Perkins celebrates National Horticultural Therapy Week

Horticulture Center showcases the educational and therapeutic power of plants at a spring-themed open house for students

a student planting seeds with help from an occupational therapist

Secondary Program student Luke planted cat grass seeds with help from occupational therapist Jessica Hanna. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

March 24, 2016

Snow drifts flanked the entrance to the Pappas Horticulture Center on the morning of March 22, but inside the greenhouse, spring had sprung. 

In one classroom, Perkins School for the Blind students transplanted small purple violas into pots and sprinkled cat grass seeds beneath layers of potting soil. Next door, older students created colorful spring greeting cards to be sent to local assisted living facilities.

In the greenhouse, a spring treasure hunt was set up among the blooming daffodils and paper whites. Visitors enjoyed refreshments, including lavender lemonade and vegetable dip made with herbs harvested from the student garden.

The activities were planned in honor of National Horticultural Therapy Week, when programs and schools across the country are encouraged to promote the benefits of horticulture therapy. Practiced at Perkins since the early 20th century, horticulture therapy uses gardening and plant-based activities to encourage personal growth and creative expression.

“In comparison to other therapies like occupational therapy and physical therapy, we’re still relatively new,” said Marion Myhre, a horticulture therapist and teacher at Perkins. “This week is about bringing attention to what we do.”

Horticulture Center staffers also showcased opportunities for students to learn the Expanded Core Curriculum, which are essential life skills taught to students.

Seated in his wheelchair, 14-year-old Luke, who has cortical visual impairment, scooped rich soil into a small brown pot. Occupational therapist Jessica Hanna helped guide his hands to a pile of cat grass seeds nearby, adding them to the soil. Another cat grass plant, resembling a bright green patch of un-mowed lawn, sat nearby.

“Now let’s put a little more dirt on the seeds so they can grow,” Hanna said. “Just put your hand over my hand and we’ll do it together.”

For students like Luke, the process of planting seeds helps them develop fine motor skills while practicing patience and concentration. Plants like cat grass are interesting to touch and smell, providing sensory stimulation for students with limited vision.

“Luke chose the cat grass I think because he likes the way it felt,” Hanna said. “Like it’s tickling him.”

Next door, Secondary Program student Laura, 17, decorated a greeting card using imprints of ferns and other greenery. Seated at a large table with Myhre, she pressed a geranium leaf onto a rainbow inkpad and then transferred it to the white card, leaving behind a colorful image. A yellow sunshine and purple flower stamp completed the springtime theme.

“What would you like to say inside the card?” Myhre asked, marker in hand.

Laura thought a moment. “How about, ‘Happy Easter – we hope the snow clears up soon,’” she said.