A horticulture therapy expert is coming to Woodstock to train long-term care employees in the benefits of plant projects for seniors
Nancy Lee-Colibaba, a horticulture therapy coordinator with the Royal Botanical Gardens (left), works with a group of special needs students in the outdoor gardens. She's offering a training workshop in Woodstock at the end of January to teach employees at long-term care homes how to incorporate horticulture therapy with their residents. (Submitted)
You’ve heard about music and art therapy, maybe even seen the heartwarming scenes of stressed out students finding joy at puppy therapy – so why not plant therapy?
Feeling dirt between your fingers, watching a new sprout peek out of a bedside pot – these are moments that stimulate, inspire, and bring back memories, especially for older generations.
That’s exactly what horticulture therapy is all about.
“Getting them involved with soil, even just simply putting their hands in the soil, I get such a response from people saying ‘this feels so good, it smells so good,’” said Nancy Lee-Colibaba, a horticulture therapy coordinator with the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.
She’ll be in Woodstock later this month, when Woodingford Lodge hosts a horticulture therapy training session for its staff as well as outsiders. The local workshop was inspired by one of the recreation aides at Woodingford who took Lee-Colibaba’s training a few months ago in Stratford.
“She really enjoyed it, and came back with all kinds of great ideas that we felt we could use for our residents,” said Woodingford Lodge director Corrie Fransen.
“So then we said why don’t we have all of our recreation aides participate? We’ll host it, and then offer it to other long-term care facilities in the area as well.”
Lee-Colibaba offers tips and tricks for indoor and outdoor plant projects that can help older adults maintain their physical and mental capabilities.
“Potting a plant is not gross motor skills, but it’s fine motor skills, your eye-hand coordination - it’s working your upper arm, your lower arm, your elbow,” she said.
And being around plants – especially for residents who were avid gardeners or farmed for a living – is also a great mental boost.
“Having a plant that they are nurturing…every morning when they wake up it’s changed a little bit. It is a living thing, and it is something to be stimulated by, all five senses. You can touch it, you can see it, you can feel it, hopefully you don’t taste it,” Lee-Colibaba said with a laugh.
And Fransen said staff at Woodingford have already seen what a difference horticulture therapy can make.
“It does fit in with our goals because we have that beautiful accessibility garden outside, and we’ve tried to involve residents in that already, but even more now to have that be a very therapeutic experience for the residents,” she said.
Indoor options, including potting small plants, growing them from seeds, and even seasonal projects to give as gifts around Christmas or Mother’s Day are also fun for residents.
Lee-Colibaba said older clients are often overjoyed to show her a plant’s progress when she returns after a workshop.
Horticulture therapy can also be a window into the past.
“I’ve done a program with lilacs, and oh, the memories, the stories that came along,” Lee-Colibaba said. “They’re always inspired to reveal those stories they haven’t thought of for years and years and years.”
Fransen said she hopes others take advantage of the training.
“I hope that other long-term care facilities will take advantage of it so that more people in Oxford County could benefit from the therapeutic horticulture therapy,” she said.
“We’ve seen very great success in our residents that participate in the program.”
IF YOU GO
What: Horticulture Therapy Training
Where: Woodingford Lodge Woodstock
When: Jan. 25 and 26, 9 to 4 p.m.
To register: Call 905-527-1158 x270 or go to www.rbg.ca. Cost is $250 including refreshments and materials