When horticultural therapy meets art therapy, children grow

This week’s post is written by my cblog-art-hort-thera-300x300olleague Green Chimneys Garden Program Facilitator Erin Backus. As a registered horticultural therapist, Erin leads both afterschool programs and horticultural therapy sessions with our residents.

Cross-disciplinary collaboration among colleagues helps us succeed and well, when you join forces with an art therapist, it’s just plain fun. For the first part of 2015 I have been teaming up with Lena DeLeo, an art therapist at Green Chimneys. At first, many of our students were confused as to why I was in the art room, especially since many are accustomed to seeing me outdoors in any number of our gardens on the Brewster campus or down the road at our organic farm – all rather logical places for me, a horticultural therapist. Since January, however, I have become a fixture in the art room where proof of our partnership has blossomed quite nicely.

Lena and I co-lead evening group meetings, each of which includes dialogue and an art project related to horticulture. Planned themes allow us to weave in the therapeutic element; the activity gives children the chance to express themselves through art, increase self-awareness and esteem, all while making connections with the natural world.

The majority of the children Lena and I serve are residents, children who are not living at home so that they may benefit from comprehensive services at Green Chimneys to face social, emotional and behavioral hurdles. For these children, change is particularly challenging. Students may know that change is necessary, but it’s not always welcome or easy to initiate. To address just this, Lena and I organized a series of sessions around transitions with a focus on “a new you.”


Students painted individual terra cotta pots to resemble themselves or something that they want to change within. Afterwards, they were encouraged to share what their art symbolized.

At the next session, students smashed their painted pots – a cathartic exercise many really embraced. To signify IMG_2431transformation, we invited students to use their pot pieces to make individual garden stepping stones. Some mixed their pot fragments with gems and stones. Others swapped bits while a couple opted to create their stone entirely from new materials, completely leaving their original pieces behind.


With this project, our goal was to help Green Chimneys children see change as an opportunity, to experience transitions as a positive.

In June, the stepping stones, along with still life drawings of plants and flowers, and a variety of other projects will be on display at a special exhibition called Growing Creativity with Brushes and Trowels. We hope many of you will join us in celebrating the growth our children are experiencing and expressing! To learn more about the exhibition, watch this webpage for updates >


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 www.greenchimneys.org
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5 Responses to When horticultural therapy meets art therapy, children grow

  1. Laura Leone says:


  2. Deb benge says:

    What a powerful,, creative and transforming project! I would love to hear more about your projects.

  3. I love this! Wonderful!

  4. Aida Avellino says:

    Very Interesting! Love the painting! Would love to hear and see more work by the students…

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