How to rejuvenate a horticultural therapist on a cold winter’s day

photo 1bLast weekend we welcomed visitors to our Brewster campus and Boni-Bel Organic Farm for an engaging afternoon interlude. A group of about 15 active horticultural therapists representing the Northeast Horticultural Therapy Network (NEHTN) opted to host their quarterly meeting here at Green Chimneys.

Horticultural therapists, also known as HTs, work with very diverse populations. Some of the members of this group work with senior citizens battling Alzheimer’s disease, while others work with adults with developmental disabilities, or in hospitals as part of a patient’s rehabilitation team. While working as an HT can be very rewarding, it can also be challenging. Effective programming requires innovative techniques and modalities which serve the greatest number of participants. Networking within our field is key, because it is at these professional get-togethers that colleagues can exchange ideas and learn from each other’s successes and failures. For newer members, this is their chance to gain a deeper understanding of different settings where HT is successfully practiced.

We passed a beautiful morning touring the Green Chimneys farm and discussing the various programs that highlight our philosophy of nature-based education. Charlie, our organic farm manager, gave a very informative tour of the sugar shack, describing each step of the process of making maple syrup. This demo led to a group project of making maple cream, a delicacy during this season that Erin Backus, our program facilitator, has honed to perfection.

While our horticultural therapy colleagues took turns stirring, I modeled a read-aloud activity, telling the story of the “Legend of Maple Syrup.” This story then passed into a hands-on project of making a mokuk, which is a Native American word for a vessel made from birch bark used to collect maple syrup. In the background, a video about the history of sugaring played softly. Everyone was engaged, and the Green Chimneys team felt satisfied that our guests were getting a good cross-section of what our students experience weekly during garden programs.

And the day was well received! Valerie Barrett, a registered horticultural therapist and NEHTN Vice President, provided great feedback, “What a wonderful workshop we experienced at Green Chimneys, a truly inspirational and meaningful program. After sharing details of the day with family, my niece and her best friend are now looking forward to enjoying your summer camp program.” NEHTN President Judy Murray added, “I was so impressed with your professionalism and programming! Thank you for an incredible and informative day!” It’s important to remember how valuable it is for everyone, from time to time, to take a step back from their own program and coalesce with like-minded peers. We became rejuvenated, just in time for spring!


The participants of the day along with Green Chimneys program facilitator, Erin Backus, HTR (front left).

The take-away for me was this: Green Chimneys is a very special place indeed. We have the ability, space and appeal to attract professionals from many fields who are interested in expanding their proficiency. This summer will mark three years for me as an employee and being on campus at least five days a week can make some of the magic here seem ordinary. Sometimes all it takes is a visit with peers, their fresh eyes and new enthusiasm gently remind me of the exceptional work that happens here.


About Green Chimneys Garden

Green Chimneys was founded on the belief that children will benefit from their interaction with nature and animals. Horticulture comes to life in our educational school gardens, allowing Green Chimneys students to heal, learn, and grow. Learn more about about our nature-based approach to special education by visiting
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One Response to How to rejuvenate a horticultural therapist on a cold winter’s day

  1. Thank you Valerie for all the great pictures!

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