Planting seeds of Horticulture Therapy in the Community

Kumu Carrie’s 6th grade class gathered at 8am for their usual attendance, announcements, and oli to start off their Ho’okele class. However, today there was a change in scenery. The desks were pushed aside and in the middle of the room lay a tray of soil, bunches of mint and oregano cuttings, and an assortment of plants, seeds, and books on therapeutic horticulture. Kumu Carrie invited me to be a guest speaker for her class on the benefits of nature and the topic of therapeutic horticulture, and it was a pleasure to rearrange the classroom.

The students wasted no time noticing, commenting, and examining the plants. The observed some to smell good or bad, some were fuzzy or dry, and some they thought were pretty or ugly. We all started by sharing a little bit about our history with gardening, and shifted into a deeper exploration into our senses by exploring the mint and mexican oregano. I then taught the students the basics of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT Model) and discussed how they could use their senses to help ground themselves and regulate their nervous systems. They were excited to share stories of what the herbs reminded them of, take nibbles of the leaves, and some students even shared their experiences with essential oils in helping to calm their emotions.

Next the students were given a basil seed to hold in their hands. They were told to watch and see what happens as a few drops of water were added to the seed. The student gave voice to their uncertainty by saying, “What’s going to happen?… Is it going to explode?…Is it going to be ok?… It looks like it’s getting fluffy!” Students were able to relate to how sometimes in life it can be hard to sit in uncertainty while other students said they love suspense and mystery.

The students proceeded to plant the basil seeds, digging their hands in the soil. The students all showed each other their dirty fingernails and learned about the microbes that have coevolved with humans and live in the soil. Students learned that when these microbes interact with our hands, they can release endorphins in our brains. One student inquisitively asked, “What are endorphins?” The class was astonished to learn that these chemicals in their brains help them feel good.

Last but not least, the students were given the chance to label their seeds. Giggles were heard across the room as newly planted seeds were being named, and worms were being unearthed in the soil bin. Soon ‘Wormy’ was the talk of the classroom, and everyone was huddled around the soil bin searching for worms to add to their pots of soil and seeds.

After the most extensive worm hunt by 6th graders of 2019, the class circled up and recited a Mahalo oli and the class was dismissed. The energy of the students was palpable as they were buzzing about their new plants, talking about gardening, and discussing how they were going to take care of their new seeds.

Thank you very much to Kumu Carrie for inviting us into your classroom and gifting us with an opportunity to share the joy and healing powers of gardening. Mahalo nui loa.

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