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Gardening as therapy: Event at the Huntington on Friday and Saturday looks at horticultural healing

September 30, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Community volunteer Linda Preuss and master gardener Nancy Cipes believe in the healing value of gardening. When seeds, soil, sun and water combine to grow food, the results are powerful, especially for women and children who tend to two vegetable gardens operated by Sojourn Services for Battered Women, a program of Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Community Center.


In the late 1990s, Preuss began helping Sojourn’s domestic violence clients grow potted edibles at a Westside residential shelter. Cipes, owner of Organic Edible Gardens, joined the effort a few years later. They expanded the horticultural therapy program to include raised beds and they added a container garden at a transitional housing facility.

“Linda and I are not therapists," Cipes says, but the two women believe that herbs and vegetables do more than nourish the body. They heal the soul. Touching, smelling and tasting chocolate basil and Italian oregano can lure a person “in bad, bad shape” to put her hands into the soil and tend to plants, Cipes says. “Everything we do, from watching the plum trees blossom and the fruit ripen to making plum jam exemplifies a functioning, healthy life cycle.”

Cipes and Preuss will share the story of this project at 11 a.m. Friday in a presentation titled “Sowing Seeds of Love: Domestic Violence Survivors and the Empowerment of Growing Food” at the annual American Horticultural Therapy Assn. conference, held at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. The conference runs Friday and Saturday and carries the theme “Sustaining Health & Wellness through Horticultural Therapy.” With professionals in healthcare, therapy and horticulture, AHTA started in 1973 and has more than 800 individual and institutional members, including vocational, occupational and rehabilitation programs; hospitals and clinics; correctional facilities; schools; nursing homes and community and public gardens. The public is welcome to register for the event too: $140 for one day or $220 for both. Registration includes a continental breakfast and lunch. For details, e-mail Martha Heinze at Martha@ahta.org.

-- Debra Prinzing

Illustration credit: American Horticultural Therapy Assn.