Planting the Seeds of Possibility 
- Garden Therapy for Young Adults in Mental Health Treatment

BY WENDY BATTAGLIA, TRELLIS CO-FOUNDER

“Our residents have greatly benefited from implementing horticulture into their weekly schedule. The staff have noticed that they have a higher increased satisfaction feeling that comes from being able to maintain and grow things that they can nurture on their own over time.” - Tanya Eden, MSW, The Cottages at Mountain Creek

The garden therapy program at The Cottages at Mountain Creek serves young adults in a mental health residential treatment center.  When I first began leading the group in 2018, most of the participants were not really participants at all, but were found sleeping as they waited for that first February session to begin. I gently encouraged them to participate in the planned activity of planting snow peas in a milk jug. The goal was for them to then care and nurture their newly-planted seeds and watch them grow. However, at the session’s end, all eight milk jugs were left behind despite my many reminders! I look back on that first session and have observed the following changes within the group:

  • Now when I arrive each week, the group is waiting for me in the parking lot, wanting to help unload our supplies and eagerly asking “What are we doing today?”
  • As the collection of plants that the residents have grown over time became more extensive, caring for the plants during the week requires a big commitment. One young woman asked to volunteer. I arrived one day and she greeted me with joy and pride, elated that she had watered that week without any reminders. Gardening tasks can stimulate feelings of being needed and valued that are so important to our psychological well-being. Gardening skills also teach responsibility and job readiness.  This individual has moved to the transitional living program and is now employed out in the community.
  • In the Spring, we moved out into the garden to grow fresh, healthy food that we used to make salads and smoothies.  They gained new skills in preparing simple, fresh recipes and ate with vigor and pride for what they had grown and made themselves. The day we propagated pineapple tops and chopped up and ate the fruit was the most memorable session for me, with pineapple juice and pulp everywhere including all over their sticky smiling proud faces.

Cultivating  Partnerships: Georgia Audubon Society
As a way to enrich the Cottages garden therapy program, Trellis has forged a wonderful partnership with the Georgia Audubon Society that helps participants learn about the important connection between plants and wildlife. The Audubon leader has taught them to use binoculars, to identify birds by sight and sound and offered time for them to share about their favorite birds. They found joy in observing and listening to their favorite bird. One of the participants that frequently shares his feelings of abandonment by family and friends has really connected with the Audubon leader and calls her his friend the “bird lady” and he looks forward to her program.

More from the Cottages Clinical Team
“Our clients are benefiting from social interaction and opportunities for self-satisfaction by learning to initiate on their own and taking responsibility for growing fresh produce which impacts their decisions in how they make choices about what they eat. The program has been beneficial in helping our residents recognize and take ownership of the choices they make regarding their overall health, and the small steps they can personally take to initiate that. Horticulture has given our clients an opportunity to receive an increased sense of responsibility as well as purpose.” - Tanya Eden, MSW, The Cottages at Mountain Creek