February 22, 2024
the backyard as healer, with ‘the therapist’s backyard’ creator erik keller

NO DOUBT all of you gardeners would agree that interacting with vegetation and with nature has a restorative profit, that it has the simple energy to elevate us up and make us really feel higher. That concept that working with vegetation is therapeutic is the inspiration of the sector of horticultural remedy.

Erik Keller has practiced horticultural remedy for greater than 20 years, utilizing vegetation and nature to assist shoppers from most cancers sufferers to particular wants youngsters and disabled seniors, to assist them cope and to make optimistic life adjustments. He’s additionally creator of “A Therapist’s Backyard: Utilizing Vegetation to Revitalize Your Spirit” (affiliate hyperlink).

Erik’s a grasp gardener and manages the gardens and horticultural remedy program at Ann’s Place in Danbury, Connecticut, a corporation aiding most cancers sufferers and their households.

We don’t have to be in a proper horticultural remedy program, although. Erik needs to remind every of us of the ability of what we’re doing outdoors, and provides us some recommendation on learn how to maximize its profit.

Plus: Enter to win a replica of Erik’s e-book by commenting under.

Learn alongside as you hearken to the July 3, 2023 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

‘a therapist’s backyard’ with erik keller



Margaret Roach: So I’m prepared for that, Erik [thank you]. Thanks for being right here.

Erik Keller: Properly, thanks, Margaret. I actually respect the chance.

Margaret: I’ve been having fun with the tales within the e-book “A Therapist’s Backyard,” anecdotes alongside the best way of all of the experiences you’ve had in working with shoppers and so forth. A few of them must be so apparent to me, just like the outdated expression “cease and odor the roses:” You discuss utilizing ways like aromatherapy, so to talk, not the sort in a spa [laughter] however smelling vegetation, sitting in there and actually smelling them, and selecting your favorites, issues like that which are simply so lovely. And but we don’t decelerate, we gardeners, can we?

Erik: No. I feel we all the time have a activity checklist in entrance of us, like we’ve got to get all of this stuff carried out earlier than both it rains or earlier than we go on trip. I feel typically we simply must actually step again.

It’s humorous you used the expression to odor the roses. Simply the opposite day, we had been chopping a small bouquet from one of many native seaside roses we’ve got [below], and we each observed that there was a touch of clove throughout the scent of the rose, which we had by no means actually discerned earlier than. So these roses have been on our property for over a decade, but we proceed to be shocked each time we exit and play within the backyard.

Margaret: Proper. No, I fully agree. Properly, you simply talked about one of many issues I wished to speak about, concerning the to-do checklist, and learn how to actually deal with that extra mindfully and so forth. However earlier than we try this, simply inform us a bit of bit about what’s horticultural remedy? Is it one thing that’s practiced quite a bit right here in the US or what?

Erik: Properly, it’s probably not practiced that a lot in the US. It’s significantly better practiced and recognized in Canada, and the U.Okay. particularly. However in a sure manner, all of us are horticultural therapists in varied methods by which we use vegetation to principally attempt to change ourselves in a optimistic manner.

If you wish to get into considerably of a technical definition of horticultural remedy, it principally offers with 4 various things: with each bodily, cognitive, social, and emotional points. And so, if you end up working towards both on a person or working with a gaggle, you’re making an attempt to have an effect on a optimistic change on a kind of 4 issues.

Margaret: Proper. So again to that chore checklist [laughter], it may be daunting. I’ve mine on a … I really like clipboards. That’s my craziness. I’m an old school individual. I really like clipboards. And so, I’ve an outdated clipboard and I’ve my items of clean paper. I’ve all the time obtained a listing. It’s on the kitchen counter. I can simply visualize it down there proper now.

I really like my checklist, and I really like checking issues off. However: Some days I have a look at it and I feel, “Oh, my goodness.” So what’s a strategy to handle that mentally? I don’t imply handle the duties actually, however mentally.

Erik: Proper. Properly, I feel that it’s best to all the time go into the backyard with a way of discovery and pleasure, nearly … Though I’m not advocating that you just do that in your checklist, however, as an example, if we’re out within the sizzling climate, we all the time know that we have to hydrate. I feel once we’re out within the backyard, we have to go and say, effectively, possibly we don’t must hydrate each 45 minutes, however we have to expertise one thing fantastic each 45 minutes. Whereas that will sound like quite a bit, it really isn’t, as a result of there’s simply a lot cool stuff on the market.

I imply the opposite day, I used to be performing some weeding and trimming, and I observed that there was a tree frog on our fence, simply perched there subsequent to a publish. Now what a tree frog is doing on a fence, I don’t know. Then my spouse and I attempted to establish it, however except we picked up the armpit, we couldn’t discern which of two several types of tree frogs it was. So we determined to present {that a} miss [laughter]. However it was simply, once more, this lovely second that you just had by simply, once more, being cognizant of the second and being aware of your environment.

Margaret: If we don’t decelerate, if we’re simply on excessive gear?

Erik: Yeah, you’re simply in excessive gear. So that you’re like pulling out weeds, you’re mowing. You go, “Oh, I’ve obtained to get this carried out. I’ve obtained to get … ” Once more, I feel being within the backyard is the right excuse, to a level, to decelerate. If it turns into an excessive amount of of a chore, then I feel a whole lot of the therapeutic advantages and joys we get out of being gardeners will be misplaced on us.

Margaret: If you have a look at your checklist, do you gravitate towards a selected factor, or do you do what’s the very first thing on the checklist? Have you learnt what I imply?

Erik: Properly, it’s really type of … I’ve a listing, however it’s type of a operate of temper. If I’m in additional of, let’s say, I wish to be extra contemplative, then possibly I’ll do some deadheading or trimming, and I’ll assume again upon what was there earlier than. So within the final week or so, I’ve been taking off the flowers for the mountain laurel, as a result of while you try this, you’ll improve flowering within the subsequent yr. If you try this, you’ll be able to really feel the stickiness of the stamens, and there’s nonetheless a slight scent there of the mountain laurel.

So these issues will remind me of what was there previously and what’s going to come again sooner or later. In order that’s type of a aware second. If I really feel like, hey, I wish to get out and do one thing, I’ll get behind the lawnmower and push it and get that carried out.

So I attempt to handle my backyard activity by how I really feel at any given time limit. I feel you most likely have so many backyard duties, that’s not a tough factor to determine [laughter].

Margaret: Yeah. It feels like … Perhaps that is from the e-book. I wrote it down in my notes right here. You mentioned one thing about, “Select a activity that may create a second for you.”

Erik: Yeah. I imply there are such a lot of nice issues to seek out within the backyard to take a look at and simply have a look at in a sure manner with a toddler’s surprise. I imply I’m blessed by having two fantastic grandchildren dwell close to me. And so, I’m introducing them to the gardens in a manner that I might have appreciated to have been launched.

So my youngest granddaughter, Olivia, I’m educating her learn how to choose strawberries [above], though I don’t assume she wants a whole lot of assist [laughter]. For example, she loves sorrel or lemon leaf. So she has this factor the place she goes into the vegetable backyard, she goes and grabs a sorrel leaf, after which she heads off to the strawberry patch to see what’s ripe, if she will beat out her older sister who’s already gotten into the backyard. So it’s an fascinating mixture. Lots of enjoyable.

Margaret: That’s fascinating to look at a toddler go into the backyard. Perhaps that’s a very good instance that’s being set for us.

Erik: Yeah, as a result of all the things is new. Every thing is new-

Margaret: Marvel.

Erik: … and completely different to them, and it’s surprise. That’s the factor to do. After I work with both my shoppers or one in every of my youngsters, I’ve like silly gardener tips, just like the David Letterman Silly Pet Tips. So these are silly gardener tips.

So one of many issues that you are able to do is that when you’ve got a dogwood close to you, in case you crease the leaf and simply crack it ever so barely, what you’ll see is that it seems like you’ve got two halves of the leaf, one in every of which is hanging in midair. That’s as a result of there’s little tiny bits of resin that come from the vein. So it seems to be such as you’re doing a magic trick, however it’s not. Once more, it’s a silly backyard trick, however youngsters find it irresistible. They assume, “Oh, wow, that’s so cool. How’d you try this?”

Margaret: Proper, proper, proper.

Erik: Even adults do, too. So, once more, it’s having enjoyable with these types of issues.

Margaret: So among the workout routines … I don’t know whether or not you name them workout routines or what, that you just’ve carried out with shoppers previously—like I used to be asking to start with concerning the “aromatherapy.” Simply describe a kind of. How would that assist? I feel within the e-book, there’s one about somebody pulling mint and there’s I feel one other one about …

Erik: Proper. Properly, it’s-

Margaret: Inform us a bit of bit about that, concerning the energy of scent and so forth.

Erik: Yeah. It’s humorous you point out that as a result of it will possibly have each extremely … Aromatherapy, I feel, is extremely highly effective as a result of we underestimate the remembrances and the experiences we’ve had primarily based upon odor. So, in reality, I’ll provide you with two examples, one in every of which labored out very well and the opposite one labored out actually badly.

Margaret: Uh-oh.

Erik: Uh-oh, yeah. So I used to be doing this class and it was aromatherapy; we had been making sachets [above]. I had this new consumer, a gentleman, let’s name him Fred. He had simply misplaced his spouse to most cancers, and he got here to Ann’s Place in search of some assist and solace.

So we’re making sachets, and one of many stuff you do is you go round important oils that you should utilize to make the sachets. So issues are being handed round. Swiftly he begins trying very uncomfortable and I am going, “Fred, are you O.Okay.?” He seems to be up and he begins tearing up. He says, “That is lilac. My spouse beloved lilac. Our home all the time smells of lilac, and that’s not there anymore.” So he couldn’t proceed. He needed to go away. He mentioned, “Look, I’m sorry. I simply can’t do that proper now,” and he left. In order that’s actually not the way you wish to begin out a therapeutic class [laughter].

Margaret: No. No, in fact.

Erik: In order that wasn’t good. Nevertheless, on one other occasion, one other consumer, similar sort of factor; we’re making sachets. Let’s name her Susan. Susan has been having a tough time. She’s been going by each chemotherapy and radiation. She has a kerchief on her head as a result of she doesn’t have any hair. She’s very pale. Her eyes are sunken into her cranium. She’s super-thin from the ravages that not solely most cancers, however the therapy for most cancers can ravage in your physique.

So, once more, she’s being handed round stuff. Swiftly she says, “I can odor the lavender.” I’m like, “O.Okay.” She goes, “You don’t perceive. I’ve not been in a position to odor something for the previous two years.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s fantastic.”

She goes, “Fast, go me the rosemary.” So anyone passes her the rosemary. She’s like, “I can odor the rosemary, too. That is implausible.” So she begins crying. Then the category begins crying as a result of all people’s so completely happy for her that she had this sort of epiphany, that there was this second the place issues got here again to her in the best way by which they had been earlier than she contracted this horrible illness. There was simply this second of surprise that everyone shared together with her.

So, once more, that’s two diametrically opposed examples of how doing one thing like aromatherapy, or making scented sachets, can have an effect on you each in a optimistic and possibly not-so-positive manner.

Margaret: Proper, this sort of reawakening second probably that may occur. I feel that’s a very good instance as a result of even with out the sickness and so forth, that broken her sense of odor and so forth, a whole lot of us are, once more: We’re shifting so quick, we’re not paying consideration. We’re not … Have you learnt what I imply? We’re not ingesting it in. We’re not savoring issues.

Erik: Proper. The factor is that, as an example, while you’re figuring out vegetation, really the odor is usually a actually vital consider determining what sort of plant you’ve got there. I imply, as an example, in case you have a look at Queen Anne’s lace and also you have a look at poison hemlock, they appear very comparable. However, as an example, in case you odor the foundation of Queen Anne’s lace, it smells like a carrot. Should you odor the foundation of poison hemlock, it’s really not such a pleasant odor.

Margaret: And don’t pull it up and try this [laughter].

Erik: And don’t pull it up and try this. That may be a nasty factor.

Margaret: A really, very dangerous factor. Yeah. I each love and hate the powerlessness of gardening, the truth of there are forces larger than us at work and I’m probably not in management. Though, in fact, horticulture is an act of making an attempt to manage nature: make issues carry out, and keep in place, and all that sort of stuff.

However I really like when it doesn’t work out. I imply I scream and yell [laughter]. However I find it irresistible too as a result of it reminds us of our place within the scheme of issues, I feel. I’m wondering if that’s one thing that you just ever work with in horticultural remedy, the sort of bigger-than-us stuff.

Erik: Oh, yeah. Properly, I imply one of many issues that usually occurs is that while you follow as I do with a bunch of various shoppers, you grow to be the plant physician. I imply earlier than each session I’ve with a consumer or a gaggle, I all the time say, “Hey, does anyone have questions?” And other people will convey me their sick vegetation, or ask me why this died, or why anyone can’t get it to develop. So you’ve got these points.

What I inform individuals is I mentioned, “Look, we’re … Even probably the most skilled gardeners, it doesn’t all the time work out for them.” I all the time instructed shoppers, I mentioned, “We by no means have failures within the backyard, solely classes.”

That’s the best way I like to take a look at it as a result of, to your level earlier than, to consider you could anticipate all the things or have a look at issues … I imply there’s all types of issues in gardening which are being thrown at you on a regular basis. There’s issues you could see, like, “Oh, gee, this plant wants water.” And there’s all types of issues you could’t see, that are varied sorts of viruses or nematodes or bugs that come like simply out of nowhere and wipe out all the things.

I imply I used to be at Ann’s Place final week, and I had a viburnum that was completely denuded of leaves. I imply actually on Friday, it was stuffed with leaves and wholesome, and on Monday, they had been all gone. I’m like some bug got here by and simply devastated it in a single weekend.

Margaret: Fascinating. Irritating. Yeah. However I feel the follow of horticulture could make us pursue perfection, and in addition let go of the notion of ever discovering perfection [laughter].

Erik: Yeah, I imply I all the time consider the gardens that I work in as shabby stylish. I like them to look good after they’re not totally effectively taken care of. So you’ll by no means see me round one in every of these excellent English-like gardens with hedges trimmed to infinity and past in a straight line. I imply I can’t try this. I imply, that requires a lot work.

Then your perception or notion is like, effectively, if that’s not excellent, if there’s one thing protruding, then there’s one thing mistaken. It’s nearly like one in every of my grandchildren not having combed hair. I imply I sort of like that. So I similar to the gardens like that, too.

Margaret: Yeah. So we’re on the market within the yard a whole lot of occasions on our personal, or possibly we’re with a member of the family or a good friend or no matter, however a whole lot of us do our chores on our personal. Are there aware practices or are there issues, rituals, I don’t know what, that we will do on our personal on the market which are derived from the follow of horticultural remedy? Have you learnt what I imply?

Erik: Properly, yeah, I feel, once more, in case you have a look at the 4 essential issues that you just attempt to cope with, I typically use it as a strategy to … I imply I’m in a special occupation now, and retired from a previous life. I used to be a company administration advisor in a previous life. Throughout that life, I had a whole lot of strain. I used to be coping with very, very high-powered shoppers, some huge cash, and issues had been on the road. And typically I might come residence and I might not be a very good individual.

And so, really what I did, even earlier than … I imply I might pull the automobile within the driveway, and earlier than I might go and say hello to my spouse and youngsters, I might go within the backyard. I might pull weeds, I might water, as a result of I wanted that point to detox from the day, and simply grow to be an individual, somewhat than an indignant administration advisor. That was an amazing factor for me, and 15, 20 minutes later, I might come out and speak and play with my spouse and youngsters and be a very good individual, and a very good father and husband.

However I feel we will try this on a regular basis within the backyard. I imply if we’re doing sure issues, I imply let’s say in case you’ve suffered some type of bodily harm and also you’re going by some sort of bodily remedy, incorporate the bodily remedy as a part of your gardening. So don’t choose up massive, heavy issues, but when there’s a sure sort of repetitive movement that may help you to heal no matter is mistaken, then try this.

To your level, you’ve talked about this a few occasions, is be aware of the second and revel in what you’re doing, and make the precise act of gardening a part of your persona and emotional being on the time by which you do it.

Margaret: Yeah. Are there … Like with each occupation or vocation, we all know that our viewers, there are biggest hits, issues that almost all resonate. You gave examples of extremes the place the aromatherapy concept resonated and didn’t resonate in very other ways. However are there different issues in addition to that which are primary horticultural remedy workout routines that, sesides the scent-driven one which can-

Erik: Oh, yeah. I imply one of many issues that I discuss in my e-book “A Therapist’s Backyard” is in reality it’s organized by season. So it begins in January and ends in December. In each chapter, I even have an train that folks can do, in addition to a spot to go. As a result of what I wish to do, and I feel lots of people don’t give it some thought this manner, is that I feel gardening, even up right here in New England the place we each dwell … Otherwise you dwell, I feel, in New York-

Margaret: Sure.

Erik: … it’s a 12-month factor. I imply you are able to do this across the clock, all all year long. Now there’s completely different points of it that you just do, clearly, in February versus while you’re in July, however there’s all types of various issues and workout routines you are able to do. So you are able to do aromatherapy. You are able to do propagation [above]. You’ll be able to go off and create completely different sorts of items of … You can also make fowl feeders out of pine cones. You can begin little vegetation. I imply there’s all types of issues you are able to do, and so they all can tackle varied therapeutic points.

Margaret: So propagation is one that-

Erik: Oh, yeah. Properly, I imply the factor that folks love about propagation is all people’s, deep inside, low-cost. So to have the ability to take a single stalk of a plant and get six vegetation out of it’s an incredible factor. Then in case you really educate them the prospects of the way you propagate a plant, and the various things it’s a must to do for the several types of vegetation, then it empowers them. In a sure manner, it offers them the power to create and keep life.

Significantly for a few of my shoppers who’re most cancers sufferers, that’s an extremely empowering factor, as a result of a whole lot of their lives and their energy has been muted by this horrible illness. So for them to have the ability to go off and try this after which in a few months say, “Oh, look, these clippings I produced from a begonia leaf are rising,” “Oh, look, I’m in a position to propagate these completely different mints,” that’s extremely highly effective. Once more, in the event that they deal with their vegetation … Otherwise you’d by no means must deal with mint. [laughter]. However in case you deal with them, they are going to dwell endlessly.

Margaret: Sure. In order that’s nice. So there’s the aroma workout routines, the propagation. You mentioned … And I do know within the e-book you present individuals learn how to put peanut butter and seed within the pine cones and make the little fowl feeders and issues like that. Some other ones you wish to share within the final couple of minutes that we would … Particularly at the moment of yr that we-

Erik: Yeah. Properly, I imply at the moment of yr, one of many issues I’m doing really for my subsequent class at Ann’s Place, I’ll be making shrubs and solar teas. So displaying individuals how one can create completely different sorts of solar teas relying upon the completely different sorts of mints and stuff you pull, in addition to differing types of shrubs, each alcoholic and non-alcoholic. These had been created again within the 1700s as a manner to assist protect greens and fruit.

One other one which we’ll be doing most likely fairly quickly is I’ll even be working with them to make flavored vinegars. We’ll be harvesting issues from my backyard, in addition to the gardens at Ann’s Place, to create differing types of flavored vinegars. So these are simply a few issues that we do at the moment of yr.

There’s flower urgent in one other time of yr, extra within the spring. We do flower pounding, which is you get flowers like pansies or violas and principally smack the residing heck out of them with a hammer to create these lovely pictures that principally is nearly {a photograph} of the flowers that you’re destroying.

So there’s all types of various issues you are able to do. However, once more, what I all the time attempt to do in these workout routines is create a way of surprise for issues that they possibly by no means considered earlier than. Additionally, I attempt to do issues that may evoke as many senses as attainable, since you don’t know with a consumer what’s the sense—be it odor, be it style, be it contact, be it sight—that they are going to most resonate with. So one of many issues I attempt to do is attempt to create workout routines that may contact all of these. But when I can’t, as many as attainable.

Margaret: That’s really an excellent factor to recollect as a result of, once more, to the purpose about not stopping and smelling the roses, I imply a whole lot of occasions you can be pruning the roses and never, as you identified earlier, you and your … I suppose your spouse … hadn’t observed the clove scent in that rose.

Erik: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. So to have interaction in every exercise with as lots of the senses as we will I feel is absolutely nice recommendation.

You mentioned pressed flowers. It’s humorous, my grandmother … Just a bit ultimate factor I’ll say: My grandmother, way back, a Victorian woman, she had an exquisite picket Swedish flower press. And she or he pressed flowers and made intricate photos, which she then put underneath glass, framed and underneath glass and so forth. It was a really aware factor. She was a gardener, and so they had been all her flowers. I feel it introduced her nice pleasure. So that you simply made me consider one thing that I must be doing [laughter].

Erik: Properly, it’s … Yeah, for sure flowers, it’s time to place them within the press. So really with that instance, that truly creates two various things. One is the act of urgent flowers and determining how to do this. Then three to 4 months later, after they’re dry, utilizing them to create a chunk of art work or one thing that you can do. I imply you can make a card out of it for anyone.

Margaret: Precisely. Yeah.

Erik: You possibly can do a bookmark and put plastic over ithttps://www.annsplace.org/> There’s all types of fantastic issues you are able to do.

Margaret: Yeah. Properly, Erik Keller, creator of “A Therapist’s Backyard,” thanks for making time immediately. I hope I’ll speak to you once more quickly.

Erik: Properly, thanks very a lot for the chance.

(Photographs from Erik Keller, used with permission.)

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want the podcast model of the present?

MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its 14th yr in March 2023. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Hear regionally within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Japanese, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the July 3, 2023 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).