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

Forum explores plants' power to heal

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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

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Elizabeth Diehl, of Gainesville, Fla., is a licensed landscape architect, registered horticultural therapist, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture and the director of therapeutic horticulture at Wilmot Gardens at University of Florida. She will speak at an event at the Quad City Botanical Center on Nov. 7 about the connections between people and plants.

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 accounts@qcgardens.com.