Moving Up the Garden Lane: A New Horticultural Therapy Practitioner Shares Her Journey

By Susan Morgan

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Jan Lane, HTR, works with a horticultural therapy group.

Jan Lane, HTR, considers herself a “relative newbie” to the field of horticultural therapy. As a registered horticultural therapist, she finds her second career particularly rewarding as she blends her love of gardening and the outdoors with her enthusiasm for connecting with people.

Based in the Washington, D.C., area, Jan worked in public policy for 36 years at several nonprofits, including the American Red Cross, where she headed the government relations department before retiring in 2012. In retirement, she sought to reconnect with nature, so she pursued Master Gardener training through the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service as her next step. She describes this experience as “opening up a whole new world, different from what I had already done. It was so much fun to be in a room with people who shared the same passion.”

While going through the program, she realized just how removed from nature and the outdoors she had been. “I went from my garage, commuting through the district, to the parking garage at work. I was in my office, inside all day. I was isolated and cut off from everything. It was intense.” She recalls being outside in the Extension’s demonstration garden one day, on her knees in the mud, reaching under bird netting to pick blueberries. “I realized that I wanted more and didn’t want the class to end.”

A Passion for Horticulture Leads to a New Passion for Horticultural Therapy

When her Master Gardener training ended, Jan enrolled in community college in northern Virginia, and pursued an associate’s degree in horticulture technology, with a specialization in landscape design. This provided the opportunity to delve deeper into her passion. Yet after taking some classes, she started to think, “What am I going to do with this degree?”

Various opportunities in the horticulture field did not carry her passion, so she did further research, eventually reading about horticultural therapy (HT) in a textbook. Interested in learning more about the field, she pursued training at the Horticultural Therapy Institute and found she was experiencing the same feeling of connection with others just as passionate during her Master Gardener program. Her introductory class took place at Skyland Trail in Atlanta, Georgia, and the enthusiasm of the instructors and guest speakers was infectious. She completed her HT internship at Catholic Charities, where she worked with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and physical challenges, and became a registered horticultural therapist in 2016.

Registered horticultural therapist and intern supervisor, Susie Greenstone, HTR, is now at Melwood in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, where Jan has volunteered since late 2016. Greenstone has been “a tremendous mentor, letting me just jump right in and try it.” Jan credits Greenstone with providing guidance on the development of goals and task analyses in working with client groups and supporting her continued work in HT, notably with Melwood clients.

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Jan’s horticultural therapy clients gather scented geranium cuttings from the garden.

Garden Lane and the Value of Professional Networks

Moving forward, Jan has been busy developing her business, Garden Lane LLC. As part of her new business, she is offering independent horticultural therapy contract services and serves as a paid lecturer to garden clubs and the Master Gardener Lecture Series for the public. Contingent upon grant funding, she anticipates her role at Melwood will evolve to a paid independent contractor in early 2018.

In getting her business up and running, Jan has found that her professional networks are invaluable. She has attended the last four American Horticultural Therapy Association conferences in order to connect with professionals in the horticulture therapy arena, and is now using social media to connect with other HT and therapeutic horticulture (TH) practitioners across the country. “After an established career in D.C., with relationships that had developed over years, I had a network of public policy and government relations professionals. We problem-solved, collaborated, and shared information daily. Starting as an independent contractor in a new profession, has meant creating a new network – a key part of business development. So combine that with the isolation of being in HT/TH…and it creates a big – but not insurmountable – challenge.”

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Group participants prepare potpourri sachets during a horticultural therapy activity.

A Favorite Horticultural Therapy Activity

At Melwood, Jan works with a group of women with cognitive challenges who do horticulture, quilting, and other activities. She has found that group members have responded positively to engagement with various herbs and vegetables from the garden, notably scented geraniums that have a rose, spearmint, or lemon fragrance. This activity is months in the making, while group members are involved with the multi-step process from planting the scented geraniums to processing them into potpourri and sachets. The women plant scented geraniums in the garden early in the season and care for them during the summer. Then in late summer to early fall, they harvest the scented geraniums, collecting cuttings to propagate as well as to dry for potpourri. They stick the cuttings to root and grow into next year’s garden plants.

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Sachet bags are stamped, stuffed with potpourri, and tied shut during a horticultural therapy activity.

They remove the leaves from other cuttings and place the leaves on the drying rack, periodically turning them. When the leaves are fully dried, group members gather the leaves from the drying rack and prepare them for making potpourri. Additionally they stamp muslin bags with decorative stamps and stuff the bags with potpourri.