NDSU students practice plant therapy techniques at local retirement community
Published April 2018
The cool touch of potting soil or a splash of color from a begonia can have a positive effect on well-being. Alan Zuk’s students learned this in his Introduction to Horticulture Therapy class, and experienced it working with residents of a local retirement community.
In March, Zuk and his students took a variety of plants and pots to the Touchmark at Harwood Groves retirement community in Fargo. The forecast called for more wintery weather, but residents looked forward to the students’ arrival and the chance to think about warmer days.
“Visits like this give the residents a nice change in their winter schedule, and lets them know that spring is just around the corner. The field trips also give my students important hands-on experience working with various sectors of society that can benefit from horticulture therapy,” said Zuk, NDSU associate professor of plant sciences.
“With proper guidance, a good horticulture therapy program lets senior citizens exercise their hands and fingers to regain strength and dexterity. They can make new friends through horticultural activities, and working with plants is fun.”
Horticulture therapy is an accepted form of treatment by the medical profession and more people are recognizing its value. NDSU horticulture, nursing, sociology and psychology students often take Zuk’s introductory class as an elective. They learn that when people nurture plants, there are many positive psychological effects.
On this day, the Touchmark residents lined up to select plants ranging from geraniums, begonias and pansies to basil, tomatoes and catnip.
“We’re helping residents to come out of their rooms, be more social and treating them to a plant. They just come up to the table, grab a plant and we help them put it in a pot,” said Sheridan Amb, a senior psychology major from Fargo, as she handed a resident a begonia. “Handling plants is really great therapy for people of any age – it can do things like relieve stress or lower blood pressure.”
A group of second-graders from the nearby Eagles Elementary School joined in.
“What a wonderful experience for us; we have residents who are former gardeners, and being able to get their hands dirty again brings back a lot of memories of summer days gone by,” said Christina Bartos, life enrichment assistant at Touchmark. “This is really an intergenerational event today. It’s so great to see our residents interact with both college-age students and the second-graders.”
Christian Triplett, a senior agricultural systems management major from Delano, Minnesota, put the visit into perspective. “It’s a lot of fun to see the joy that plants can bring,” he said. “It’s terrific to see the residents work with the plants, and for them to spend some time with us and the little kids. This has been a really nice experience.”