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Therapeutic Horticulture Helps Elders

Residents at Brightview Assisted Living in Maryland find health and wellness through gardening.

Meet Marlene Lynch: She is the vice-president of the Harford County (Maryland) Master Gardener Association, and has been directing the gardening program for residents at Brightview Assisted Living in Maryland for the past two years. Funding comes from the Harford County Master Gardener budget, as do the many volunteer gardeners who join Marlene to educate the residents about the benefits of working in the soil.

Why are you so passionate about the program at Brightview?

I believe in the power of therapeutic horticulture, which is defined as the purposeful use of plants and plant-related activities to promote health and wellness for an individual or group. The University of Minnesota has a helpful article with all the information you need to institute this type of program. It addresses containers, water needs, plant choices, emergency provisions and accessibility issues. Click here to read it.

More on the program, in Marlene’s words:

I try to keep the program varied so that the residents really look forward to our visits. For example, Maryland is in Zone 7A; in June our strawberries are in, so we had a Strawberry Festival. The gardeners learned the history and lore of the strawberry, and about the nutrition and the vitamins that the strawberries contain. And then the best part: they assembled a strawberry shortcake and tasted the wonderful berries in their prime.

The residents have made sun visors and decorated them. I take many pictures of my gardens and my pond, burn them onto a CD and show them to our resident gardeners. They are so excited to see the fish, frogs and all the flowers in the many gardens that I have. They now understand the complete metamorphosis of a butterfly. I had 13 Monarch chrysalises in my backyard, so I photographed every stage of their development from egg to the newborn Monarch butterfly. I even wore Monarch wings that I had purchased to add to my presentation. Now I’m called The Butterfly Lady and I’m doing many presentations on this fascinating subject.

We also made ladybugs from Styrofoam, painted them red and black and added eyes and antenna. While we created the ladybugs I taught the residents that ladybug is a beneficial bug, and that not all bugs are bad.

Last August we had our melon tasting when all the Maryland melons are in their prime. I brought in as many different varieties as I could find. Sugar baby, yellow and the old-fashioned seeded watermelons. We also had ‘Green Wonder’, cantaloupe and honeydew. The residents tasted them all and then voted for which melon they enjoyed the most. The old-fashioned seeded watermelon won!

The residents have raised flowerbeds in their courtyard so that they can easily access the beds in their wheelchairs or take their walkers directly up to the raised beds. The month of May is our planting month. Many of the residents take part in the planting of the beds. The courtyard is in the middle, so many residents can see the beds from their rooms. There are annuals and perennials. There are two raised beds, some pots and two EarthBoxes. In one of the EarthBoxes are herbs, and the other one has tomato and pepper plants. The residents do the planting with our help, but they water and keep the gardens up for the rest of the growing year.

My husband and I are retired and we love to travel. While traveling I take pictures of all the flowers that are pertinent to the particular area we’re visiting. Again I burn the images onto a CD and show it to the residents upon my return. They love to see the different flowers from my travels and which ones are native to that country.

The number of residents that participate in the gardening varies. The outside planting depends on the weather. If the weather is nice we usually have about 15 residents. But if it is cool as it was this year, we do not have as many. They like it warm and sunny outside. With the programs I have listed above, we have had as many as 35 residents participate!

The best part of working this program is seeing the appreciation of the residents. My trips to Brightview are wonderful, but all the hugs I receive from the residents are priceless!