Forum explores plants' power to heal

Originally Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2012, 11:11 am
Last Updated: Oct. 23, 2012, 1:09 am
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By Laura Anderson Shaw,

Ah, nature. There's definitely something about a stroll through the forest, or the feeling of the earth in your hands while helping plants grow. But why exactly do we do what we do in the garden and the outdoors?

Find out Nov. 7 at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island, whenElizabeth Diehl discusses how plants influence human behavior with Flower Power: The People-Plant Connection.

Ms. Diehl, of Gainesville, Fla., is a licensed landscape architect, registered horticultural therapist, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture and director of therapeutic horticulture at Wilmot Gardens at the University of Florida.

Growing up, Ms. Diehl said she wanted to be an architect. Her brother, Walter Messer, suffered a brain injury when he was 2-years-old, and has lived with developmental disabilities ever since, which sparked an interest in special education, she said in a phone interview recently.

Ms. Diehl said she realized that if she studied architecture, she could pursue volunteer work centering around special education, but she couldn't study special education and pursue volunteer work in architecture. So, she earned her bachelor's degree in architecture and art history, and a master's degree in landscape architecture.

In 1993, she decided to start a weekend gardening program attheMisericordia Home in Chicago, an "incredible" residential facility for people who are developmentally and/or physically disabled, where her brother lives, she said.

The Misericordia Home asked her to work there, so she started a therapeutic and pre-vocational program there instead.

"I didn't even realize horticultural therapy was a thing then," she said, but it "all came together for me."

Essentially,horticultural therapy isa process that uses plants, plant materials and plant activities to yield a therapeutic result, Ms. Diehlsaid. The process and type of activities depends on the person you're working with, she said, adding that the therapy can be used to improve physical or cognitive skills, help people who are dealing with psychological issues, "whatever it might be."

Activities may include working in a green house, taking care of a garden,learning how plants grow and more.

People have "an innate need (for the natural world) whether we realize it or not," Ms. Diehl said. Working with nature through plants and gardening "is very calm and relaxing," and it helps people "open up" because it is "such a restorative environment," she said.

"By using that kind of environment, we're able to deal with some other issues."

At the Misericordia Home, Ms. Diehl said she worked with people who have Down syndrome and cerebral palsy who have been cared for their entire lives. "This (was) the first time that they were in charge of taking care of something," she said. While they might not have understood that intellectually, "they all understood it in their hearts."

During her presentation, Ms. Diehl will speak on the people, plant connection, hitting "a lot of different angles." She said people may recognize that they like plants and "being in a garden makes us feel good," but she wants to "try to expand on that."

She also plans to touch on the connection between being in a natural, restorative environment and the reduction of stress, she said.

The overall concept is that nature "really is good for us in so many ways," she said.

She hopes attendees "take home with them some new thoughts about how they might be able to improve their personal well-being through one of these connections."

Flower Power: The People-Plant Connection will begin at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7, at the Quad City Botanical Center,2525 4th Ave., Rock Island. Tour the gardens before the presentation begins at 6 p.m.

The event, funded by the Amy Helpenstell Foundation, is free to attend, but seating is limited. To register, call Gretchen at (309) 794-0991 ext. 26, or email


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Sept. 17, the 260th day of 2014. There are 105 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: We are told league merchants have paid no attention to the prohibition on selling ammunition, but continue to sell just as before the order was issued.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. R.F. Sweet, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish, left for the East to visit his boyhood home in Boston before attending the general convention of the Episcopal Church in New York.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dr. E.A. Anderson was named to succeed Dr. E.L. Kerns as head physician of the Modern Woodmen of America, and moved to Rock Island from Holdingford, Minn.
1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Employees in Turnstyle stores in Moline and Davenport will vote Oct. 2 in an election set up by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Employees will vote either for the Retail Clerk International or for no union.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Rock Island High School is considering a step to help teen moms stay in school and get their diploma. The school board is expected to vote tonight on instituting an on-site child care center.

(More History)