Sunday, January 28, 2018

Recent Writings

Recent Writings

I write a monthly article for an area newspaper and post the the writings here at The Vermont Gardener afterwards. Hope you find some information, ideas, resources appropriate to where you garden. Horticultural Therapy was written in October 2017.


A cloudy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. A bit of fall color hangs on despite another minor rain storm arriving sometime this afternoon. The flower farm is closed for the season and my activities have turned to the 70 acres of forest we own. It’s a contrast to working with shrubs and flowers at the flower farm but it’s a therapy that calms the spirit and relaxes the soul.

Over the years I have had many opportunities to share the benefits of gardening with folks from many walks of life. In the middle to late 70’s I created a gardening project in South Burlington with the inmates at what was then the Chittenden Community Correctional Center. UVM donated a piece of land on Swift Street and many county businesses donated equipment and supplies to get us going. It was a wonderful program because it taught different skills and produced fresh food to compliment the center’s meals. Not once was there an “escapee” from the program and participants maintained perfect behavior records while in the program. Being outside obviously made a difference. Horticultural therapy works!

Also in the 80’s I put together a similar program on the Burlington Interval for 16 teenagers with not the best records of city street behavior or a fondness for authority in school or in the community. The program lasted an entire summer, included selling produce at the local famer’s market, and eventually became a year-round work and education program. No one ever ran away from the program and the kid’s pride and enthusiasm for their work continued on relentlessly with wide smiles—even when I arrived one day with a 50 pound sack of onion sets that had to be planted………and they planted them…..all upside down. Horticultural therapy works!

I remember meeting a woman one year who thanked me for all the time she had been able to spend as a high school aged girl walking and relaxing in the shade garden adjacent to our home. I never knew the woman until she told me she had a mentor who brought several girls to our garden to relax and work through issues of physical assault, sexual abuse, or family or school conflict. It was one of those “build it and they will come” kind of things I guess but I was so overjoyed by having been able to present a site to sit within a garden in the woods and begin to heal. Horticultural therapy works!

Around the same time I was building programs in Vermont, the Japanese began studying what came to be known as “forest bathing” or in Japanese, ‘Shinrin-yoko” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The work in Japan and elsewhere since then is very similar in outcome to the projects I was involved with. Nature has a way of providing various sights, sounds and smells which stimulate the senses and relax us. Horticultural therapy work!

Back in early October I made my fall hiking trip to Maine. I do this every spring and fall to rejuvenate myself for a busy summer at the flower farm. I hiked at the Cutler Preserve, at Great Wass Island and at the Frank Woodworth Preserve ( on Ripley Neck in Harrington, Maine. Each of these sites provides opportunity for forest bathing and each one reminded me of Vermont’s local town forests and hiking trails. Of the three, the Woodworth Preserve reminded me most of the Japanese forests because of the virgin fir and white cedar trees, the wind sculpted trees, the shorelines and the moss covered forest floors. Forest bathing can certainly occur there!

There’s plenty of information available about forest bathing/forest therapy/arboreal therapy/horticultural therapy but here in Vermont you don’t have to look too distant, travel too far to gain access to the forest where you truly can enjoy nature and relax. Hanging in the office at the flower farm is a vintage Mary Azarian poster that brings to light the benefits of gardening and implicitly forest bathing. You probably remember it. It contains a quote from Minnie Aumonier. “When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” When you can, get into your garden. At other times try town forests such as the Stranahan Town Forest in Marshfield or other public properties. Your blood pressure will probably decrease and your smile will broaden. Happy gardening too!

Off season from Vermont Flower Farm, George Africa, his wife Gail and son Alex work and write from their home on Peacham Pond Road where they spend time in their own forests. Write them with your gardening questions at

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