GrowTH Network Member Feature: Rebecca Reimer

Every month we spotlight a member of the GrowTH Network in The Root Beat newsletter. This month we are featuring Therapeutic Horticulture practitioner, Rebecca Reimer. Keep reading to learn more about Rebecca’s personal journey and work with therapeutic horticulture.

How has therapeutic horticulture impacted your personal journey?

I can clearly remember the moment I realized that nature changes lives. I was cutting my first flowers of the season and for the first time in over a year, I did not feel miserable.

Perinatal depression had taken most of the joy out of motherhood for me, and I was always looking for the next thing that would give me the energy to keep going. Little did I know that responding to an instagram ad for cut flower seedlings would change the trajectory of my life. That moment, clear of misery, led me down a path of learning about HT. I knew instantly that the flowers had something to do with the relief, and I wanted to know why. I scoured the internet and our local library for connections between mental health and nature. I discovered the book ‘The Well Gardened Mind’ by Sue Stuart Smith. This was the first time I heard the term ‘Horticultural Therapy’. As I read through her book, I kept having moments of elation, moments where I realized, “this is what I want to do, this is how I want to make an impact”.

That led to my taking the course, ‘Horticulture as Therapy’ with Mitchell Hewsen where he encouraged me to work towards becoming a Registered Horticultural Therapist. With his encouragement, I approached the principal of my children’s school where I am now creating a Therapeutic Horticulture program for grades K-12.

Tell us a little more about your work with therapeutic horticulture

My work is multifaceted. I have in-person, provincially regulated, recreational horticultural learning programs. These include garden clubs (which the students voluntarily join), one-on-one sessions with students that are struggling with social and regulatory skills, and my primary focus, the Alternate Learning Program, which supports students with learning disabilities. Many of the activities I facilitate have been gleaned from Kaci Rae Christopher’s book, ‘The School Garden Curriculum.’

"There is an endless collaboration between science and permaculture, in practice and philosophy. Both require a systems-based mindset to guide individual and group work; both utilize observation, data gathering, and analysis to understand how diverse pieces create an interconnected whole. They encourage prioritizing objectivity over subjectivity and using a beginner's mind to experience wonder, generate questions, and explore ecology and natural systems."
Kaci Rae Christopher
Outdoor & Garden Educator

My hope is to develop a self sufficient program that does not require outside funding. One that is collaborative, manageable and sustainable from year to year.

I first began my work with students in the spring of 2023. I started with one project. I grew sunflower seedlings with ALP students to sell at a school wide Grandparent’s Day. Students raised nearly 500 dollars and were greatly encouraged by that result.

Together with Rosemary Koomans, director of ALP, we have taken that success and developed a therapeutic horticulture program specifically for ALP Students. The Alternate Learning Program provides practical, hands-on options for students who find it hard to thrive in a traditional classroom setting. Our current study body consists of children diagnosed with Autism, ADD, ADHD, Severe Anxiety and Intellectual Development Disabilities. It provides enriching activities within and outside the classroom that partner with the students’ learning.

The program has community partners that allow us to create rewarding experiences for everyone involved. Students participate in many hands-on learning experiences that teach them the life skills they need to live independent lives when they graduate. These skills include using public transportation, budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking, job skills – and new this year – horticultural skills.

What does this look like day to day? In September I taught a unit on the benefits of composting our food waste. Our high school ALP students then recorded a video explaining what they had learned and how we would be implementing a compost program at our school. This was sent out to each classroom. It took a few months and with the help of an Educational Assistant, but as of January, the ALP independently collect food waste buckets each day and take the scraps to the compost bin outside, or to our vermicomposter indoors. They aerate the compost and add straw and water as needed.

We also sent an email out in the fall asking for people to drop off their summer planters. We separated them and saved sweet potato vines, geraniums, coleus, spider plants and ferns. We learned about the many forms of propagation as we experimented with our free plants. We created a ‘Propagation Station’ with heating pads and grow lights. We then used mediums like perlite and water to gain new plants from our original. When the plants have rooted and are ready to be transplanted, many are moved to public areas in the school, for our entire community to enjoy. Watering the plants is now a part of the weekly routine for these students.

In January, we set up our ‘Germination Station’, another shelf with grow lights and heat pads. We learned how to read seed packages and ascertain planting dates. We had students count back the number of weeks from our local frost date on a calendar and labelled when we needed to plant each type of seed. All of these seedlings will be sold in our Plant Sale in May. We have been practicing counting by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s so that our ALP students will be ready to take charge of the checkouts the day of the sale.

I have learned that practice is the key in working with neurodiverse students. They surpass expectations when they are given the opportunity to prepare for experiences. Recently, a benefactor donated a hydroponic grow system. We are excited to learn how that works so that we can begin a ‘greens’ subscription program in the fall that will allow families to purchase their greens from ALP students on a weekly basis.

If you’re interested in connecting with Rebecca and fellow professionals in therapeutic horticulture and horticultural therapy, consider joining our GrowTH Network. Membership grants you access to valuable resources including session plans, activities, discounts on our courses and much more.