Growing Great Hope

by Theresa Woodgeard and Lynne Anderson

The Healing Power of Plants

Growing confidence and connectedness through gardening

DIGGING IN THE DIRT has become wildly popular since March. In fact, market research firm Nielson Scarborough reports that nearly half of all U.S. homeowners gardened in the last 12 months.

Horticulture as therapy

Rachel Cochran, co-founder of Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance, explains why. “Planting and cultivating flowers and vegetables can give us a sense that we have some control,” she said. “Gardening can promote calmness, stimulate our senses and improve our mood. It’s an outdoor, healthy form of exercise that can connect us with others in our community, helping us feel less isolated.”

With a master’s degree in soil science, Cochran co-founded Trellis with Wendy Bataglia in 2017. The Decatur-based non-profit brings garden therapy programs to people living with physical, mental and cognitive health challenges.

Last year, Trellis partnered with Callanwolde Fine Arts Center to establish the Ability Garden from an existing greenhouse and new raised-bed garden. The wheelchair accessible space allows Trellis to provide supported garden therapy programs for youth and adults living with special needs and disabilities.

“Trellis’s goal for these programs is to improve quality of life for those we serve by providing purpose, fostering independence and creating community,” said Cochran.

Pete Anziano, who sustained a spinal cord injury, agrees. “One of the things that happens after a life-changing accident is that you lose contact with many of the people who used to be in your comfort circle,” he said. “This is one of the only public gardens I know of where I’m able to put my hands in the dirt alongside others in my community.”

The garden has helped the students of Jamie Littman, a middle school special education teacher, explore nature. “They enjoy planting bulbs, making prism art, using plant material, gardening and creating bird seed art. The students felt respected and included.”

Program costs are covered by The Frank Barham Scholarship Fund, according to Brooke Adams, Co-arts Director at Callanwolde. “We worked and consulted with Trellis on several different projects,” said Adams. “Since the greenhouse was already wheelchair accessible, we thought it would make a great place for Trellis’s programs. Now we’re in the process of completing the outdoor garden.”

Cochran says having a permanent home for the program offers “an incredible garden space that allows people living with different sets of challenges, including those using wheelchairs, to experience the restorative benefits of working with plants.”

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Flowers everywhere

Master gardener Catherine Anderson also finds that flowers are healers of the heart and soul. Her floral business is an extension of that, named Les Fleurs Partout, French for “flowers everywhere.” Anderson’s own garden abounds with evergreens and seasonal flowers, many of which make their way into her arrangements.

The conditions of the pandemic have brought new meaning to her work as Anderson sees the response to both those who give and those who receive the arrangements. She finds being a part of that process gratifying.

“I got to do flowers for someone who was turning 102,” she said. “She couldn’t have a birthday party, and so her family sent her flowers. And the love, the care and the messages that people put into them was so amazing.”

Anderson takes care with each arrangement to hear what the person hopes to express, and what will bring joy to the recipient. Whether it’s a rose, a sprig of lavender, or hydrangea, Anderson gives each request special consideration, keeping her creations far from predictable.

People are also surrounding themselves with flowers without an event as the trigger. Anderson said clients have requested delivery subscriptions where flowers arrive weekly or monthly to their homes. “The beauty of the earth coming forth” in flowers is more important than ever to see, she said. It can be an antidote to the loss experienced by the pandemic.

She recounts taking a visitor through her garden, seeing the variegated leaves of hostas, hydrangeas, azaleas, vibernum, camellias, a magnolia tree and dozens more. Anderson said there’s still color, from beauty berry’s tiny purple balls to exuberant zinnias and steadfast dahlias. She notices the small details, like an unfolding dahlia with a soft touch of pink that would pair well with nearby zinnias.

While Catherine has found joy in her garden and in making arrangements for others, she too has noticed an uptick in gardening interest. “There’s a yearning for connectedness,” she said. “I hope people start growing more flowers for themselves. This has been a hard time. And just being outside is an encouragement.”

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