC.  If you don’t know about this amazing public garden and you’re an avid gardener, put it on your Must-Visit list. Spend some time on their extensive Web site; it’s full of useful information. In addition to descriptions of their programs and facility, you can scan their southeastern United States invasive exotic plants list, and don’t miss their lists of suggested native plants for your home landscape.

I like this garden because its mission is all about teaching appreciation and conservation of our southeastern natives. And they walk their talk. Their natives-only demonstration gardens illustrate just how beautiful and versatile natives can be. Be sure to tour their new Education Building — LEEDS-certified platinum construction makes it a model for everyone in the region.

I fell in love with the native deciduous azaleas after admiring the mature specimens that bloom at the NC Botanical Garden from spring through summer. Colors range from white to shades of pink, yellow, orange, and deep reds. A mature specimen of Florida Azalea can be 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. Imagine its glowing presence at the edge of your natural area, nestled beneath taller canopy trees.

This particular azalea is one of the easiest to grow. Make sure it gets good drainage, adequate water while it’s establishing itself,  and mulch its roots to keep them cool. In a few years, your springs will be filled with the fragrance and sunshine of these amazing shrubs in bloom. They are hummingbird magnets, by the way, because they bloom before too many other food plants are open for business.

Because they are deciduous, these shrubs aren’t usually devoured by deer. There’s nothing green on the plant to attract them when they’re starving during food-scarce winters.

My R. austrinum isn’t as big as the ones at the NC Botanical Garden, but it is growing enthusiastically. The last two springs have been filled with fragrance and color when this beauty lights up the woodland on my north slope. It has plenty of other azaleas to keep it company there. I’ve added most of the native deciduous azaleas, siting them at the top, middle, or bottom of the hill, depending on their preferences. My Florida Flame Azalea flourishes toward the top end of the middle of the hill beneath a nearby mature persimmon tree and an enormous tulip poplar.

The picture above really doesn’t do this azalea justice. If you’re in the southeast piedmont next April or May, find a garden that features this native azalea and see (and smell) for yourself.  I predict it will win your plant-loving heart as easily as it won mine.

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