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Horticultural therapy is a tool for growth and healing. Playing in the dirt has a special significance for Westminster Canterbury Richmond’s residents with memory-support needs. The textures, smells and sights of gardening often help spark memories and connections. “Gardening therapy can be a valuable and effective tool for healing and growth,” says Charlotte “Charlie” Carnes, horticultural therapist. “Cognitive stimulation, increased social activity and hand-eye coordination are among the immediate benefits.” Ms. Carnes, who has been with Westminster Canterbury Richmond for 10 years, expressed the value and satisfaction residents exhibit while planting. “In many ways, this activity satisfies their nurturing instinct. Planting and watching vegetables and flowers grow gives many residents of our memory support areas a sense of purpose. When they plant something correctly, you can see their faces light up with the glow of achievement,” she noted. Weekly therapy sessions in horticulture therapy are supported by generous donors to Westminster Canterbury Foundation. Families get in on the action, too, by joining the activity and helping. It could be that their mother or father may no longer communicate with them in a verbal sense; however, working together to plant marigolds or geraniums helps establish a new connection. It offers an appropriate and comfortable way to reminisce, since it might activate old memories. “Playing in the dirt is non-threatening and safe,” Carnes noted. “Many times someone will smile or talk who has been unresponsive for a long while. It is the greatest feeling to see a resident light up, and one of the many reasons I love my job.” The raised beds in the Mary Morton Parsons Garden within The Gables and Monticello areas of our campus are planted with annuals, vegetables and bulbs depending on the season. Residents, staff and visitors enjoy the beauty and hard work year round. If you have a loved one who has memory challenges, try gardening as a way to connect with them through the natural healing energy of plants. Here are some suggestions:
- Find a small patch of ground and establish a small garden.
- Visit it daily with your family member to get them comfortable.
- Pick a flower they love, and talk to them about the plant as you help them dig in the dirt.
- Sing songs, chat about nature, and help them experience the sensory feeling of planting.