by Sarah Sieradzki


POTTING UP HOUSEPLANTS: Use sterile potting soil. I use pre-moistened Pro-Mix available in nurseries. I pre-root plants in water to increase success in propagation. I purchase 4” plastic pots (with drainage holes) via Gardener’s Supply online. You can also sometimes find good sales of inexpensive pots at dollar stores and craft stores. I do not use glass, or terra cotta pots due to breakage potential and safety precautions. I use large spoons from dollar store instead of trowels, and use a heavy plastic tablecloth with felt backing on the table. I have small foam plastic plates to put under pot to prevent water from staining furniture. I give handouts on plant care and discuss both plant care (how to help them thrive, not just survive) as well as how they can care for themselves to thrive better. Most people over water plants so remind them the roots needs air as much as water. Let plants dry out between watering. I use a plastic water bottle with a pull top (like athletes use) to water plants.

Suggested plants include: Spider plant, pothos, hoya, kalanchoe varieties, succulents, scented geraniums, African violets, wandering Jew

PLANT PROPAGATION: I had several 4 shelf grow lights to use for plant propagation. I have also made my own grow lights with shop lights. All grow lights must be placed OFF the unit as they have glass fluorescent bulbs. I used long plastic trays filled with moistened soilless mix under the lights for propagation. This worked well for all the plants mentioned above. I frequently had select patients assist me with propagation by showing them how to take cuttings with blunt edge scissors—cutting the stem just below a node, and removing all but the top 1-2 leaves. We would dip the cutting in rooting hormone sprinkled on a paper plate, and then insert in soil under lights. I also frequently propagated plants in water in bottles (for scented geraniums) or tubs/plastic vases (for spider plants, pothos, hoya, and wandering Jew. I rooted single leaves of kalanchoe and African violets by hardening the cut edge off for 1-2 days, dipping in rooting hormone, and resting onto soil at edge of tray (leaning leaf on side of tray.) Plants need to be as close to the lights as possible without burning. I also had the grow lights in the windows if possible, and used a timer so the lights were on 16-18 hours per day/night.

LAVENDER ENVELOPE SACHETS: I purchase small colored envelopes at Hollo’s in Brunswick. I used to be able to find them at Marc’s or drug stores. I purchase lavender in bulk, essential oils, and orris root powder from Monterey Bay online. I purchase plastic stencils and colored pencils at a craft store—Michael’s, Pat Catan’s, or JoAnn’s. I purchase colorful ADULT stickers at craft stores or dollar stores. I also saved stickers from mailings of address labels at home.

Instructions: Have patients use stickers and stenciled/colored designs to decorate envelopes. Staff then puts a spoonful of lavender in envelope along with 1/8 tsp. of orris root mixed with essential oils. [I mix about one ounce of essential oil in a cup or powdered orris root in a cleaned glass jelly or spaghetti jar—NOTE: Patients should not handle jars, and should not have access to jars for safety reasons. I use lavender and vanilla fragrances which are relaxing, a citrus fragrance (orange, lemon, or grapefruit) which is energizing, and a couple of floral fragrances, such as gardenia, violet, sandalwood, or lilac. I keep all this in a large plastic box so I can carry all the supplies at once.] Patients then seal the envelopes and add either tape or stickers to the edges where the envelopes don’t seal well, so powder doesn’t leak out. We talk about relaxation during session, and using the lavender sachet under their pillow to help with sleep. Lavender also relaxes large muscles which can decrease the perception of pain. It’s important to discuss the purpose of sachets, and where to put them—under pillow, in closet, in drawers, in car to make things smell good. Patients need to understand the envelopes are NOT for mailing

POTPOURRI SACHETS: I purchase sale fabrics and cut into 1 foot square pieces. I sometimes use colored netting cut in 1 foot squares too. (You can find many holiday related sale fabrics for different times of the year.) I pre-cut pieces of ¼ to ½ inch wide ribbon into 12 inch long pieces (not long enough to wrap around one’s neck.) I purchase inexpensive potpourri at the dollar store and place in 5 gallon plastic bags with a plastic cup to use for pouring. I often dried herbs and rose petals at home which I could bring in to add to basic potpourri. NOTE: Since this potpourri is totally covered by the fabric, it doesn’t really have to be attractive—just smell good. I usually had two fragrance choices—vanilla, apple, cinnamon, pumpkin, bayberry, mulberry, etc. depending on the season.

Instructions: Patients place a bit less than a cup of potpourri in the center of a fabric square (or two fabric squares with the corners not aligned.) They gather up the edges, twist to close,  and tie closed with a ribbon. We talk about relaxation during the session. Patients love to make multiple sachets since they don’t take a lot of time, and love to give them as gifts to family or nursing staff.

SEED STARTING IN LATE WINTER: I purchase special seed starting trays and seed starting soilless mix from Gardener’s Supply online. I have had the most success with their insulated foam trays that are self-watering due to use of wicking fabric. (You can also use cleaned plastic fast food trays with clear lids, but won’t have wicking fabric so are harder to water correctly.) I prepare moistened soilless mix with the hottest tap water I can get (helps speed seed germination) to take to group. Patients use small plastic spoon to fill each small compartment of the seed tray with soilless mix—firming it in. They place two seed in each compartment, and label what they are growing in that seed tray with masking tape, or tape seed packet to side of tray. Place on clear plastic lid to hold in humidity and place under grow lights—2-3 inches from light bulbs. Fill the bottom water reservoir with the hottest tap water possible. (Can use just warm water after seeds germinate to fill reservoir as needed after a few days.)

After seeds are 1-2 inches tall, remove the plastic cover, and gradually move lower under lights, but keeping the tops of plants 2-3 inches from the lights. After real leaves form, pinch off the extra plant in each compartment (or gently prick out holding leaves, not stem, and plant in another pot.) After second pair of real leaves form, pinch top of plant to encourage bushiness rather than long stringy plants. After plants are large enough, plant in larger pots or harden off to plant outside.

OUTDOOR GARDENING:  I have gotten multiple grants from our auxiliary to purchase supplies, materials, and plants for outdoor gardens which were in protected area with fencing to prevent elopement. We planted a raised herb bed, and perennial and annual flowers. Vegetables need much more time and energy than I had since I work part-time. Patients generally did not want to do the work of the garden, but were very happy to cut bouquets to put in plastic vases for the dining room, or bring up fresh herbs for lemonade, tea, or salsa making. I have also grown everlastings to use in crafts or potpourri.

COOKING ACTIVITIES: We often made fresh salsa, herb lemonade, and herb tea. We also sometimes made a large fresh salad with fresh herbs. I brought in all ingredients and supplies that day.

SALSA: Chop tomatoes, onions, and fresh fruit into chunks—I usually did this since I didn’t want to take a knife onto the unit. Patients would strip fresh herbs from the stems and stir into salsa. We spooned salsa onto small paper plates and used tortilla chips for dipping. Fruits I used included peaches, plums, kiwi or blueberries depending on what was in season. Herbs we used included chives, fresh cilantro, lemon balm, and lemon verbena.

LEMONADE: We added fresh mint leaves (spearmint or peppermint) to lemonade in plastic cups. I also sometimes brought fresh lavender from home wrapped in netting or cheesecloth) or just used a stem of lavender foliage that was washed and twisted to release flavor/fragrance. Patients really loved the lemonade. You can also add lavender foliage stems or mint stems and leaves to a 2 liter bottle (just twist and pike inside) or a gallon jog of lemonade to make more.

HERB TEA: We placed fresh leaves of mints, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and sometimes a little lavender into hot water in plastic cups of foam cups. After a few moments the fragrance and flavor are wonderful. I had Splenda packets available if people wanted the tea sweeter. We talked about how tea is relaxing and has health benefits. Sometimes we brewed real green or white tea to add to the herbs in the cups.

PATRIOTIC SHORTCAKES: During the summer, I would bring in blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries to make patriotic (red, white, and blue) shortcakes. I purchased the shortcakes at the grocery or you could make them with Bisquick. I used sugar-free blue jello to make blue jello cubes to add to shortcake plates. We added a dollop of sugar-free Cool Whip. Patients (and staff) really loved this.

SALADS: I brought in bagged lettuce (never iceberg) and cut up tomatoes in large salad bowl. Patients would strip fresh herb leaves off the stems (after washing and blotting dry) and place the herbs in the salad. We used mints, lemon balm, lemon verbena, cilantro, chives, and parsley, depending on what was available. We tossed the salad with a simple vinaigrette and enjoyed eating it together. Sometimes I would bring in edible flowers from home (organically grown) such as pansies (use individual petals), violets, and rose petals with white end trimmed off, and added these to the fresh salads as well.

EVERLASTINGS FOR CRAFTING: When possible, we would grow everlastings in the garden, or in large pots outside. I often grew them in my home garden to use at work. My favorite plants to grow are globe amaranth (gomphrena) and straw flowers. At soon as the flowers bloom in the garden, cut off the blooms and place in a dry area to dry. (You can dry them on newspaper, or in a paper bag in the trunk of your car. I used flat box lids from the Xerox paper cartons at work, cut out the bottoms, and stapled on netting to make my own drying racks that I could stack in my breezeway to dry everlastings, herbs, and rose petals.) 

I purchased 6 inch grapevine wreaths, and patients would glue the dried straw flowers or globe amaranth blossoms onto the vines with Tacky glue or low melt glue guns (depending on need for level of safety precautions.) We would glue on a ribbon bow, and add a small look of ribbon or jute to hang the wreaths.

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