In the greenhouse behind Hayden Park fields last Thursday, a handful of students took an hour out of the afternoon to plant herbs and refocus.
The sessions, which will occur once a month for the remainder of the semester, stem from a combined effort on the part of Hillsdale College Horticulturist Angie Girdham and Director of Health Services Brock Lutz to offer students a chance to step away from their studies and take part in the therapeutic activity of gardening, according to Girdham.
Lutz explained that the idea to have plant therapy sessions has been in the works for a while, though this is the first semester it has been actualized.
“A couple of years ago Angie got certified as a horticulture therapist, and had a couple ideas,” Lutz said. “She is the absolute driving force behind this and deserves all the credit.”
Though Thursday’s session was the first of its kind, Girdham’s use of planting as a sort of coping mechanism is not a new technique. Lutz explained that in the past he has sent students to Girdham who suffer with seasonal depression.
“She works with them by using visualizations, and that’s been really helpful,” Lutz said. “As you’re planting, you’re thinking of things you want to put into your life, and as you prune, you think about what you want to take out. It pairs well with what we do here at Hillsdale — encouraging people to think about the soul.”
Though she has only officially practiced horticulture therapy in the past few years, Girdham said she has observed the calming effects of working with plants for years.
“I think I’ve witnessed it my entire career, and seeing how it affected the students I worked with really made me a believer. So when I had the opportunity to expand this to more of the student body, I was really excited about making that happen,” Girdham said.
Girdham explained that plant therapy is a technique used for addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and for promoting memory retention in the elderly. Since it is a relatively wide-ranging term, and the group is not in a clinical setting with measurable goals, it will be used more conceptually, according to Girdham.
Thursday’s group planted herbs which represented the students’ goals for the semester, each plant representing an idea. Lutz described this as “symbolic.”
“Angie talked about the different symbols that all the different plants have, like thyme representing courage, and mint representing friendship,” Lutz said. “To me, it’s like how we wear crosses: it’s another reminder of things we want to be cognizant of. And it’s a great coping mechanism to get out of your head and plant things, to have a little garden.”
Junior Danae Sollie said that despite being unsure about how the session would go, it was “nice to just plant some herbs.”
“We planted herbs in little flower pots. I just thought it was a very restful time, and a chance to do something other than study: a good rest, a good break…I was kind of having a stressful day, so it was nice for that day,” Sollie said.
Girdham explained that even in rural Michigan, students can forget how much they need nature.
“We tend to get what’s called nature-deficit disorder, or plant blindness, where we take a lot of what is around us for granted,” Girdham said. “It’s really important that all of us slow down and live in that moment and enjoy life, and not take it for granted.”
The three remaining sessions will be held Oct. 25, Nov. 19, and Dec. 10, and are on a sign-up basis. Interested students can email firstname.lastname@example.org.